I'm sure that for many of you reading this Gunslinger Girl will require no real introduction, being as it was an anime series that immediately established itself as a firm favourite amongst a large number of people. This status as fan favourite wasn't some kind of serendipitous accident either, with the anime offering up a beautifully deep, thoughtful and poignant treatment of the manga on which it was based.
However, the original Gunslinger Girl series only offered up a slither of the story available within the ongoing manga series, leaving plenty of room for more episodes in the future - That's exactly what happened last year, with the introduction and Japanese broadcast of a new thirteen episode series, Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino.
If you're familiar with the Gunslinger Girl manga, then this new series broadly covers the original material's Pinocchio arc - No, not the story of a wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy per se, although the name proves itself to be very apt. In short, the Pinocchio of this story is an orphan taken in by a mafia boss of sorts, raised by this surrogate father while also trained up to be an assassin - Much like a tool is carved from wood, you might say. While he may hold an age difference over them and lack their cybernetic bodies, this incongruous lifestyle also leaves Pinocchio displaying a remarkable mental similarity to the girls who are the Social Welfare Agency's own trained killers.
These two rather similar yet simultaneously very different entities find themselves clashing against a backdrop of organised terrorism committed by radical groups, while this main story line is frequently sidetracked while we delve into the emotional and mental states of some of the girls (and indeed their handlers), in keeping with some of those deeper moments of psychological introspection which did so much to make the original series what it is. What we're left with is a blend of action and more subdued, slowly paced story-telling, which is more or less what you'd expect from the franchise.
Of course, the real question is whether Artland (who took over the reins from Madhouse, who produced the original series) has managed to capture and evoke the emotions that made Gunslinger Girl so popular with Il Teatrino, to which the answer is - Sort of. Visually this series is frequently a poor relation to its predecessor, with what appears to be a lower animation budget and less distinguished character designs (which is always hard to accept when it involves characters you're already very much familiar with). On the more important topic of story-telling and plot progression, Il Teatrino proves to be a hit and miss affair - Some episodes seem to miss the bigger picture, emotional responses and deeper questions that peppered the original series, while others hit those exact same points with almost as much accuracy as its predecessor. This can sometimes make the viewing experience frustrating, as you're careered from some beautifully realised scenarios to far more clumsy ones.
This issue of uneven production and scripting quality is really rather a shame, as when it hits the right notes Il Teatrino manages to evoke, and on very rare occasions even surpass, what held Gunslinger Girl in such good stead. There still remains something immensely chilling about seeing a young girl pulling the trigger to kill a man without a flicker of emotion, or worse seeing them positively lost in a frenzy of violence to the point of their enjoying the experience - These are the kind of emotions which Il Teatrino should look to foster far more often than it does.
Overall then, if you're a massive fan of Gunslinger Girl then you'll probably want to check out Il Teatrino if only to immerse yourself in more of the story that the franchise has to offer, and this is especially true considering that the entire series can viewed in an online streaming format for free on FUNimation's web site. However, this is a series that (perhaps inevitably) suffers from comparisons to its forebear, as it simply doesn't offer up the thoughtful balance that the original show pulled off with such aplomb. When it does things well it comes close the peak of Gunslinger Girl at its best, but sadly it doesn't manage to reach those heights quite often enough to really stand out from the crowd.