Is Gunslinger Girl Running Out of Steam?

Gunslinger Girl is one of the only stories I know where it does not constitute a spoiler to reveal that this or that character dies. Artist Aida Yu makes it clear very early that every cyborg-assassin girl is going to die, probably horribly. At its best, Gunslinger Girl uses the constant presence of death to its advantage, for example with Triela’s story and her relationship with Hilshire. Sometimes, though, Aida overplays his hand, and especially in Seven Seas’ most recent omnibus volume (volumes 11-12) his writing gets tiring and predictable.

When the volumes 7-8 omnibus came out, I called it the best entry yet in the franchise. Aida’s decision to spend a couple full volumes with just one character, and one who’s more human than the other girls, paid off. So, I was a little surprised with volumes 9-10, which return to the first-generation cyborgs, especially Triela and Angelica. These volumes, in my mind, solidified Triela as the most interesting and sympathetic cyborg, at least among the first-generation girls, so I’m fine with the return to the older cast. It also killed off, I think for the first time, a major character. Again, this is no spoiler, because Aida spends most of the volume saying, basically, “Oh, no, guys! This little girl is going to die! It’ll be totally sad, too! You might cry!” Subtlety has never been Aida’s strength, but overall the volume remains mostly effective because Angelica had already been well-established.

Now, I mention all this because it points to why, after finishing volumes 11-12, this series feels like it’s running out of steam. Consider the main story arc of vol. 11, involving a group of terrorists taking over a bell tower in Venice, which can only be taken with a frontal assault. Aida introduces a couple new cyborgs, and also brings in Beatrice, whom we’ve only seen a couple times before. At first, I thought this could be an interesting development. Characters have mentioned that several other girls besides the main six or so live at the Social Welfare Agency, so introducing some new characters and thus broadening the scope of the comic a bit could make for a breath of fresh air.

So, wonder what happens to these new girls?

Yep. All three of these panels occur within twenty pages or so of each other, but here’s a possible spoiler: one of them does not get killed.

This story arc does have a lot of action, which is good because that’s what makes Gunslinger Girl my favourite “cute girls doing cute things” comic. However, the action comes across as lackluster, because Aida has not bothered to establish most of the characters doing the fighting, meaning the reader has very little reason to care about the outcome. Triela takes part in the engagement, and comments to herself about how she’s the only cyborg fighting to survive, which we know from her previous story arcs, but as far as I can tell it doesn’t really change how she fights, and doesn’t really affect much of anything else, either. Aida tries to raise the stakes by involving the mastermind of the Croce Incident (more on this shortly), bringing up Jean and Jose’s vendetta against these terrorists, but this too is handled with all the grace of a drunken ballerina.

The last chapter of vol. 11 and all but the last chapter of vol. 12 give the details of the Croce Incident, in which Jean and Jose Croce’s family were murdered in a terrorist attack. These do give a lot of information about and development of the Croce family, especially their sister Enrica, but I’m not sure it justifies devoting an entire volume’s worth of space to it. Aida has already given the reader the outline of the incident and has established Jean and Jose’s characters largely on that piece of backstory. The development doesn’t necessarily hurt, but I don’t read Gunslinger Girl for family drama, and as far as I can tell so far none of the new material revealed in that flashback is especially significant.

The first and last chapters of the omnibus tell us that Henrietta is nearing the end of her life-span. Since the first volume opened with Henrietta’s story, it seems logical to end the series with her story, as well. There are, I believe, three volumes remaining, so I don’t know whether that is the case or not. I love the first eight or so volumes of this comic, so I’m hoping these last couple have just been a hiccup, and that Aida pulled together an ending worthy of Gunslinger Girl’s beginning.