Sarumarine (Level 9)

Art Shift in Season 2 of Gunslinger Girl is... weird...
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Despite the promotional material involving little girls with big guns and the hint of shootouts, Gunslinger Girl is a deliberately paced show that takes itself seriously and focuses more on the human toll of engineering child assassins than the spectacle of violence and explosions. It's not completely devoid of action, but that's far from the focus. This ain't no Black Lagoon, that's for sure. But you know what? I thought it was pretty good.

Gunslinger Girl, Season 1

Guess what's in the Violin Case. C'mon. Guess.
Guess what's in the Violin Case. C'mon. Guess.

I really enjoyed this show. Admittedly, it's only the second anime I've watched seriously, but it was nice to try something new.

The story revolves around an Italian government service called the Social Welfare Agency. On the surface they help neglected kids, but really they salvage abused, broken, or emotionally damaged girls and rework them into killing machines. They use cybernetics to give them new combat ready bodies and conditioning (brainwashing) so they're always focused on the job and the protection of their handlers. The bulk of the show is about watching how hard these girls try to hold onto their humanity when they're not mowing down people with sub-machine guns or snapping necks without a second thought. This also extends to the handlers who are a collection of washouts, burnouts, and cripples trying to deal with an awkward job. A lot of them are stuck walking the tightrope of deciding whether to treat their girls like humans or weapons. Some don't even try.

Of course, there are maids. Always maids.
Of course, there are maids. Always maids.

And the show takes itself pretty damn seriously. There are no pop culture references, no obvious shout outs to movies, no lampshading- just a focus on the emotional fallout of turning damaged little girls into government assassins. It's a fucked up premise, and it's great to see them try to get the most mileage out of it. When Gunslinger Girl turns on heartbreaking, it goes for it. However, that means characters are at the forefront here, not crazy story arcs or absurd action. The pace can also be a serious stumbling block. If you're going to give Gunslinger Girl a watch, just know one thing...

It only has one speed: slow.

Gallery of Emotions

Jerk up front, adorable in the back
Jerk up front, adorable in the back

Early on, the show is mostly about showcasing the cast of girls and their handlers and how they deal with their situation. My favorite would have to be Rico who spent most of her life in a hospital bed before her parents gave her to the Social Welfare Agency. She's so psyched to have a body that lets her move around that she's miss sunny side up. She keeps a positive attitude despite her new life as a killer. Her handler is a guy named Jean who treats her like an attack dog including a heavy hand for physical abuse. Nothing seems to get Rico down, and it's just as creepy as it sounds. Her adorable voice helps sell it.

Henrietta, the newest girl, spends most of her time getting way too attached to her handler Jose. She's also the most unhinged after going on a rampage in the very first episode. Jose does his best to train her otherwise but is still caught up with gifts and getting way too emotionally involved. Considering the cyborg girls are meant to be used and disposed before they get out of their teens, this can only end badly for the both of them. That kind of undercurrent runs through the whole show, and I found almost anything that happens is unnerving and tense. It's like tragedy is just waiting around the corner.

Making the Most of Italy

I think I climbed that in Assassin's Creed 2
I think I climbed that in Assassin's Creed 2

About halfway through this show I wondered why it took place in Italy. Then an episode took place in an art gallery in Florence complete with some pretty good renders of famous paintings. Gunslinger Girl loves making the most of Italian scenery. Not to mention it has a great soundtrack too. The opening is a nice number known as "The Light Before We Land." And the show is no slouch making use of pianos, violins, and other classical music in a country where the Renaissance took place. Italy has been host to well recorded cycles of revenge, murder and betrayal. So if you're going to make little girls assassins and focus on the tragic side of that equation... it's not a bad choice.

The selection of weapons that pop up in the show come from all over Europe. The main girl Henrietta uses a Belgian sub-machine gun. Rico uses a Russian sniper rifle. Angelica uses a Steyr AUG. And so on. They don't always take center stage in major shoot outs, but that's not really Gunslinger Girl's forte in the first place. It was really no surprise to learn that the animation studio was Madhouse considering their work on Black Lagoon and all the guns in that show.

Not Everything is Violins and Teacups

And then she wrecks this guy Jason Bourne style
And then she wrecks this guy Jason Bourne style

When Gunslinger Girl does dip into action, it has its moments. The best parts are when the girls play up their sweet and innocent routine to do something horrible with their increased strength. Which, is the whole point of turning girls into cyborg assassins in the first place. No one is supposed to see them coming until it's too late. There's one point where Henrietta kidney punches a guy so hard he doesn't get back up. And there's also bookworm Claes who is told to be gentle when she's got her glasses on. As you might expect, when the glasses come off she's a force to be reckoned with. Granted these moments are few and far in between, but I found them great considering how introspective the rest of the show is.

