The girl has a mechanical body. However, she is still an adolescent child.
The first season of 'Gunslinger Girl' was originally advertised as the complete series, but it must have been quite successful, as over four years after the last episode aired, 'Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino' (il teatrino translating to the theater) continued the story of the Social Welfare Agency, and its deadly cyborg assassins.
It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. The young girls instilled with cybernetic implants, along with their handlers, still perform odd government jobs, rooting out terrorists and other criminals, as well as providing security for important witnesses and their families. Italy is in great disarray, however, as the PRF (Padania Republic Faction) has been causing great unease throughout the country. Franco and Franca, the famed bomb makers, are no longer too concerned over the perceived innocence of the SWA's cyborg assassins, and have become connected with terrorist leader Cristiano, and his own child prodigy, the blade wielding Pinocchio. A bridge is the target for the terrorist faction, and it is up to the SWA to discover the plot, stop it, and put an end to the unrest.
The first season of 'Gunslinger Girl' was sporadic, random in a sense, as it leapt between girls to build characters and tell backstory and explain to the viewers the lives being led by these children who aren't quite human, but certainly aren't machines, either. It concluded with a series of multi-arc episodes that felt somewhat unbecoming of the show that came before them. With 'Il Teatrino,' there is no two-tone flavor to be found, as the entire thirteen episode arc is based around the growing terrorist activity, that escalates in urgency with every episode. While there are still a few random episodes that do not directly connect to the others (mostly concerning Claes) that provide the needed introspective moments that made the first season so surreal, the main focus with this second volume is to tell a tale of a real confrontation, and show the use of the girls from beginning to end in a very real, very dangerous confrontation.
The random focus on each individual girl has changed as well, as Henrietta, Rico, Angelica, and particularly Triela receive the majority of time (Beatrice and Claes are nothing more than background characters, filler to show there are more girls in training/conditioning than just the ones constantly in action). And with the upped ante, comes increased tension, and a real threat, for once. In the first volume, the only danger to the girls was their constant reconditioning shortening their life spans, and destroying their minds. Now, with Franca and Franco showing their truly dangerous sides, as well as the girls finally getting a real counterpart in Pinocchio, there is real potential for disaster, real competition, a rival worthy of their abilities, despite not having implants of any kind.
'Il Teatrino' is a shock at first, due to the vastly different structure and storytelling, but once one gets used to the changes, the show can fly right by. The linked, continuing story is different, but is certainly enjoyable, as situations progress to become more and more ruthless and dangerous. There are few shows that are as brave as this second volume of 'Gunslinger Girl.' Period. How many other programs are so fearless as to repeatedly depict characters shooting at young girls, be they cyborg or not? Or even have young boys doing the shooting at their peers? In America, with the escalated fears of school violence (due to the continued tragedies that have taken place post-Columbine), it is something that would not be made, period, even if these attackers aren't doing their dirty deeds in places of public education. Having adults trying to kill the girls, with little-to-no hesitation is also a strong element, only outdone by one of my favorite online gaming atrocities: hiding explosive devices in (or under) the corpses of fallen enemies, for their allies to discover. Even more concerning, this second volume even delves into child trafficking and snuff films (yes, snuff films, on kids, no less!) for a few episodes in the arc. To call this series hardcore is a massive understatement.
Funnily enough, not every episode in 'Il Teatrino' features the titular characters, the SWA's cyborg girls, as some focus on the terrorist element, making them human and understandable, with real motives and backstories (rather than just making them sneering, smoking Russians and calling it a day). Even more funny, those episodes not featuring the girls in any fashion can prove themselves to be some of the greater moments in this second season, as the tragedies and disgusting acts committed are enveloping, and fully make sense in this Italy that closely mirrors the conflicts fought within the factions of a few nations in recent years. The backstories of the girls themselves are delved into deeper as well, as they aren't forgotten in the mix, with Triela's history coming from out of nowhere to depict a truly saddening set of scenes (once the viewer realizes what they are watching).
