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Hugh David on the irresistible rise of girls with guns

The final anime adaptation of Yu Aida’s first-class “girls with guns” manga Gunslinger Girl is issued straight-to-video but is, to all intents and purposes, the final two episodes of the TV second season, known as Il Teatrino, adapting storylines and ideas from the later volumes of the manga. Production is from the exact same team at Artland, including original creator Yu Aida once more. As such, it is no starting place for newcomers to the seriesbut best savoured by fans.

Gunslinger Girl is set in a near-future Italy where political crime has returned to the levels of violence last seen in 1970s. The government charity the Social Welfare Agency is actually a front for a wetwork division partnering experienced professionals from the military, police and intelligence with crippled, often orphaned girls rebuilt as anti-terrorist cyborgs.

The emotional consequences of the girls and their handlers being referred to as “fratelli” or siblings, trained in the common cover of being brother and sister, remains the heart of the show, particularly in these two episodes, where one of the coldest of the handlers has his backstory brought to light. Anti-terror training, drugs and brainwashing also serve to ramp up the girls’ trauma – as many struggle to recover from the effects of their augmentation, recruitment or memories of their missions.

It’s striking to reflect on the whole “girls with guns” subgenre and how far it has explored concepts arising from previous decades’ high points such as Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita, Kenichi Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats and right back to 60s spy-fi. While anime never seems to run out of characters who could be categorised as such, actual explorations of the subgenre have all but dried up, with only the superb Black Lagoon laying claim to such explorations.

However, recent Western cinema has seen Sucker Punch, Hanna and Colombiana, the latter effectively Besson’s latest iteration of his Nikita/Leon series. The former are laden with anime references in terms of design and execution, while a new iteration of Nikita on the WB channel in the US has led to the makers of Spartacus developing a version of Noir for US TV. Controversies surrounding these often seem redundant in the face of anime and manga’s explorations of the subgenre, but even western anime fans have expressed unease or dislike at Sucker Punch or Hanna, something they would not do if either film had been animated and dubbed by the Japanese, who would not have needed to change a thing about either script. One wonders if the pleasures and depths of Gunslinger Girl would be similarly lost if rendered in live-action, but for now, we have the manga, anime and now this video to savour.

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

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