"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.