Fair Warning

The biggest issue I had with Season 1 was adjusting to the pace. It makes for a slow burn. The first two episodes are probably the hardest to crack since they're supposed to get you into the show. They have some long pauses in the first episode. One of these lasts ten seconds with no characters animating or emoting, no music, and no screen movement. I thought my video player had frozen. But it's really just setting the tone. If you can get past that, there's the second episode that reuses a lot of scenes (without flashbacks interrupting the action) and that's unfortunate. Things get more interesting later on like a murder mystery and hostage rescue... if you can get that far. Going by Tom Pinchuk's impression, I feel like you're in it from the beginning or you're spending your time with something else. And there's nothing wrong with that.

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That's a lot of Gunslinging Girls
That's a lot of Gunslinging Girls

So this came in the mail recently. After using the similar franchise tab on the site and posting some thoughts on the first episode a blog or two ago, I thought I would give the series a go. This was listed as the "complete collection" which is the first two seasons and an OVA. I haven't gotten into it yet, so all I can really talk about is the box art and case construction. It's definitely not as impressive as Black Lagoon's tin boxes considering it's just cardboard and plastic cases. It's got some nice artwork in the form of season 2 and the OVA... but season 1 definitely got the short end of the stick with the standard character poses.

The cardboard sleeve has that one pose for Henrietta they use everywhere as she fires a P90 while squatting so... they nailed it there, I guess.

I'll be watching it in the next few weeks and probably do some wiki work when I'm done. I see the Gunslinger Girl section of the wiki could use some screenshots so I'll be more than happy to provide. I haven't decided if I'll post thoughts as I go or wait till the end... but I guess that depends on what happens.

To prevent this from being completely pointless, what's some great box art any of you guys have seen or bought? I'm sure there are plenty of cool examples out there.

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I realize that taking screenshots isn't a scientific process and is really just about timing, patience and preference. But when you go through a show frame-by-frame trying for a certain image- you notice things. I've been putting some time here and there to filling out the image banks of the Wiki for the Black Lagoon series. Considering this is my third blog post about this show, I'm probably getting close to being known as "that Black Lagoon guy" which I can deal with. But basically, I wanted to share the things I noticed after two seasons snapping pictures of characters, places, guns and muzzle flashes.

It's probably too late by now to mention that there are going to be a bunch of pictures.

Fun with Rock Faces

Rock has a lot of great expressions when he's hanging in the background while other characters talk. Sometimes it's easy to notice, but other times it's usually just a result of the angle and the loss of detail as things get further away from the screen. I didn't really notice a lot of them until I was trying to get a certain pose or expression, mostly because these scenes are only a few seconds long. Here are two of my favorites.

Revy's got Rock's nose and Balalaika doesn't care
Revy's got Rock's nose and Balalaika doesn't care
It&squot;s much easier to notice how "chill" Rock is in this picture
It's much easier to notice how "chill" Rock is in this picture

Taking a Double Take

Quick cuts in action sequences (and a few other scenarios) often give you a second or two before whipping over to something else. A lot of times they aren't meant to be poured over and picked apart like you can in a screenshot. Of course you can also pull this off by pausing the video at a weird time and catching something that usually goes by in the blink of an eye.

Case in point is a intelligence file on Roberta the maid that is glossed over as Boris talks about it. I had thought about taking a picture for the episode gallery of Rasta Blasta... but it's actually a lot Engrish not meant to be closely examined. I thought it could work better in Russian... but if you could read Russian it would be the same problem over again. But to be fair and a lot more realistic, its main purpose is just to let you know that Balalaika is one well informed woman.

Balalaika gets her intelligence from someone who could benefit from a proof reader
Balalaika gets her intelligence from someone who could benefit from a proof reader

Can you see it? Can you see Mr. Chang's smile as he shoots under his arm at a terrorist thug on a stairwell? Okay, it's actually just his cigarette. But for the longest time I thought it was part of his mouth as he grinned or something. It wasn't until I took this picture (and several days later) when I realized you can't actually see his mouth in this shot. It goes by so fast in the show that I let my brain fill in the rest.

Yeah, I totally thought that cigarette was Mr. Chang's mouth
Yeah, I totally thought that cigarette was Mr. Chang's mouth

And then there's this guy, Ratchman. From the screenshot below he looks eighty years or older. Compare to any other screenshot on his character page. He's not a young guy... but he looks ancient here. Probably because of the way his hand is positioned. He looks like he's got flaps of skin hanging around his mouth or something.

