Gunslinger Girl 2 (omnibus ed.)

Yu Aida – Seven Seas Entertainment – 2011 – 12+ volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols 4-6

Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this series. The 3-in-1 format is also much appreciated. For me, who hasn’t read the series, it’s simply a good deal, but omnibus editions for the first six volumes serve the more practical purpose of rushing the content that’s already been published in English out to new readers, getting to the point where ADV left off in the translation more quickly so that older fans don’t have to wait through those first six books again.

What I enjoy most are still the shorter stories that serve to show the lives of the girls. There was definitely less of that in these three volumes, and there was a heavy emphasis on the politics at play for the bad guys that the girls are going up against. As much as I appreciate this (Aida does a wonderful job at establishing the setting and a convincing political situation), I found myself bored with just how much of it there was this time around. Volume 5 has almost nothing about the girls at all, instead focusing on the terrorists and what drives them to do what they do. This is somewhat balanced out by a fantastic confrontation between Triela and Pinocchio, one of the only action scenes in this omnibus and the most involved one the series has yet offered. The stories about the lives of the terrorists were quite good, and they were made much more interesting with some subtle parallels between their early lives and the lives of the handlers. But even so, it was strange to see so much story time that had so little to do with the girls themselves.

Aside from Triela’s fight, the highlight of the book for me was volume 6, when a new generation of cyborg girls is introduced. We meet the new handler, a very unusual gentleman named Ricci, and we meet the new cyborg girl both before and after she becomes a cyborg. Not only is she older than the other girls (she is a teenager, and made to look even a bit older than that), Ricci is not a military man, and uses deception and covert methods to approach his targets. His approach is so completely different from the other handlers that it’s hard to believe that the agency would condone such behavior. It makes for an interesting change of pace, especially after the story had been so light on the lives of the girls. I’m very curious to see more of those two in action.

And again, in case you missed my review of the first volume, one of the things I appreciate most about this series is how it takes a potentially creepy and unlikely premise (that little cyborg girls are trained as assassins and escorted around by older male “handlers”) and makes it truly interesting. It’s not a comedy. It’s not creepy in the ways that it ought to be. It’s genuinely unsettling what’s being done to the girls, and the story is good at contrasting their lives as everyday girls and their anxieties at pleasing their “brothers” (who are genuinely father figures in their lives and nothing more) and their “conditioning” as assassins. It’s a disturbing contrast, to be sure, and the story pulls no punches. And again, it does a really good job of splitting the time between vignettes of the girls doing little girl things as best they can and the political situations that form the basis of the missions that the girls are sent out on, mostly dealing with a specific group of Italian terrorists.

While my attention started drifting towards the middle of the omnibus, the focus on the new girl and the process of training the cyborg at the end of the volume really caught my attention again. And though I was less interested in the politics, I can’t say that they weren’t well-written. This is a wonderful series, and not one that I would have tried had I not been offered a review copy. I’m so glad I picked it up though, and I urge anyone who might be scared off by the premise to read a plot summary to see if might appeal to you anyway. I promise that anything potentially off-putting is truly negated, and on top of that, it’s extremely well-written and does a wonderful kind of justice to its bizarre premise.

This was a review copy provided by Seven Seas.


Gunslinger Girl 1 (omnibus ed)

Yu Aida – Seven Seas Entertainment – 2011 – 12+ volumes
This omnibus contains vols. 1-3

I’m always thrilled when a series gets a second chance, and even more thrilled when the second chance appeals to fans of the original. I’ve heard a lot about Gunslinger Girl, but never picked it up when ADV was releasing the manga. Now Seven Seas has picked up the title, and is opting to release material previously seen in English in an omnibus format. Omnibuses are a really good value for people looking to start a series, and people who’ve already collected the volumes don’t need to wait while six volumes they already bought come out to get to the good stuff.

