Gunslinger Girl is a scifi series set in a near-future Italy, though it makes use of a lot of political issues that occurred in the country in the last decade (so really, it’s more like a past-future Italy). It focuses on Section 2, the Social Welfare division, the real meat of which is composed of a group of cybernetic girls, their handlers, and a handful of support staff. Social Welfare ostensibly does what its name implies–and to a certain extent it does, to keep up appearances–but it’s really a covert agency designed to take out terrorists and other people who oppose the government. The two anime series, Gunslinger Girl and GG: Il Teatrino, are adapted from the first five volumes of the manga; and there’s a very big difference between the two.
Gunslinger Girl focuses primarily on a newcomer to Section 2, Henrietta, and her handler Jose, though the later episodes start to expand on the other girls in the group. The episodes in this series are more standalone than anything, aside from the last 5. It focuses heavily on the girls and their relationships (or lack thereof) with each other and their handlers; to be honest, the first season’s pace has more of a slice-of-life feel to it than any other genre–and while I’m not opposed to that (given my fondness for K-On! and Hidamari Sketch), there were times while watching that I was thinking “For a series about cyborg assassins in Italy, this is reallyslow.”
Il Teatrino does not suffer from this problem. While the first episode is something of a refresher on the world and the Social Welfare Division, from 2 onward there’s an underlying plot arc to all the individual episodes. This was the season I was referring to when I mentioned the use of political issues earlier (they never actually name the Prime Minister, but it’s pretty obviously Berlusconi. It’s a little odd to see him in anime-style animation, honestly): the plot is driven by the political dissention between the northern, industrial half of Italy and the poorer, but more tourist-friendly, southern half. There’s a lot going on in the background, but the main plot is on Section 2′s efforts to thwart a northern faction-affiliated group of terrorists who’ve hired a pair of bombers to blow up a southern bridge in response to a northern separatist supporter going on trial for tax evasion.
Unlike Gunslinger Girl, Il Teatrino makes a serious effort to invest you in characters on all sides of the issue, both the northerners, southerners, and the government sections, while also showing the damage caused to them all by the cycle of revenge they’re caught up in. Episode seven, especially, does this; and since this kind of nuanced, no-easy-answers storyline is why I’m so fond of anime in the first place, that’s why I’m pretty much singing Il Teatrino’s praises here. That it also fleshes out the other girls in Section 2, has improved writing to the point that there are some truly unsettling moments (almost the entirety of episode four has a Pulp Fiction feel to it, where a sense of completely bland normality wars with the fact that these two men who’re talking about their family and girlfriend and lack of vacation time are doing so while acting as body removers for a northern gang, or that when a little girl who just got out of the hospital and is feeling kind of down about being slow asks for a favor from her friend, what she asks is “Will you let me kill one of the bad guys tomorrow?” That one in particular was a salkdfh;lsk moment for me. Unsettling!). And the fact that it also has (what I personally think, I admit) a much more appropriate opening song doesn’t hurt!
The manga for Gunslinger Girl started in 2002 and is still going; it’s being translated into English by Seven Seas Entertainment and, previously, ADV. The first of the anime series ran from 2003-2004, and the second in 2008. Both have been licensed for English by Funimation (they’re everywhere), as has the 2 episode OVA. I haven’t read the manga yet, so I don’t know if the difference between the two is based on a change in the manga or the fact that a different animation studio and producer created the second one. The change in animation style does take a bit to get used to–and the OVA has a much more different style than either of the anime, which is reallyodd to adjust to, visually. We don’t have the anime here, but both series are available just down the road in Plainfield!