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Hugh David explains what’s so great about Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino.

Combining the attention to technological and geographical detail of Gunsmith Cats with the music and design aesthetics of later Bee Train classics such as Noir and Madlax, the anime Gunslinger Girl carves its own niche into the sub-genre of “girls with guns”. Yu Aida, who first created it as a manga series in 2002, drags in such disparate influences as La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional, The Bionic Woman, Battle Angel Alita, Ghost in the Shell and Italian seventies crime films such as The Valachi Papers, combined with a recurring focus on troubled youth fighting a government’s battles.

In a near-future Italy where political crime has returned to the levels of violence last seen in the 1970s, supposed government charity the Social Welfare Agency operates as a front for a wet-works division, partnering experienced combat professionals with crippled, often orphaned girls rebuilt as cyborgs. These girls and their handlers are referred to as “fratelli” or siblings, as their cover is often as brother and sister. However, the antiterrorist training is complicated by the emotional demands of the young girls, exacerbated by the need to use a combination of drugs and brainwashing to enable them to deal with both the prosthetic augmentation and the orders to kill. The stage is set for realistic drama on all fronts, be it political or personal.

In keeping with all great anime and manga, the emotions and the characterisation are at the core of Gunslinger Girl, balanced with decent action scenes and the incredibly rare flash of panty to keep less-demanding fanboys happy. Italian politics, crime, domestic terrorism, chauvinism and class tensions are all accurately rendered as details in the wider narrative. Guns, cars, clothing, and food are all correct and present. The girls are the heart of the story, and each comes with a heartbreaking back-story and present conflict. The handlers are also shown to suffer emotionally from the job, except where they refuse to engage, while even the opponent terrorist group is well-characterised: humans of different beliefs rather than simple villains.

Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino can be watched by those unfamiliar with previous iterations, as the first episode acts as an effective re-statement of the core of the series. Whereas the first series was produced by the Madhouse studio, this sequel passes the baton to Artland, who bring a more traditional approach on the design and art front, but retaining the importance set by the original’s soundtrack, a fine mix of classically-inflected pieces and better-than-usual J-Pop. Artland’s secret weapon, however, is original manga creator Yu Aida, brought onto Il Teatrino as head writer. This allows this version of the series to aim as high as the manga series for that fine blend of characterisation, emotion and action.

Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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