This series is indeed well-liked, and it’s one of the few series I hear people recommend in real life when talking about anime. From what they’ve described, it sounds like a very faithful adaptation of the manga. Basically, there is a secret Italian organization that rescues mortally wounded little girls and “conditions” them into superpowered android killing machines. Not literally superpowered, since they can’t really do anything outside the limits of the human body, but they are certainly faster and stronger than little girls, their reflexes are fine-tuned, they are masters with a host of deadly weapons, and are difficult to kill. The chapters are mostly one-shots, sometimes little vignettes about the girls, sometimes a look at their missions, and occasionally they are longer and connected stories about some of the political situations the girls are up against in Italy, namely a terrorist organization named Padania.

Honestly, this is the type of thing that sounds too fanservice-y for my tastes (if it wasn’t fanservice, why would the characters be little girls?), but I heard so many people say that it’s better than that that I had to give it a try. And they’re right. The Section 2 secret agents are little girls, but rather than have it just be about their fights and panty-flashes (which, yes, are unfortunately in there), there are a lot of stories about the little girls themselves, what they like to collect, how their friendships work, what happened that put them into Section 2, and their relationships with their partner agents, called “brothers” in Italian. And there’s no comedy or overt fanservice during these stories, it’s all pretty sober and sweet stuff. It’s meant to contrast to the times when they thoughtlessly mow down bad guys to protect their “brother,” complete a mission, or protect their identity. It works well, although they do straddle a strange line in many cases, since they are just shy of being normal little girls. Their “conditioning” tips them quite far onto the android side, and other than the relationship with their “brothers,” who they adore (refreshingly, in a very older brother and non-romantic way), their links to others cannot be trusted.

The story does do a good job of balancing action scenes, the quiet downtime with the girls, and the politics that increasingly dominate towards the end of the omnibus. The politics are based on a real situation in Italy, but greatly exaggerated, of course. Morality is a major theme, such as whether it’s right to make the girls into androids despite the fact they are all happy to do their jobs. Their memories are also purged, and many were pulled from horrendous situations, the first of which is likely the worst. Their happiness may just be a result of their conditioning, and the drugs that are used to condition cause dependence and memory loss if used too much, which we see in one of the girls named Angelica. There’s also the moral question of the jobs they do. They sometimes kill innocent people in the line of duty for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some of their jobs are also in a gray area, though the girls don’t seem to register when they are doing right and wrong. All of this comes off as quite disturbing, which, again, stands in contrast to the normally happy girls.

I love the Italian setting. The mangaka goes to great lengths to include many details, including the backgrounds and agencies the handlers/brothers were in before joining Section 2 and the politics they are involved in. Padania is a great detail, of course, but the characters discuss the Messina bridge at length, and we also get to tour many different cities and regions in Italy, and even hear a little about what makes them special. I so rarely see manga that is not set in Japan or a fantasy world, and even when I do, normally there are some details tossed off as “hey, the characters are here, this is the big tourist stuff they’d see.” All the details here are part of the plot, and I enjoy it immensely.

Overall, there were a lot of disturbing overtones, but the story and pacing kept these in check, and the mood varied so much throughout that I was pretty impressed when I got to the end. I’ll admit that, as much as I like the research that went into all the politics, heavily political stories like this was at the end aren’t really my thing, and that seems to be the overarching plot so far. I do like the one-shots with the girls, but it feels like a lot of what could be said was presented in this volume, so I’d be curious what else we’d get to see as the story goes on. Do they eventually start to break down due to the conditioning drugs? Is it really possible to endanger their lives as superpowered androids? Will the “brother” relationships grow less awkward? What about Claes, the “brotherless” agent, or Angelica, the agent on the verge of a breakdown? There are still a lot of possible directions, but it looks like we’ve met most of the main girls and know their feelings and backstory.

It’s definitely a lot better than the premise sounds, and it succeeds in taking a very fanservice-y subject and making a pretty good story with it while largely avoiding the creep factor. It’s for sure worth checking out if you’ve been listening to the hype all these years.

This was a review copy provided by Seven Seas Entertainment.


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