Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino-

Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino-Type: TV Series + OVA
Episode Count: 13 + 2
Genre: Suspense / Drama / Sci-Fi
Vintage: 2008

Version reviewed: Japanese, Subtitled
Date of Review: 09 Jul 2015

Grade: B

A sequel which hardly resembles its predecessor

Plot Summary
The emergence of a new terrorist plot has the girls of the Social Welfare Agency back in action, and Triela finds herself facing her biggest challenge yet.

The Review
Where do I even begin? Take everything about the original Gunslinger Girl and throw it out the window. Nearly everything has changed. Different animation studio, different character designs, different tone, different voice actors, different music, different approach. Different everything. That doesn’t make Il Teatrino a bad series, just… different. If you are expecting a seamless continuation of the original series, you will likely be disappointed. Il Teatrino fares better when judged on its own merits rather than compared to the original, but comparisons to the original are fairly hard to avoid, as this series is a sequel, after all…

The biggest thing which prevents Il Teatrino from being a completely standalone series is that there are no character introductions. That is all covered in the original series, so unless you’ve already watched that, you will have no idea who the characters are or know their stories. Il Teatrino also does not pick up directly where the original series left off. This is where another major difference becomes apparent: Il Teatrino has more of an overarching story than the original series did. This helps the series carve out its own identity, but it comes at a cost. While the story is being laid out, it focuses mostly on secondary characters, leaving the girls who the series was originally about in the margins. Developing the secondary characters for the new story isn’t a bad thing, but without any of the primary cast in play, it almost dilutes the series in a way, reducing it to a more standard suspense drama.

Speaking of characters, they have also changed in many ways from the original. First, they look different. The visual appearances of the characters are actually truer to series creator Yu Aida’s original designs, but personally I preferred Madhouse’s interpretations of the characters in the original series. This dovetails into the next major difference in Il Teatrino: the series looks nothing like the original, as the creative visual staff is entirely different. Now animated by Artland studio, the lines are a lot freer, drawings are less detailed, and everything is brighter. Il Teatrino doesn’t look bad by any stretch, but the lack of continuity from the original series makes for a jarring change. This, coupled with new voice actors for the characters with slightly less nuanced performances and character personality changes, makes it hard to believe that these are the next chapters in the story from the previous series.

Adding to the altered tone of the series is its score. The original series had a lush musical backdrop by Toshihiko Sahashi. Il Teatrino‘s score landed in the capable hands of Kou Otani, though he often seems to be channeling Yuki Kajiura here. The resulting sonic backdrop conveys a different mood. Not better. Not worse. Just… different.

But then, something happened as I progressed through the series. All of a sudden, after all of the groundwork being laid and focus on plot developments which made Il Teatrino seem but a shadow of Gunslinger Girl‘s former self (though a good crime drama by any other name), a character study episode brought the series back into familiar territory. This return to a more character-driven narrative was a welcome change for me and brought me back into the series, just as it was on the verge of losing me. Unfortunately, this was not to last, and Il Teatrino returned its focus to the secondary characters (which are actually the primary characters for this series, in many respects) and overall story. By the very end of the TV series, it managed to strike a good balance between the old and new elements, but it was too little too late.

For me, Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino- would have fared better had it not been conceived as a Gunslinger Girl series. The girls which had been the focus of the original series are swept to the margins in Il Teatrino, except for a couple of episodes in the middle of the series. That wasn’t enough to save it for me. I have no problems with a plot-driven series, and maybe it’s a little unfair, but after the original Gunslinger Girl, when I reach for this title I look forward to the character studies and moral dilemmas posed by the idea transforming adolescent girls into cyborgs and then training them as assassins. Il Teatrino‘s protagonist is not even one of the girls nor their handlers. By removing the focus of the series from the characters who give it its name, this installment is reduced to a mere crime drama. Il Teatrino is a good series, it’s just not the Gunslinger Girl I came to enjoy.

There is some good news, however, when it comes to the two episode OVA which follows the TV series. The focus wisely returns the series to its strength: a character-oriented narrative focused on some of the central characters of the series. The Il Teatrino OVA harkens back to what made the original series so great, and sends this series off on a high note. I only wish it could have continued on this way, and that there was more of it in the TV series.

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