With the first five volumes of Gunslinger Girl taking the series to heights of excellence rarely seen in manga, there was always the nagging worry that the series would have to plummet sooner or later. Fortunately, four volumes later, and there is still plenty of reason to keep praising it.
The most significant additions to the series from volume six onwards are Alessandro and Petrushka, a brand new handler and the first of the ‘second generation’ cyborgs- an older teenager who has had much more of her body replaced than the earlier cyborgs. At this point, you might be thinking that this sounds like the typical last gasp of a series that has gone downhill- after all, what gimmick is more common than introducing a new character to disguise the fact that the story has run its course? Fear not, however, that’s not the case here- and in fact, the dynamic between these new characters only serves to add an extra dimension to the series.
Starting with her life as a ballerina before a leg amputation ends her career and ultimately sees her turned into a cyborg, Petrushka’s story is perhaps the most complete of all the cyborgs we’ve seen so far, with her more mature attitude and laid-back yet competent relationship with her handler offering a whole new perspective on what it means to part of Section Two. Less of a little girl and more of a young woman, the conditioning robs Petrushka of none of her personality, making her a witty and free-thinking addition to the team. The tragedy of her situation shouldn’t be forgotten, but her presence is a breath of fresh that prevents the series from disappearing into the depths of misery.
If, at this point, you’re getting worried that the original characters have been relegated to the sidelines, then fear not, because there’s still plenty of material involving them as well. The life span of the first generation of cyborgs is drawing to a close, with Angelica getting ever more forgetful and Hilshire fearing that every medical treatment is only make Triela’s life that much shorter. Inevitability is catching up with all of them, but in the meantime, the missions must go on.
Overall, the artwork of these later volumes is consistent with what we’re already used to- character designs are attractive, settings are detailed and action scenes are generally good if not always immediately clear. It is, however, interesting to note that the mangaka has experimented a little with character designs in places- Jose/Giuseppe unfortunately has the high-schooler look of his Il Teatrino self, whilst on one mission all of the girls are dressed and made up to look older.
After the disappointment of the anime’s second season, it is both reassuring and relieving to return to the manga and discover that the source material remains as excellent as ever. Even if you aren’t usually in the habit of reading manga, you must make an exception to discover the true potential of this series.