Monday Melodic Musings: Contrasting Gunslinger Girl’s Main Themes

In most instances, when you have a second season to an anime, chances are they’ll use the same voice actors, the same animation studio, and, of course, the same composer. That’s not quite what happened with Gunslinger Girl. Whereas the first season was animated by Madhouse Studios and scored by maestro Toshihiko Sahashi, Artland animated Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino-. Its soundtrack was composed by Kou Otani.

Now, before we go any further, let me preface this discussion by saying that Gunslinger Girl and I have quite the history. Back in the halcyon days of my anime fandom, I never pursued the medium as intensely as I do now; anime was an on-again, off-again activity. But when a friend introduced me to that anime, the narrative was absolutely enthralling and the emotions it stirred within me was something I had not believed was possible from a cartoon. That spark led me to delve further into the medium and, needless to say, I’m pretty happy with where that’s taken me.

So when they announced the second season of Gunslinger Girl, I was excited. Having read the manga, I was looking forward to seeing how Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino- would adapt one of its most poignant sections: Triela’s story arc, which includes her frustrations in dealing with Pinocchio and how that affects her relationship and interactions with her handler, Hilshire. And with mangaka Yu Aida on board Il Teatrino, how could anything go wrong?

Unfortunately, Artland’s production fell way short of the high bar Madhouse had set with the first season. The visuals were subpar, the characters never quite endeared themselves to me like they did in the first season, and then there’s the music…

With Kou Otani behind the reins, I had hopes that he would be able to deliver the mix of intense action tracks (as evidenced in his compositions on Shakugan no Shana’s soundtrack) as well as the gentler, more melancholy fare that he exhibited in Haibane Renmei. Although his score for the anime was serviceable, it didn’t live up to Sahashi’s sterling efforts on Gunslinger Girl’s soundtrack. And nowhere was that more apparent than when one compares the main theme for each incarnation.

Gunslinger Girl – Il Teatrino – Main Theme

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

In listening to the first notes, the melancholy tone of the series becomes apparent to all, and the piano section that follows the chords gives off an aura of urgency as it indicates the amount of importance Triela places on her mission of dispatching Pinocchio. The piece then builds up to a melody filled with frustration and sorrow, foreshadowing the extent of the struggles that can only result in tragedy as Triela gives it her all to the point where she willingly sacrifices herself in service to the Social Welfare Agency. The conclusion of this arc is very depressing, evoking a sense of sorrow and pity as one empathizes with what Triela goes through.

Ideally, “Main Theme” would nail this mood, but where this piece falls apart is in the repetition of that melody which evokes the struggles and frustrations that we attribute to Triela. Although there are variations in the instrumentation and tempo in each repetition, the way in which the melody winds its course feels simplistic, making it difficult to engage with. It’s as if Otani’s music exists to accompany the scene rather than immerse one in the thick of it. One only needs to listen to Sahashi’s theme from the first season of Gunslinger Girl to experience the difference.

Gunslinger Girl – TEMA I

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

From the get-go, “TEMA I’s” somber delivery captures the atmosphere of the anime, starting with the melancholy violin solo that carries a tone unmistakably seeped in tragedy. This section is slow and deliberate, allowing listeners to acquaint themselves with the dark mood that flows throughout without tarrying too long, for the solo builds up to the grim chords quite nicely. Once they strike, they summon a chorus backed by a dissonant harmony that together, evokes a mixture of grief and anger borne out of vengeance, suggesting that there’s no peace to be had as a result of this cycle of violence. As the piece draws to a close and the final notes fade away, the tragic aura remains, and with it, an unsettling feeling, foreshadowing the grim fate that is to befall the Social Welfare Agency.

With all this in mind, the atmosphere evoked by Sahashi’s composition flows wonderfully, and his music shifts in a way that keeps the listener fully engaged. There is much depth and poetry in “TEMA I,” and the way in which the piece meshes with the anime makes it nigh impossible to divorce from the show’s content and serves as a stellar example of background music that flawlessly sets the tone for the anime while shining brilliantly as a standalone track.

So when comparing these two main themes, the one word that keeps coming up with respect to Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino- is “disconnect.” Yes, there is a disconnect between the first and second season in terms of staff and studio, but musically speaking, I can’t help but feel that there’s a disconnect between Kou Otani’s compositions and the setting. While Sahashi’s music is full of the lovely Italian influences that mesh so well with the anime, the second season has none of that. It’s a shame that Kou Otani’s compositions seem content to ride alongside the anime rather than intent to become an inseparable, and therefore memorable, component of the anime altogether.

About the author

zzeroparticle Anime Instrumentality's Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As you can probably guess, I'm a big anime music junkie with a special love for composers who've put out some beautiful melodies to accompany some of my favorite anime series. I tend to gravitate towards music in the classical style with Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno being a few of my favorite composers, but I've come to appreciate jazz and rock as anime music has widened my tastes.

2 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. eternal says:

    Interesting… I had heard that the second season was noticeably worse than the first. I think I see what you mean about Il Teatrino’s theme feeling more like accompaniment for a scene; the melody repeats itself and seems to be paced with a visual in mind (speed up for action scenes, slow down for drama). I’m listening to the first season’s theme as I type this and, given my lack of knowledge of instrumental music, I could easily mistake it for a standalone orchestral song. Not to compare it to the classics as a measure of quality, but I mean that I see why the theme is memorable in and of itself.

    Incidentally, I browsed several soundtracks for the Metal Gear Solid series recently and I realized that, even though I liked the music in the games, the only songs that stood out were variations of the main theme. Everything else feels hollow when divorced from the scenes they originally accompanied.

  2. Dave Heuseveldt says:

    I have to agree with you: although I like the theme of Il Teatrino, Tema I actually manages to strike me on an emotional level. It really creates the overall atmosphere of the series.

    Very nice article, keep it up. I tend to enjoy these musings if I get around to reading it.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: