"What's important is what you do with the time that you have."
The above quote summarizes the core concept of Gunslinger Girl. It's an examination of mortality through the eyes of children who know nothing but bringing death to others. Despite their morally dubious origins and their use as tools, the children of the Social Welfare Bureau remain disturbingly human in how they act and think.
To watch Gunslinger Girl is to look into the minds of these girls and those of their handlers, men who impose their own way of thinking onto their charges, whether consciously or unconsciously. How do they see their limited life spans?
How do they interact? What brings a moral person to go to such lengths as to join anything like the Social Welfare Bureau? And how do these men deal with or rationalize everything that they've done?
This is not a plot-based series. It is not meant to be about the action. What you see is a series of character studies of each of the main characters. In the first half of the show, the audience is made familiar with each girl, showing us the (often disturbing) circumstances that brought them into the Bureau and the motivations of their handlers. You are given a glimpse of how these motivations work on the blank slates of the mindwiped cyborgs. And, ultimately, you see the consequences of it all.
If you are looking for explosions and kung fu action, don't bother with this show. If you want bizarre plot twists that leave you reeling, forget it. But, if you want to see character development and to experience some decent emotions from it, watch Gunslinger Girl.
Do you remember what I said about action? There is one element that is given meticulous detail: The guns. I am not a gun aficionado by any means, but I can easily see that the artists put a lot of love into making sure that the weapons are drawn correctly.
Sadly, that's not so much the case with the rest of the art. The backgrounds give you a basic idea of where the story is taking place, whether it's at the Basilica or in Florence, or wherever else is being visited. I found myself saying to nobody in particular, "Hey, that's Rome!" or, "Isn't that Florence?" But it does little more than give you the idea of where they are. The backgrounds are generally rough with broad brush strokes that allow you to understand what's being depicted with providing no more detail than that.
Likewise, aside from the girls themselves, it's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between some of the characters. I often found myself confused between which handler was being featured at the time. And, when two similar ones were in the same shot, I was at a complete loss until one of them actually said something.
It seems like most of the art budget went into making the guns look like guns and making the girls look deceptively cute, while everything else kind of suffered.
I'll have to keep this part short. Not being much of an audiophile, I can't comment on the sound too much. I'm not sure if it was a problem with the Funimation copy of the Japanese audio but, a lot of the time, the lip flaps came long before the characters actually said anything. Aside from that noticeable out-of-sync, I'm sad to say that I didn't pay attention to the quality of the sound.
Though there is one thing that I'd like to mention: The choice of music for the opening, "The Light Before we Land," was wonderful. It easily gets one into the mood for what will happen in the actual episode. Just gorgeous.
The characters are the meat of Gunslinger Girl, as noted earlier. What more can I say that I haven't gone over already? The setting and the events are nothing more than a backdrop for learning the intricate details of how our cast of characters tick. And you will learn about them. You might even find yourself identifying with a few of them. And that's the whole point.
This is the bit that I want to go into so much detail about, but I can't because that will only spoil your enjoyment of the series. I'm not kidding that this is a character-centric show. But just know that you will wind up feeling something for the people depicted.
Enjoyment and Overall:
From the moment I started watching, I wasn't able to stop until I reached the end, which was both sad and satisfying. I can live with slightly sloppy art and a few minor sound issues if a show offers a solid emotional impact. Gunslinger Girl offers that in spades. While I poked inside the many characters' heads, I was repeatedly reminded of the philosophy that the story was repeatedly trying to explain. All in all, you are given proper stimulation for both the heart and the mind. You're left feeling for the broken people while at the same time pondering what it all means.
If you choose to watch Gunslinger Girl, keep this thought in mind: What does life really mean to someone who is already dead?
So long as that's in the back of your mind, you will enjoy it.
Nov 9, 2012
Having known nothing about the show aside from the synopsis, I had no idea what I was getting into in the first episode. I expected a quiet story with an overarching plot involving travel and politics with a hint of melancholy for the fate of the human race. Though there were some moments when the melancholy did rise up, especially toward the end of the series, the show proved to be more of a surreal examination of the modern world with a lot of dark humour. Topics covered range from the trials and tribulations of a mangaka through the concept of nations to the nature ... of the mind and soul.
The art style manages to show the contrast between places affected by the fairies and those where only humans exist. Human-dominated areas look mundane while other places have many bright colours, giving them a story book feel.
Not being an audiophile, and having only seen Humanity Has Declined online on Crunchyroll, I can't say much about the quality of the sound. Though I can't leave this section without praising Itou Masumi for her excellent music.
The series has an unusual take on how character development is portrayed. Because the episodes are chronologically out of order, it becomes less "What will they become?" and more "How did they get to this point?" Even a few characters who feel like nothing more than archetypes get some development in this way, providing some dimension besides "the irritating one" and "the quiet one". The fairies themselves all basically have the same personality, however the narrative takes pains to note that this is in their very nature.
This is an enjoyable show. But don't make the same mistake that I had made. This is not a series that takes things seriously. Instead, it takes serious topics and injects surrealism and absurdity into them. And, honestly, it's difficult to take seriously a loaf of bread that commits suicide and bleeds to death because it's life goal of being eaten is never realized. No, really, this happens.
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Sep 9, 2012
First, allow me to put this up front: I am compelled to call this show "Gunbuster". This is how it was titled in North America decades ago and what I watched it under at that time. You can guess that I am a little bit biased toward it, based on those two sentences.
There are flaws in Gunbuster. I've lived with this series for long enough that I'm able to admit that. But the question is whether it's strong enough to overcome these flaws. This is what this review endeavours to determine.
This is the reason that I love this show. Hideaki Ano chose to use time ... dilation as a plot device, something that is rarely seen in most science fiction, even in pieces where doing such would make perfect sense. And it is used to full effect, influencing and revealing the motivations and psychology of the main characters and giving us one of the most deliciously bittersweet endings ever witnessed in an anime. Though he plays fast and loose with the physics, it's only to amplify the impact on the characters and, of course, on the viewer.
The best way to describe the art in Gunbuster is "freakin' awesome". One can see in it the embryo of what would become the over-the-top style that is now an integral part of Gainax's identity. The sleek design of the Exelion and the Eltreum. The immense scale of the Buster Machines. The action which seems to defy the laws of physics and Euclidian geometry.
And then there are the space monsters. These were designed in such a way that, from even a first glance, one can tell that they are not of this Earth and yet at the same time recognize them as living things. One at once are afraid to touch the ugly squiggly things and intrigued by the very nature of its existence.
The character art can put one off on occasion, such as Noriko sometimes looking a little bit developmentally disabled in certain scenes. This is the only thing that really keeps the art from attaining perfection, in my book.
If you are not pumped up by the Buster Machine March, then you are not human. The music sets the tone of the series almost perfectly. When the scene is sad, the music helps to make you feel sad. When the scene is action packed, the music gets you excited. When the scene is meant to inspire, sweet monkey nuggets, you are inspired!
There are a couple spots, especially in the first episode, where it doesn't seem to convey things properly, sort of like awkward first steps. But, other than that, the score is solid.
This is the largest flaw in the show. The way some characters act seems to strictly be to advance the plot. Admiral Takaya's sacrifice. Jung's apparent swings between bitter rival and a tender friend (though, considering that her name is Jung Freud, she might be a touch bipolar). And, of course, Noriko's actions in the third episode and most of the fourth, making these parts difficult to watch.
Having said that, the seemingly nonsensical decisions that are sometimes made do advance the plot in important ways. And they can often be justified if one puts a little bit of thought into it. The issue here is the mental gymnastics required for some of these justifications.
As I mentioned before, I am biased, so take this section with a grain of salt. But Gunbuster, in my opinion, is fun from beginning to end. Some parts are tedious, but you are rewarded once they're over with moments of pure undiluted awesome. The use of the principles of time dilation to facilitate character development (though not entirely scientifically accurate) genuinely explores how people would act under circumstances that our technology has yet to bring about. And the action sequences are incredibly well done and are worth taking the time to see.
In addition, there are countless little things that are a bonus for those who really pay attention. Noriko's room being covered in posters for classic anime such as Space Battleship Yamato and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The construction of the starships which seems to involve immense plastic model kits. The women preparing for battle with the space monsters by applying makeup and nail polish. The countless shout-outs to Gunbuster's predecessors. These minor inconsequential elements work to make light of tropes that existed in anime since time immemorial and that still exist now.
