Gunslinger Girl is hitting bookshelves again, this time thanks to Seven Seas Entertainment.
This first release from them is an omnibus collecting volumes 1 through 3 of the manga. That’s 544 pages of gunslinging action! This wasn’t my first attempt to get into the series, so how did I like it this time? Read on and find out!
I should note that I actually own the first volume of this manga from when ADV Manga released it. I bought it back then only because the genres listed on the back were action and comedy. What a typo that was…
The first word that comes to mind when I look at this cover is ‘classy.’ It uses subdued colors, a lot of black, and keeps the same serif font for the title that has been used on most Gunslinger Girl releases. You’re told on the front, spine, and back that this omnibus contains the first three volumes of the manga, so there’s little chance for confusion on that. The blurb on the back does a good job summing up the plot, although I think it might give away some plot points that don’t come up in these volumes. The back also gives you the price and rates the manga as being for older audiences (16+).
The picture they went with for the first cover depicts one of the young girls, Triela, sitting amongst some teddy bears, with a shotgun slung over her shoulder, a handgun in her holster, and several shotgun shells littered about. It’s a mix most people would probably find strange, but it captures the essence of this manga pretty well.
One thing I personally find strange is that they picked a picture of Triela for the first release. The blurb on the back goes on and on about Henrietta, who I’m sure everyone would agree is the “main character” in the story, and I feel that if I didn’t know any better, I’d assume the girl on the cover was her. This isn’t really a complaint, however. Who says the first volume has to have the main character on the front? It doesn’t matter at all; I just thought it was worth pointing out.
I definitely like this cover. It tells you everything you need to know, and the art has a good level of detail to it—something that seems typical of Gunslinger Girl covers.
I want to start out by saying that Gunslinger Girl isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally read. I don’t dislike the girls-with-guns genre, but I’ve never been a fan of it, either. I suppose I prefer more fantastic settings as opposed to the slightly more down to Earth idea of government agents shooting at terrorists with semi-automatic pistols. Of course, this manga is about government agents who are little cyborg girls, so maybe that helped a little.
Yes, as the first few pages of the comic will tell you, this story revolves around little girls who have been rebuilt as cyborgs so they can be used as assassins for the Italian government. The organization in charge of all this is known as the “Social Welfare Agency,” and on an official level, exists to help children who are disabled, either since birth or due to accidents. What everyone else doesn’t know is that after allowing these little girls to walk again with their advanced cybernetic enhancements, the agency then brainwashes them and turns them into unstoppable killing machines.
This all seems sort of…well…villainous, I suppose, but most of the girls seem happy enough. One of them, Rico, is incredibly grateful to have a working body for the first time in her life. But I suppose this becomes creepy in its own way; it’s definitely odd to read a story where these happy little girls laugh together and are grateful to be working for the Agency as they go around shooting bad guys and anyone else who endangers their mission. It can get a bit eerie how these girls can end a life without a second thought, like it’s something completely natural. And to them, who have no memories of their lives before becoming cyborgs thanks to the brainwashing, it really is.
The idea that a drug is needed to maintain the girls is introduced early on, and this serves as a hook when the reader is told that it will eventually cause memory loss. Indeed, all of the girls subtly exhibit memory loss throughout these three volumes, none more so than the original prototype cyborg, Angelica. This drug is needed for everything from the girls’ constant “conditioning” (i.e. brainwashing) to the physical repairs required whenever they’re injured, and it effectively shortens their lifespans each time it’s used. It’s pretty clear from this that there isn’t a happy ending in the future of any of these characters, which leaves me morbidly curious about where the story’s going to go.
Each cyborg girl is paired up with an older, so far always male handler. These pairs are referred to in the story as fratello—Italian for “brother”. Part of the girls’ “conditioning” (they always use the double quotes in the manga, so it’s not just me) makes them fiercely loyal to their handlers, to the point that it’s described as being similar to love. This leads to some interesting and varied relationships between the different girls and their keepers, depending on how their personalities mix.
Gunslinger Girl makes use of an ensemble cast, so even though Henrietta seems to stand out as the main girl, the story doesn’t revolve around her and her handler constantly. The first three chapters of the manga introduce the three main fratello one by one, and the story more or less sticks to this format of focusing on one pair per chapter throughout the book. This gives it a pretty good pace and lets it flesh out all of the characters nicely; I went from barely being able to tell some of these characters apart to seeing them all as very distinctive over the course of the three volumes. I think the structure really pays off when the chapters start forming one big plot instead of just being stand-alone stories, since it lets you see the mission through the eyes of different pairs one at a time. Pretty much every character has a role to play, and I tend to really like stories that can pull that off and make it work as well as this one seems to. It also makes the missions seem much bigger and more important, since the pairs are often in completely different locations to each other.