Get Old or Die Trying
Get Old or Die Trying

Hey, It's That Guy!

I usually end up re-watching an episode a couple of times trying to locate the scene I was thinking about taking pictures of. Along with funny faces and shots not meant to stay on screen for a long time, you can sometimes notice characters appear way before they ever get center stage. In this case it's a minor one, but he makes a big splash.

Did you notice and/or care about that bald dude behind Revy? No?
Did you notice and/or care about that bald dude behind Revy? No?
Okay. How about now!? How do you like Gatling Guy now!?
Okay. How about now!? How do you like Gatling Guy now!?

The best one so far is the Guy with the Gatling Gun who first shows up in Season 1 "Maid to Kill" and then comes back in Season 2 "Roanapur Freakshow Circus" as a hired gun. I might be stretching, but he's got the same bald head and ratty gray tank top. They probably just reused a character design.

Bright and Shiny Muzzle Flashes

One thing I have a weakness for is the muzzle flash. They often make things hard to see or ruin a perfectly good screen shot... but I can't help it. I love flashy lighting effects.

I got this on accident while trying to get pictures of Gretel's BAR. It's one of my favorites. Bonus for shell casings
I got this on accident while trying to get pictures of Gretel's BAR. It's one of my favorites. Bonus for shell casings
Revy responds to an existential crisis with full automatic fire
Revy responds to an existential crisis with full automatic fire
Chow Yun-fat... I mean Inspector Tequila... I mean John Woo... Ah forget it
Chow Yun-fat... I mean Inspector Tequila... I mean John Woo... Ah forget it

The Many Gun Barrels of Balalaika

I'll end this blog on Balalaika and poses. Apparently her favorite past time (besides waging war and burning her enemies to the ground) is pointing guns in people's faces. With a smile. Also, I'm pretty good at terrible captions. Just saying.

She Points her Machine Pistol at Night
She Points her Machine Pistol at Night
This is what "Balalaika Amused" looks like. Slap that on a T-Shirt
This is what "Balalaika Amused" looks like. Slap that on a T-Shirt
Always Be Pointing Guns (or Smoking)
Always Be Pointing Guns (or Smoking)
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Gunslinger Girl? We'll see...
Gunslinger Girl? We'll see...

As a way to ease myself in to anime and the site in general, I decided to put the "Like X? You Might Like Y!" to the test. I've been pretty big into Black Lagoon so I used the similar franchise tab on the side of the page to pick something else to watch. So as the title of this blog implies, this will be the first time for this next series, Gunslinger Girl. Going on an image gallery or two, on the surface it looks like little girls and big guns. Not unlike the immensely creepy Gretel from Black Lagoon.

Maybe because of that I have the expectation it's going to be really tragic or just plain dark. And I can handle that, provided it's done well. Hansel and Gretel were really twisted characters, but they were compelling. Even though they did really horrible things, I still felt sorry for them. Which is an accomplishment considering what they are.

So I went and watched the first episode of Gunslinger Girl. It should go without saying that a lot of my feelings can be prefaced with "judging from this first episode."

Gunslinger Girl (Episode 1: Fratello)

What's it About?

Those are some Adorable Killers
Those are some Adorable Killers

It uses a rather heavy premise of an Italian government agency that salvages damaged little girls from hospitals and trains them to be covert government killing machines. Cybernetics are in play as they can handle themselves even without a sub-machine gun or trench gun in hand. The main girl of this episode, Henrietta, catches a wooden bookcase twice her size with one hand and doesn't break a sweat. What's nice is that they tackle the rather obvious question of "why little girls?" pretty early on. The younger they are, the better they adapt to the implants. Then there's the tactical point of... no one suspects a little girl armed to the teeth.

Of course considering what anime is sometimes known for (and because I just came from Black Lagoon) I already know: ALWAYS suspect the little girl.

OK, What Happens?

This show kinda strikes me as procedural at some points. And it's pretty moody. There's a lot of flashbacks going on between the main action, so you get to know government assassin Henrietta and her government handler Jose. After some pretty horrific things happen to Henrietta, she's picked up for the assassin program and gets put through the paces. Watching a young girl go through a live fire training course and coldly shooting up cardboard targets is pretty chilling. Especially her emotionless stare... which is the kind of thing I've associated with career killers or hardened psychopaths in other shows. Besides cybernetics, personality conditioning is another thing they throw in before training. It doesn't seem foolproof.

