Thursday, February 15, 2007

GUNSLINGER GIRLS - Aida Yu's Anarchic Anime

GUNSLINGER GIRL is an engrossing Anime thriller which pits trained assassination teams against a network of organized crime and terrorist groups in Italy. The three-Disc DVD box set, was released on September 19, 2006. The North American edition of the series was given an English language track and nicely packaged by FUNIMATION, a company in Fort Worth, Texas which is a major player in the marketing of Japanese animated films.

An excellent Anime thriller, GUNSLINGER GIRLS was conceived of as a thirteen-part television series, and was produced for Fuji Television Network. It was written by Junki Takegami, basing episodes on the original Manga by writer-artist Yutaka Aida, who is more popularly known as “Aida Yu”. The story is set in Italy in the near-future, a nation beset with corrupt political parties, terrorists for hire, and mafia strongholds. In other words, an Italy still struggling to deal with its old 20th century problems.

The equalizer in GUNSLINGER GIRL is the “Social Welfare Agency,” a secret assassination department composed of fratellos, an innovative pairing of ruthless male agents with pre-pubescent female cyborgs. The Agency uses advanced medical and engineering techniques to build super assassins from what is left of pretty young girls severely injured in car accidents or just terminally ill. Their physical rebuilding is enhanced with a deep “conditioning” process which is supposed to render the girls coldly efficient and remorseless killing machines, loyal to their handlers and devoid of the need for love or companionship. That fact that emotions and attachments do begin to surface in the girls, is a crucial element in plot development, as is the fact that extra conditioning which might eliminate that problem, has the effect of shortening the girls’ lives.

My son gave me this DVD set for Christmas and I had no idea what to expect. Once I got past some of the basic premises, which are viciously Nihilistic and totally unacceptable in a values based society, the characters did become engaging and the more surreal aspects of the story begins to make sense. Many details from Italian art and culture get woven into the episodes, and of course lots of attention is lavished on the full arsenal of modern weapons which the girls use to snipe, spray or obliterate their human targets.

We never listen to the English voice tracks on Japanese movies or Anime, so I cannot vouch for the quality. The English captioning is excellent and I do not believe that very much was lost in the translation. The “extras” are disappointing. The commentary track is probably the worst example of ego-fueled “buddy chatter” I have listened to on a DVD since the Director and Co-Producer of the truly awful S.F. movie SOLDIER (1998) discussed their work. (In our family that S.F. movie dud serves as the benchmark for BAD in a DVD commentary.) On the third disc of GUNSLINGER GIRL we hear a voice-actor, a Texan named Eric Vale (a pseudonym) who cavalierly describes himself as “Head Writer” on the series. Mr. Vale had absolutely nothing insightful to contribute, and after several minutes I turned the track off. This is, after all, an Anime series which the Japanese creators loaded full of pop-culture and literary references. The Japanese are a very literate people. We the audience must wrap our minds around two very jarring premises –1) a squad of little girls competing with each other to murder people, and 2) adult men taking advantage of little girls. Then we start meeting the cast of characters. The lead is a cyborg named Henrietta.

JPop singer Nanri Yuuka provides the lovely voice of "Henrietta".

Just one example from the story-arch will suffice to illustrate what begged for discussion by the dubbing crew at FUNIMATION. In an early episode a male agent is forced to make up a complex story about a Pasta Prince, as a device to provide emotional support needed by one of the girls. The agent is hard pressed to keep the tale going, but somehow he does. The odd story gets published, and the book becomes a treasured keepsake of the little girl as she falls in love with her adult handler. The Pasta Prince figures in the wonderfully conceived final episode, which offers us a rewarding payoff. The idea itself is a borrowing from Lewis Carroll, the infamous lover of little girls. At age 31 he began entertaining (some suggest seducing) 11 year old Alice Liddell with a fantastic tale of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. The rest is literary history. GUNSLINGER GIRL is a complex drama full of such allusions and playful borrowings. That’s part of its charm. The DVD set is worthy of its purchase price – approximately $50 Canadian. Search for it. Enjoy it.

The Gunslingers - Henrietta, Angelica, Triela, Claes and Rico

NOTE: has a lengthier version of this article, describing the advent of a real-life Gunslinger Girl, who became a leader in the New Red Brigades.

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