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February 25, 2011

Bento Bako Bonus: Gunslinger Girl vol 1 Omnibus

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Gunslinger Girl
Author: Yu Aida
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Volume: Volume 1 (omnibus edition, containing volumes 1-3), $15.99
Vintage: 2002-2004 by ASCII Media Works in Japan, February 2011 (out now) by Seven Seas Entertainment (2003-2005 originally by ADV Manga)
Genre: Girls with guns, drama, action

Pre-teen girls casually agreeing to share kills in combat. Handsome Italian men. Terrorists with morals and honor. Italian landscapes, museums filled with art, car chases, shoot outs, explosions. This is Gunslinger Girl.

Italy’s Social Welfare Agency is a government organization that finds young girls in unfortunate situations (paralyzed, brutalized, abandoned) and gives them a new life. On the outside, it’s a generous organization that rescues children from sad fates. However, this is just a front. The Social Welfare Agency does indeed take these girls and give them a new life; they give the girls new cybernetic bodies, which in some cases provides movement to girls who might never have moved again. However, they also brain wash the girls, and train them to use their new bodies as top class assassins. In reality, the Social Welfare Agency is an anti-terrorist group doing the government’s dirty work in secret. Each of the “rescued” girls is assigned to a handler, forming a group called a fratello (sibling), and is trained by their handler at his discretion to become an expert assassin. They are exceptional at many forms of combat and are specially trained to protect their handlers as well. The handlers and girls come from many backgrounds, and each has a different dynamic. Triela was recovered from a slave trafficking bust, and her handler Hilshire, a former detective, dresses her in masculine clothing and gives her teddy bears. Angelica, the first cyborg, a girl whose own parents attempted to kill her for insurance money, has been nearly abandoned by her handler Marco, a former cop, due to the side effects from her conditioning (mainly memory loss). The delicate Henrietta, who was brutally assaulted next to the corpses of her murdered family, serves as a replacement for her handler Jose’s dead sister. Claes, whose handler died, is now used as a test subject for the cybernetic implants. In this first omnibus collection, we’re introduced to all of the current girls. We get detailed accounts of the pasts of Henrietta, Claes, Angelica, and Rico, and learn how each of them came to the Social Welfare Agency. We get a lot of face time with Triela (who is my favorite of the girls), but her official “rescue” story is for another volume. There’s also Elsa, who only gets a brief and tragic mention here in the manga (I can’t recall if she gets a more detailed appearance later, though she certainly gets more face time in the anime).

The main story of Gunslinger Girl, aside from exploring the lives of the young girls, is the Agency’s fight against a terrorist organization called the Padania Republic Faction. Padania is known for kidnapping, murder, bombings, and all manner of despicable things as they try to force their ideals onto Italy. The Social Welfare Agency is one of the only things capable of stopping them. The volume starts with an introduction to the agency through Henrietta and Jose, who burst into a terrorist hideout and take out a group of Padania agents. The tiny and innocent looking Henrietta tears into them with a machine gun and wipes them out with a little help from Rico and a sniper rifle. The conditioning and brain washing methods the agency uses are introduced, as are its side effects. Prolonged use will eventually cause memory loss and dependency, and ultimately, an early death. For these girls who were literally given a second chance at life, and whose minds have been conditioned to feel absolute loyalty toward their handlers, it’s a small sacrifice, if they’re even aware of this fate to begin with. In the end, these girls are tools, and no one exhibits that better than Rico’s handler Jean. Some of the other handlers are more sensitive to the girls’ fates.

Perhaps my favorite story, in the entire series, involves Rico. While on a job to scope out the area around a hotel where an assassination will take place, she bumps into a young bell boy who takes an immediate interest in her. When Henrietta later explains that the boy might like her, Rico is delighted, even though they may never see each other again. But they do, and Jean’s strict conditioning of Rico, which doesn’t allow for teaching her basic social skills, results in one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever seen. Still, Triela is my favorite of the girls. She is the most self-aware, the most independent minded, and serves as a mentor for the other girls. Hilshire trusts her abilities and judgment, and often lets Triela act on her own. Their relationship is a little awkward (Triela muses that if Rico is Jean’s tool, and Henrietta Jose’s sister, then what is she to Hilshire?), but they care for each other in their way. This volume kicks off a tumultuous story line for Triela, who is bested by a Padania assassin named Pinocchio, which crushes her pride and drives her to better herself.

Although this story is about the anti-terrorist organization Section 2 (the Social Welfare Agency), the manga often shows us the other side, the Padania organization. There is a lot of time devoted to Milan’s Padania leader Cristiano’s adopted son Pinocchio, who performs many assassinations for his surrogate father and is a master with knives and hand-to-hand combat. There is also a lot of time devoted to Franco and Franca, two bomb makers who work with Padania, but who have their own motives and set of rules. Franco and Franca may provide bombs to the terrorists, but they’re known to refuse if they disagree with the target or method, or even provide a fake bomb (such as when a terrorist cell wants to bomb the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, a high traffic area with lots of tourists and children). As the volume wraps up, Pinocchio, Franco, and Franca are on the run, having been discovered by Triela and Hilshire, while Henrietta and Jose are busy protecting the chairwoman of a group building a bridge that Padania wants halted.

While I have nothing negative to say about Seven Seas’ new translation or compilation of this omnibus, I think they missed out on a good opportunity by not including some inner color pages. The back of the book features the individual volume covers, and some other art, but sadly it’s all in black and white. Because of this, it doesn’t stand up to publications from other publishers, which is really unfortunate. Though I do owe Seven Seas a thank you for the small glossary included in the back which explains some terms, locations, and provides a little background for the story. I had, however, forgotten how fast paced the manga is, which isn’t necessarily a negative critique. It keeps the action going, but the focus on the girls feels a little rushed, especially if you compare it to the anime, which is much slower. This manga omnibus only represents three volumes of the manga, which already covers the entire first anime series, and part of the second. If I were to compare the two, I definitely prefer the anime, which is beautifully animated, and the first series in particular presents a nice melancholy feel as it shows you the tragic lives of this group of young girls. The manga is fine; I enjoy it. It’s well drawn and well written. The politics could use a little more depth and explanation, but it’s really about the girls in the end anyway.  Thank you, Seven Seas, for rescuing this license so we can finish this excellent series.

By the way, congratulations to Dark Horse Comics for winning Diamond’s Gem Award for best manga publisher of 2010! I have some mixed feelings on this. Dark Horse has been around for a while and done great things for manga in America, and they publish some beautiful books. As a comic book publisher, they’re able to get their manga into comic stores easier, and have it seen by traditional comic buyers. However, their publishing schedule is horrid, and for manga fans, this tends to overshadow their manga publishing history. Dark Horse, we love you, but we can’t help but be disappointed sometimes.

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  2. The parents try to kill her for the insurance money?? Damn! This story just sounds cool along with getting an omnibus for around fifteen bucks. Would you happen to know how many volumes are in the entire series?

  3. Kristin

    Her father’s business is going under, and he has a huge life insurance policy out on his daughter, so he runs her over with his car. 🙁
    Rico’s parents basically abandon her to the agency. She was born unable to move her arms or legs, so they’re basically like, “Yeah, please take this damn kid off our hands, we’ll gladly give her to you.” None of them have pleasant stories.

    Right now there are 13 volumes, but it seems to still be going in Japan. Seven Seas will publish the omnis up through volume 6 (which is how far ADV got with the series), then will go to single volumes with volume 7.

  4. […] [Volume 1 omnibus review.] […]

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