'Il Teatrino' isn't as creepy as the first season of 'Gunslinger Girl,' even with the snuff episodes, though there remain a few moments where these youths are sexualized, in a sense, that can be a bit disturbing. What's even grosser are the rationalizations of characters, from Franca's twisted sense of morals regarding when killing is acceptable, to the show as a whole, that finds Pinocchio unable to shoot Triela on numerous occasions, but also finds him more than willing and capable of butchering her with a blade. Yeah...sure. Makes sense. Because the more intimate nature of cutting someone's innards out is far less evil, regardless of one's personal demons.
'Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino' succeeds in maintaining the same tone and pace throughout the thirteen episode arc (the two additional episodes, known as OVA, do not count in my eyes, and analyses of these are found in the supplements), progressing a riveting story that one can appreciate and understand, regardless of whether they grew up in a war zone, or in a posh country club. It's easy to understand what brings the girls joys and sadness, as they seek to gain the approval of their handlers (who get much less attention this time around), but when the villains are given equal attention and development, the ensuing bloodbath is worth all the waiting. A fearless anime that actually improves on the formula, this second season is a must-see for fans of the first.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino' arrives on Blu-ray spread across two BD50 discs, that are Region A/B coded. There is a single pre-menu trailer in front of each disc, that cannot be skipped through the next chapter button. Episodes one through eight are found on disc one, with nine through thirteen, plus the two OVA episodes and the extras are housed on disc two.
While the first season of 'Gunslinger Girl' disappointed me, in terms of video quality, I have nowhere near the number of complaints concerning the transfer afforded to 'Il Teatrino.' Presented with a 1080i AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1.78:1, this second season shines.
Colors are much more solid and bold, with less wavering. There's even a significant drop in artifacting and banding (though both are still present, they're fairly minor, and are miniscule by comparison to the first season). The backgrounds for the show look much, much cheaper and generic, so they often lack any real depth or fine definition, but that's a fault in the production, not the creation of this disc. The picture will often go from the 1.78:1 ratio to a lightly pillarboxed and letterboxed format for flashbacks, with transitions being slow, not just a change between single frames of the show. Aliasing isn't as prevalent as I feared it would be considering the use of 1080i, as lines can occasionally pulse and look jaggy, but again, they do so dramatically less than before. The same can be said about macroblocking, which is very sparse and infrequent.
While improvements were made, vast, vast improvements, there are still some flaws to be found in 'Il Teatrino.' The image can look hazy at times, with the occasional fuzzy outline (and a few lines that disappear) that can be caused by a light DNR smear. There is often a halo surrounding characters, though its infrequency and aesthetic makes me wonder if it is caused by edge enhancement, light color bleed, or a small combination of both. Regardless of the source of this problem, it's there, and it could even be an artifact from the production, an intentional choice from the creators of the show. While this release isn't demo material by any means, it's heavenly compared to the first season, and deserves praise for that.
Much like the first season of 'Gunslinger Girl,' the audio for 'Il Teatrino' defaults to English, but there is a comparable (and equal) Japanese track to match it, for purists. The dual Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mixes aren't stunners, by any means, but they're acceptable, somewhat proficient tracks that seem to do what they can with what little is provided them.
A quick comparison between the two tracks shows that while slightly different, they're somewhat equal in quality, and strengths/weaknesses. Dialogue is clearly prioritized, rarely getting overpowered by any other element in the show, but, sadly, the spoken words don't stray far from the front channels. Motion is light, and can at times feel choppy and forced. Rears get proper (though underwhelming) use, with sound getting spread nicely on ambience and discrete effects, as well as the soundtrack, which features some very nice light bass that can truly get bumping at times. The show remains front heavy, with little real power coming from gunfire (which is certainly not emphasized in this second season), and a few moments of background atmosphere that can pulse oddly behind dialogue. Also, it cannot go without mention that at the end of episode eight, the creepiest cover recording of Simon and Garfunkle's Scarborough Fair ever made plays. Be afraid, be very, very afraid, Benjamin Braddock.
A few years after the original 'Gunslinger Girl' series ended, something special happened, the show got a belated second season that went balls to the wall with character and action, focusing more on the villains than the heroes. The rest is history. 'Il Teatrino' is a beautiful anime, full of Italian culture, dark, cruel, yet human villains, and the most adorable murderous pre-pubescent girls ever. Throw in a pretty good transfer with dual lossless mixes, and a few bonus episodes to boot, and this second season easily outdoes the first. Fans of the first who never saw the second, do it. Do it now.