Finally, it's here. Several years after the original Gunslinger Girl blew me away with its stunning visuals and shocking premise, the much-awaited sequel, Il Teatrino, or simply Gunslinger Girl 2, has arrived. Based even more closely on the manga by Yu Aida (and with even more supervision from him), this series is a direct continuation of the events from the first show. Where the first series was less about action and more about the relationships between the characters, Il Teatrino zooms the focus in squarely on the action and plot. It assumes you are already familiar with the concept of the "fratello" and the cyborg girls, and as such only gives a brief overview of the premise in various episodes. That's not to say that there are no more emotional moments or shocking scenes. Far from it. In fact, GSG2 is probably even MORE shocking with some of its subject matter. The show is quite deserving of its TV-MA rating; there is more blood, much stronger language, and more horrible things done to children. I won't give a plot summary here, because it's on the back of the box, and since I hate knowing even minor plot details before watching a show, I will give the same courtesy to readers of this review. I will say that this series does a fantastic job of keeping continuity with the first GSG. There are many references back to events in that show, and even some cameos by characters you thought you'd seen the last of. We finally get to see Angelica in action, learn more about Triela's heartbreaking backstory, and are even introduced to a new fratello.
Now, about the somewhat controversial visual style... The first GSG, animated by Madhouse, had a massive budget, with somewhere around $130k devoted to each episode. Il Teatrino was less fortunate, and had a much more modest budget. While it is evident that it is not the same animation studio (Arthouse this time around) or budget level, do not let that put you off. Yes, the character designs have been changed somewhat, but the results actually end up being closer in resemblance to the original manga, so that should be a plus for all you purists out there. I personally was not put off by the visuals whatsoever. If you are willing to look past the negative things you may have heard, you will be quite pleasantly surprised, as I was. I had heard mostly doom and gloom about how awful Il Teatrino looked, but after actually watching it (what a novel concept, right?), I was quite pleased with how it turned out.
The English dub performance is another gem from the folks at Funimation. The entire original cast returns for the sequel, and hammers the ball right out of the park. Frankly, this show would not be the same without them. Laura Bailey onces again stands out and demonstrates her impressive range as Henrietta, and the rest of the cast picks up right where they left off in the original. Funimation gets a big round of applause for pulling the cast back together and establishing some continuity.
All in all, this is a can't miss, must have follow up for fans of Gunslinger Girl. Do not be put off by internet rumors or bad reviews elsewhere. This series, combined with the first GSG, is a masterpiece for those who appreciate sad, dark, morally gray anime. Bottom line: buy it.