It really reminds me of the saying that surviving and living aren't the same thing. Henrietta survived her whole family getting slaughtered... so she could become a killer. From this first episode, it comes off like a no win situation. Especially when the main action kicks off and Henrietta goes ballistic and slaughters an apartment full of gangsters... that she was supposed to take alive to locate the real target. The other girls that show up don't seem as tightly wound, but I'm sure there's plenty of time to come undone if Henrietta is any indication.

Jose is also played pretty well as a guy in a terribly awkward situation of using a girl as an assassin. He seems caught between treating Henrietta as a weapon and the little girl she appears to be. One of the agent guys puts it best when he refers to Henrietta as expendable. She's not an individual, just a tool they can replace later if she snaps or breaks.

As a somewhat random side note, this episode has some crazy long pauses for effect. One pause in a hospital room went on for so long I thought my video player had frozen or something. That might take some getting use to if it keeps popping up.

What Did You Think?

From the first episode? Color me interested. My major fear is that going by the tone, I feel this series could get really dark if not outright cruel. Black Lagoon could get dark at times but it always had the action movie undercurrent. The spectacle could sometimes lessen the blow as the main characters tear through human trash, ramp boats into the air, and drop kick sleazy gunmen with ease. I don't think Gunslinger Girl is going to have that same kind of emotional rubber band. Henrietta's action scene in this episode is treated as a major blunder from mission control. And considering she takes a bullet and then has a little breakdown... Man.

I'm just afraid it could get too depressing to be entertaining.

How Similar is It to Black Lagoon Then?

Henrietta and her "Violin"
Henrietta and her "Violin"

To get back to the point of testing the recommendation tab, granted I'm drawing from one episode, but some parallels can be made with Black Lagoon. For starters, this show has the same loving detail spent on drawing and animating firearms. For one episode they have a lot of different weapons on display. There's what looks like a trench shotgun, a bunch of well drawn handguns, a Dragunov sniper rifle, and easily my favorite: Henrietta's FN P90 sub-machine gun. I suppose it's hard not to sound gun crazy when I say I love the P90 for its odd design and fifty round magazine. So to see it pop up out of a violin case and get put to good use was pretty cool. The picture I've embedded to the right is something I must have seen a hundred times in people's banners or wallpapers without knowing where it came from. So Gunslinger Girl did offer some closure in that respect.

The short action scene hits some of the same notes from Black Lagoon, if only because of a one man army scenario where a character takes on a group of enemies single handed. And a little girl with a gun. I'll have to go back and check dates, but the more I think about it, the more it seems that Gretel and her B.A.R. is a wink and a nod to this series. Only with more psychopathy. But the tone between the two shows couldn't be more different. Black Lagoon is pretty Tarantino in execution. Gunslinger Girl takes itself a lot more seriously, which I appreciate considering its subject matter revolves around child assassins. P90 or not, that's all kinds of messed up.

Are You Going to Watch More?

Sure. But like I said. I'm just kind of afraid where things will go. For those who have already seen this series through (anime or manga) please try to keep it low key. In the event I do watch more, I don't want to be spoiled. I feel like the major plot points in this show could pack quite the punch.

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Usually I spend most of my time on Giant Bomb. I've been easing my way into Anime Vice since taking a liking to Black Lagoon. This post has a foot in both sites so I thought I'd share it here just in case.

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I'm a guy with many tastes, but I have most of my fun with video games. And a lot like an ill fated metaphor about combining ice cream and pizza, I tend to wonder if other things I enjoy just might make a good game. Considering the crazy range of play styles and tone from one title to the next there is certainly a whole lot of room for just about anything you can throw at it.

So this blog post is about something that could be a game. Take careful note that I say could, because as the saying goes. You could, but should you? Safe money and sanity says, no, but I want to have fun with it anyway.

It Could be a Game: Black Lagoon

Like most video game characters, Revy is really only good at Killing People
Like most video game characters, Revy is really only good at Killing People

Right up front Black Lagoon is an anime/manga series about a gang of pirates that operate out of a city in Thailand made up of mobsters, cartels, psychopaths, and drug dealers. The tone is very dark with a dash of grey morality kinda similar to Grand Theft Auto without the cheeky parodies of American culture. The action is very 80s what with torpedo boats taking out attack helicopters, unlikely displays of dual wielding handguns, and nearly indestructible women sometimes dressed up in maid outfits. I won't drag on about the plot because we have the technology if you want to know more.

