Manga-ka: Yu Aida
Publisher: Seven Seas
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: October 2011
Synopsis: “There is a secret counter-terrorism unit for the Italian government known only as the “Social Welfare Agency.” Its mission: to rescue troubled girls and turn them into heartless cyborg assassins using the latest advances in cyber-technology. The newest inductee into the Agency is a second generation cyborg called Petrushka, who may be the Agency’s most powerful operative yet. Petrushka is given a formidable trial-by-fire mission, together with her handler Allesandro, to foil an assassination attempt. Can she prove she’s got what it takes in an impossible mission she may not even survive?”
Gunslinger Girl fans, myself included, have waited a very long time for the arrival of this book. The series license was once held by ADV, who started publishing the book, stopped, started again, and then had the whole manga section fold, placing the series in indefinite limbo. Thankfully, Seven Seas stepped in to pick the title up; however, getting to new material took quite some time as the first six volumes were re-published in two omnibus additions. But finally volumes seven and eight are here, together in the third omnibus, and the question about what happens next can finally be answered.
One of the first things I noticed when picking up this book is the change of translation quality from this volume and my ADV releases. The language has more of a Italian flare to it, with the honorifics being translated into their Italian equivalents (“-san” becomes “signore” or “signorina,” for example). Also, one change that I really like is that they call Henrietta’s character “Jose,” which is the same translation that the first anime season’s release has, rather than “Guiseppe” which, while accurate, just became confusing for someone who has seen/read both.
While Gunslinger Girl started off with a slow, almost slice-of-life pace, the later volumes really started moving with a more focused plot, exploring the world the manga has created and these volumes continue to dive right in. The Italian setting for this manga has always been a curiosity to me and, after looking into it, I discovered that the “Padania” movement (which would see Northern Italy become an independent nation) does exist, though not to the extent that it is portrayed in the series. This world is full of complicated politics and conflicts in which neither party truly has the moral high ground. In many ways, it reminds me of the version of Gotham City seen in The Dark Knight, though perhaps with even more moral grey areas.
At the heart of this is, of course, the cyborgs themselves. It’s interesting that the back of the books claims the Social Welfare Agency is “saving” the girls, given that so much happens with their dubious consent given. This becomes especially the case with Petrushka who is a teenager rather than a pre-teen girl, thus bringing more romantic/sexual issues to the table and leading to some of the most uncomfortable moments for me as a reader (and not uncomfortable in a good, thought-provoking way that the first volumes excelled at).
The Petrushka storyline, while interesting, does have a number of flaws, not the least of which is that there is so much focus on a new character (as well as her handler) that the rest of the cast is hardly even seen (including Henrietta, who for so long was the focus character of the show and who has no more than a handful of appearances in both of these volumes combined). The story itself is told in a very similar manner to the original character introductions from those early volumes but it feels out of place so far down the line (though the introduction of a second generation cyborg does make sense with what has happened with the first generation as they begin to wear out). That said, the beginning of volume 7’s material does contain a solid piece of character development for Claes, some of the best she’s had in the series. However once that is over, it’s all Petrushka and Allesandro, all the time.
There also are some pacing issues here. While many interesting issues are raised when it comes to battling terrorism, vendettas, and espionage, quite a bit of it is done through dialogue or exposition, rather than coming through more naturally in the action. Also, there is one scene at the end of volume seven which is full of tension, only for the scene that completely resolves it all to be on the adjacent page.
Faults aside, I was very happy to have a new volume of Gunslinger Girl to read. It not only made me want to go back and read the earlier volumes again but also made me want to finally finish watching Il Teatrino, the anime’s second season. And, when it comes down to it, being left wanting more is one of the best indicators that a piece of entertainment, manga or otherwise, has done its job.
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Digital copy provided by Seven Seas for review purposes