All bets are off. The time for espionage and assassination is over. A decade on from its English language debut we have finally reached this, the penultimate volume of Gunslinger Girl! But with war upon them, will the Social Welfare Agency live up to our expectations or be crushed by them?
Following the devastating attack on Venice in the previous volumes, the various terrorist and revolutionary factions across Italy unite under the banner of Giacomo Dante to bring down the government. As they begin a variety of actions across the country, Dante heads to a nuclear power plant and declares that he will detonate a bomb if anyone other than the Social Welfare Agency attempts to attack. Hoping to both end the conflict and conveniently dispose of the Agency, the Italian government order all the remaining cyborgs bar the handlerless Claes into action with the revenge-bent Jose and Jean in the vanguard!
It’s difficult to say too much more on the plot of these two volumes without going into major spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that this is the one we’ve been waiting for both in anticipation and in dread. It’s always been clear that Gunslinger Girl wasn’t destined for a happy ending, and from the beginning of the volume all bets are off as to whether any or all of the girls will make it out the other end in one piece.
Gunslinger Girl has always impressed with how impactful it is, masterfully balancing hugely violent action with delicate character-based moments that really make you connect with those characters on an emotional level in a way that prevents the series from feeling gratuitous and instead highlights the ethical and moral ambiguity behind its core concept. Thankfully this is still very much the case here, where in the midst of the most violent and deadly battle the girls have ever engaged in it’s still the character moments that take centre stage, whether it’s Rico contemplating her lot in life or Triela sharing a quiet moment with Hilshire to tell him she no longer hates him. Do we get an answer to the moral side of the questions the series posits? Of course not - Aida wisely recognises that this is something the reader must make their own mind up on rather than spoon-feeding them his own values.
The artwork on display in these combined volumes is still brilliant; Aida has always had strong character designs combined with a good eye for action sequences but this volume truly feels like the culmination of his work, with every panel looking stunning - the whole volume feeling like its luxuriating in its status as the finale beckons. The characters still display genuine emotion that really sells the whole thing apart and the action sequences have a great stylistic flair to them, especially when they mix in some cool acrobatics into the gunplay.
In case I haven’t quite made myself clear, the new volume of Gunslinger Girl is not just good, but one of the most enthralling entries in any manga series that I’ve read in years. It’s well worth picking up, and with all but the final (and forthcoming) volume available in omnibus editions from Seven Seas Entertainment this is the perfect time to pick up one of the best manga on the market!