A loath as I am to admit, Gunbuster has flaws. These flaws, though, do not detract from one's enjoyment of the show in its entirety. You will become involved with the main characters, despite some of the incomprehensible decisions that are sometimes made. You will feel compelled to cheer out loud when the plodding buildup to some unadulterated excellence finally pays off. And you will be genuinely moved when the final scene of the final episode plays.
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Sep 8, 2012
Mouretsu Pirates is effectively a slice of life show jammed into a space opera. Because of this, it feels in many places that the series is not entire sure in which direction it wants to go. This is amplified by the fact that the series takes the plots from several of the light novels without trying to tie them together. The result is a series of unrelated story arcs that begin out of nowhere.
Mind you, the story arcs themselves range from incomprehensible to interesting. In some cases, the conflict is resolved without fully explaining how the conclusion actually ties up the loose ends. In other ... cases, though, everything is brought to a close while still making sense. The good stories keep my score in this category up, but the disjointedness of the series as a whole winds up removing quite a few points.
What can I say about the art? There are plenty of very pretty visuals, from the shots of Marika's Elaborate University High to all the little things like the omnipresent computer displays that float in the air wherever they might be summoned. I am not a fan of conspicuous CGI in anime, with the contrast between traditional cell shading and 3D action always feeling jarring to me. I recognize that it is sometimes necessary in this day and age, but I don't have to like it, forcing me to take a point off.
Not being an audiophile, I can't give an informed opinion about this aspect. However I do want to point out one thing that bugged me throughout the show: Why does the captain's quarters creak like an old-timey wooden ship?
The bridge crew of the Bentenmaru are all unique, each with their own quirks and all with very nice character designs that set them apart from each other. The mystery of whether Luca really has mystical precognitive powers or if she's just making things up as she goes along was fun the whole way through. And the reveal of why Kane's character often seems bipolar was quite delicious. But, for the most part, you hardly get to know anything about them. Why is Schnitzer a cyborg? How and why did they originally join the crew? And who the heck are all the guys you see sitting in the halls every now and then who supposedly run the ship?
As for the Yacht Club, the best one can say about them is that... well... they exist. There are a couple that come to the forefront eventually, such as Jenny, Lynn, and Ai. But, for the most part, they're just a gaggle of high school girls in the background who are there to go "Squeeeee!" when something interesting happens. They all supposedly have backstories and a number of useful skills (or so we're told by Misa) but we rarely get to see that in action.
Also, as a nitpick (and hopefully avoiding spoilers), I'd like to mention the end of Ai's character arc. Basically, at the end of it, she finally loses her protective puppydog hat, signifying major growth, on her part. However, in the next scene, she has her hat again, making it feel like all of the development was completely undone since then. It's almost like they preferred to ignore who she became, all for the sake of maintaining the original character design.
Mouretsu Pirates is an okay show. You do get pumped up when the opening starts playing and it's possible to ride that high for a little while. But, eventually, you either enjoy the events that are unfolding or you don't. The important thing is that you want to stick around long enough to find out whether you'll like it or not. Sometimes, you get bored out of your skull. Other times, you're hooked from beginning to end. That inconsistency can easily threaten your enjoyment of the show.
As mentioned above, it's an okay show. It is most definitely not some piece of generic schlock that you usually see littering the anime world. It instead has a great space opera setting with a fun story concept. Unfortunately, Mouretsu Pirates is lacking in execution. Marika, the central character, is not quite enough to link the whole series together. There needs to be a lot more to make it feel like a single story. And much of the world is either thrown in at the last moment or kind of glossed over with the hope that nobody will notice.
Having never read the original light novels, I can't say whether the problems with the individual plots were due to the adaptation or whether they existed from the very beginning. There are so many things that either didn't make sense or weren't given a sufficient explanation. The bits that worked did so very well, being interesting or at the least amusing. But the bits that didn't work... really didn't work.
So, in conclusion, Mouretsu Pirates is a nice little series that is great to watch once. Though I would not recommend going out and actually buying it.
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