Some of the appeal comes from a Japanese salary man out of his element who still finds time to survive using his head and carefully chosen words instead of mountains of bullets. I'll get around to that later. Some of the danger is that this would be a licensed game dooming it to indifference or a quick cash in. Although, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Tons of Guns, and Quirky Weapons Too

Guns? Yes. All of the Above
Guns? Yes. All of the Above

People who are familiar with Black Lagoon might find it a dead ringer for a third person action game or a sandbox type where you explore a city. But before we get that far, one thing Black Lagoon has going for it is a healthy selection of weapons. For me, most action games live and die with their selection of guns or tools of destruction. This is especially true in first person shooters where your "character" is really just a floating gun with a helping hand for reload animations. One of the show's more defining characteristics is the considerable detail spent on the various guns that are fired off from episode to episode. Everything from Berettas, to Browning Automatic Rifles, to Desert Eagles, to Kalashnikovs are well represented.

And then there are a few special weapons that were the partial inspiration for a blog like this. The kind of stuff that makes me wonder why this hasn't appeared in a video game yet.

The Umbrella Shotgun and the Suitcase SAW
The Umbrella Shotgun and the Suitcase SAW

Short explanation, Black Lagoon likes to take a lot of Japanese character types and put dark spins on them. Roberta the maid is no exception. But the important thing is her concealed weapons in the form of a combat shotgun umbrella and an LMG in her suitcase. I don't know how we've gotten this far without a game featuring some sort of concealed combination like this. C'mon video game industry. New Hitman game? Novelty Team Fortress 2 item for the Heavy? Someone get on this. It would be awesome.

Roanapur: A Little Slice of Hell in East Asia

Someone has Already Thought of This
Someone has Already Thought of This

The setting of Black Lagoon certainly leaves a lot of options for game play. Roanapur is a fictional city in Thailand overrun with crime and drug trade. There's no illusion of order as the police are completely useless and the criminal element kill each other day in, day out fighting for territory. The only thing keeping the streets from becoming a war zone is a tight balance struck up by the various mafias. It's not the most original setting as a city of sin and crime, but the international element allows a lot of interaction from all over the world. Setting it in the 90s allows for plenty of soldiers left behind from the Cold War and Communism to apply their training for personal profit.

The natural reaction is something like GTA, which the accompanying image I found on the internet shows someone agrees. I have a different, less obvious idea, which leads me to...

Black Lagoon feat. Dialogue Trees

I would be totally cool with an adventure game where you navigate the trigger happy world of Black Lagoon with nothing but a lot of smooth talking. Adventure games are hot now, right? Give it to Telltale Games. The main character, nicknamed Rock, of this series is really just a normal white collar guy trying to hold onto his soul in a city where people solve their differences with gunfire and grenade launchers. He gets away with a lot of shit using nothing but a cool head and a lot of talking. It would be fun trying to get away with the same stuff through careful use of dialogue trees.

Use [Coat] on [Mad Russian Lady]
Use [Coat] on [Mad Russian Lady]

Or in the case of the game giving you options (including massive failure), make a big a mess as you possibly can.

Sometimes there are No Right Answers
Sometimes there are No Right Answers

Of course, if you want shooting there are more than enough blood thirsty characters in this series to put together a battle of any kind. You could even make it Uncharted-like to take advantage of all the jumping and diving regularly featured in the show.

This is Probably a Bad Idea

Torture Mini Game! What? Too far?
Torture Mini Game! What? Too far?

But there's really no reason to limit game play to one character when there are plenty of quirky people you could rotate around... and that brings me to (probably) the most uncomfortable part of Black Lagoon, Hansel and Gretel. They're a pair of murderous pre-teen twins (maybe) that kill people with axes and a machine gun. They're all kinds of fucked up. And yet... I would be lying if I didn't think playing as them could be fun. Stalking people, luring them into a false sense of security, laying waste to bars and automobiles with a machine gun... and they would be weak to sniper rifles. I don't know what that says about me as a person, but if done poorly it would really cheapen their characters and probably show up on a news program.

Although, this concern probably depends on your familiarity with Hansel and Gretel and your tolerance for violence. I just can't remember many games where you play as murderous children beyond saving with a really, really fucked up past.

The Conclusion?

Black Lagoon could be a video game. It has everything it needs. Should it though? Probably no, considering how most licensed games turn out. The fact that there isn't an actual Black Lagoon game is evidence enough of that. Still, there are a lot of parts of the show I wouldn't mind getting borrowed for other games. If there is one thing from this blog that I would make real, it would be a shotgun umbrella. Preferably for a stealth game. That would be sweet.

That's not how you Active Reload, dude.
That's not how you Active Reload, dude.
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