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"Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino" OVA Is Excellent, And Yet …

by on January 7, 2010

You know, even just two years ago, I probably would’ve had no problems recommending this release. It’s a great extension to a very good TV series based off one of the best manga from the past decade. These OVA episodes match the best episodes of the TV section of Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino, which themselves matched some of the best of the original 2003 TV series. This OVA is effortlessly compelling, action-packed and poignant.

And yet, it’s not worth picking up unless you already own both Gunslinger Girl TV series on DVD, and I’ll explain why—after I tell you every thing this OVA delivers, and why it delivers so brilliantly.

First, if you need an overall summation of the setup, I suggest reading one of TZ’s reviews of previous Gunslnger Girl DVDs. Or you could watch the Il Teatrino TV series on YouTube. Thanks, FUNimation!

The first episode focuses on Jean’s on-going quest for revenge against the Padania Terrorists who killed his fiancee, his little sister and seemingly everyone else near and dear to him, and we see how that’s shaped his relationship to his fratello, Rico. We get another glimpse at why Rico puts up with Jean’s coldness for the reasons beyond the chemical conditioning that comes with being a fratello. There’s plenty of action during the course of events as well; in fact, it’s some of the most hardcore, gritty violence since the original TV series, and it’s skillfully animated. The character development is quite excellent as well. I never thought I’d have cause to use the term tsundere for an adult male character, let alone the previously icy Jean, yet he actually seems like he’s got a softer side for the first time. Tragically, his sensitivity has been part of why he’s been so heartless at points, as he doesn’t want to get emotionally attached again to anyone, let alone someone essentially fated to die like a fratello. Even the normally childish and empty-headed Rico seems almost mature, and certainly much emotionally perceptive than before. Really, it’s a fantastic episode in just about every facet, and it manages to further flesh out characters were already fairly well developed.

The second episode picks right off where the first leaves off: again, with solid character moments, and another big dose of real Italian politics underpinning the sci-fi coating. However, for being a piece of direct exposition, it’s kept tight enough that it doesn’t feel like it subverts the overall flow of the episode. Brilliant music cues recall some of the finest moments from the Il Teatrino TV series (perhaps underlining just how fantastic some of the episodes from the often maligned second TV season actually were,) and in a lot of ways, it provides the denouement some threads in the TV series lacked. Beyond that, it’s a level up over the great character episodes from both Gunslinger Girl TV series, because they manage to fit some backstory moments and even some good monologues for almost all the girls and even for Jean and Guise. Previously, Gunslinger Girl, no matter how it was presented, tended most brightly shine when focusing on just the interaction or story behind one pair of fratello. This time it’s an undeniable step up because it’s multi-tasking with the same emotional weight. It even takes a moment to tease content that would hopefully form the basis of a third TV series, and it does so naturally.

Beyond the individual story quality of these episodes, the overall handling seems to have a definitive increase in quality. There are subtle tweaks to the character design that lend a maturity that matches the increased emotional and intellectual maturity of the girls. To be clear, the art style is still the more simplified look that matches the shift in the manga’s line work, but that style wasn’t a problem this time, probably because the other aspects were executed properly. The music cues through seem much more natural and fitting for the scenes, even though mostly recycled from the Il Teatrino TV episodes. The storyboarding is much cleaner and more concise in its pacing regardless of whether it’s a blistering action scene or dramatic moment. The visual communication doesn’t have the awkward moments of unintentional overtones the Il Teatrino TV series suffered from either—the subtlety required by the ambitious writing is locked in at every turn by fitting expressions and body language from the characters. It even holds the line on pandering to otaku; where many OVAs go insane with fanservice, especially these days, and especially with characters like Rico and Henrietta, they give that audience effectively nothing. Even though the last episode has a beach scene, it never slows to hold on some over-highlighted, hyper-glossy still. Instead, it is fairly plainly handled, and wasn’t even the focus of the scene. I wouldn’t say these OVAs have perfect animation or perfect direction, but it’s as if every glaring problem afflicted an otherwise excellent TV series was addressed. I’m not sure how this shift in quality came about, but it means I wouldn’t at all mind seeing Artland take the property for another season if they can adapt the next arc of the manga with the same excellence. From their early stumbles, Artland’s matured a lot in their understanding of what makes Gunslinger Girl great.

FUNimation doesn’t slack off for a moment either, providing not only the usual textless OP/ED, but an interview with one of the Japanese VAs as well. They also come through with the same cinematic mixes that have been a staple on their previous Gunslinger Girl releases, and that mix contains some fantastic performances from their voice actors; it’s a great show in either language, but the English mix is just a real treat all around. If you’ve got a home theater, it’s going to be one of the best anime to put on it.

But, like I said at the top, unless you’ve already bought the other Gunslinger Girl series, I can’t recommend this OVA.

Why? For starters, both Gunslinger Girl TV series will be hitting Blu-Ray in March 2010, so if you’re already on Blu-Ray, there is no point in snagging it all in DVD now. Sure, the OVA isn’t scheduled for Blu-Ray yet, but give it time. In the meanwhile, watch FUNimation’s streams to whet your appetite, then feast on the hi-def bounty of bullets and bloodspray when it comes your way. Of course, even the DVD-only collector would be wise to wait unless they’ve already got the other two shows because it’s clear from other FUNimation series (most recently the School Rumble complete box that has everything, including it’s OVA,) that eventually at least the Il Teatrino TV series will be boxed with this OVA at some point, and really, since the same Japanese distributor (a different issue than the animation companies involved) handled all animated variations of Gunslinger Girl, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it all in one DVD boxset for a price that makes more sense than collecting it all in pieces. Besides, they’ve already released the original TV series on DVD five times in the past five years (original singles, original boxset, Viridian singles and two Viridian boxsets,) so really, heading back one more time for a truly complete collection would certainly fit Funimation’s release pattern.

I really hate to tell people not to buy a great anime, but yet, here we are. Hold off on the Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino OVA until you can get it as part of a greater whole, if not a complete whole, unless you’ve already snagged the two TV series. This OVA is awesome, and you should Netflix it, or rent it, and certainly get once it’s part of a boxset, but the stand alone value isn’t there for a lot of people.

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