Overall, this manga can be quite brutal. It kicks off with little girls with tragic pasts, hints that their lives aren’t expected to last very long, and has them spend what time they have shooting people up. However, I can’t help but think the tragic nature of it all makes me want to keep reading, and a lot of the characters are surprisingly optimistic about their lot. I’m someone who, to be honest, didn’t understand much about the politics or missions in the story at all—another reason I’m not usually a fan of this sort of thing, I’m sure—but I still enjoyed it so much that I think I may buy and keep reading it as it comes out. I think that shows that this story can appeal on a few different levels.
For the most part, I really like the art in Gunslinger Girl. There’s a lot of detail in the scenery, and most of the characters look unique. This isn’t one of those comics where everyone looks the same except for their hair, that’s for sure. Well, Jose and Jean might be an exception—I mixed them up a few times early on because of their similar looks and similar names—but they’re brothers, so I suppose that’s not too weird. One thing I will say is that with a lot of the older female characters, it wasn’t always apparent to me that they were women when I first saw them. I applaud the artist for not giving them all huge busts, but quite a lot of them seem to have rather masculine faces. Maybe I’ve just seen too many “pretty boy” anime characters in the past, because I kept mistaking them for feminine males.
The only other thing that bothered me was the way the artist positioned the speech bubbles at times. Sometimes the character who’s talking is out of frame, and I found myself unsure of who it was that was speaking. Other times the characters are all in the frame, but the speech bubbles still don’t seem to be attached to anyone in particular; it’s almost like the conversation is a voiceover, or maybe they’re just speaking in such an order that the bubbles can’t be arranged right. This is one of those things you only start thinking about when it somehow stands out…
But in terms of the art alone, I applaud this manga. Its style is anything but generic; it has superb detail, particularly on the guns; and it’s fairly realistic—not really cartoony at all. The artist uses various degrees of shading in every single panel, which adds a degree of depth to everything. Also, assuming the final printing is the same as the digital proof Seven Seas sent us, it’s a lot less heavy on the ink than ADV’s printings of it were—something that can really hurt manga that have been grayscaled or, like this, have a ton of shading.
The translation is also better than ADV’s old release. Lines of dialog are often just clearer, if not outright more accurate in this version than in what used to be available. Some things make a bit more sense, while others seem to better shape a character’s personality. I think ADV’s translation may have been a bit blunt and literal compared to this, if that makes any sense.
There are some things that strike me as odd, however. For one, all of the girls call their handlers Signore—Signore Jose, Signore Jean, etc. I know they’re in Italy, but it feels a tad strange in the middle of something that’s otherwise in English. There are also other bits of random Italian like “bonjourno” thrown in at times. I’m not sure if anything like this was present in Japanese or if it was Seven Seas’ idea, but I found it a little jarring at times. Another oddity was that sometimes an organization would be mentioned—let’s take “NOCS” as an example—and a note would be given next to the panel explaining what the acronym stands for; unfortunately, NOCS stands for “Nucleo Operativo Centrale di Sicurezza”. This left me pretty confused, and I found myself going to Wikipedia to find out just what that was.
However, when I reached the end of the book, I found that there were a few extras at the back, and one of them would have cleared up my confusion if I’d known it was there at the time. There are two pages of translation notes after the final chapter of the book, and these explain what some of these Italian organizations are and what they do, among other things. The notes are organized by chapter, so I’m sure they’d be pretty helpful while reading the manga, so long as you know they’re there. In addition to these notes, there are several pictures that I assume are the original covers of the individual volumes. Finally, right at the end, there’s a 12-page preview of another manga, Venus Verses Virus, which is also being released by Seven Seas.
I liked this manga much more than I expected I would. It appeals on several different levels, so even if you, like me, don’t understand the politics that drive these terrorists and anti-government “bad guys,” you may still find yourself enjoying the more personal drama generated by the character relationships. There’s plenty of action, and despite how somewhat dark and macabre the story can be in places, there are cute and heartwarming moments as well. Just be aware that these can sometimes happen right next to someone who’s bleeding to death, so…even these parts can become creepy in their own way.
These three volumes don’t end on a cliffhanger, as such, but I wouldn’t call them a complete story, either. There are lots of loose ends that leave you wanting more. I have a feeling I’ll be buying the second omnibus when it’s available.
Cover: A (Classy, detailed, and quite fitting for this story.)
Writing: A (It works on multiple levels and draws you in, leaving you curious and wanting more.)
Art: B+ (Every panel is detailed and well shaded. The characters all look unique and varied.)
Translation: B+ (An improvement over the previous translation. Good, but with a few oddities.)
Extras: B (I’m not sure what more you could expect out of extras in a manga. Pretty good.)
Overall (not an average): B+ (An enjoyable release all around. You get three volumes for just a bit more money than you’d spend on one, less than the cost of one if you shop around a bit. It’s a great way to check out the series for the first time, and also a good item to own if you’re already a fan.)
This manga was reviewed using a digital screener. Copyright information is under the ad.
Gunslinger Girl – © 2002 Yu Aida. Translation rights arranged with ASCII MEDIA WORKS. Published by Seven Seas.