I'm having a hard time making up my mind about this show. There are certain things that I like about it, but overall I don't know I'd recommend it or not. Well, how about I just write the review and we'll find out together if I like it or not...
Gunslinger Girl is a slightly more moody and character-driven variation on the girls-with-guns anime genre. As the story begins, Henrietta, having been left for dead after the brutal murder of her family, is saved by the Italian government's "Social Welfare Agency". But, far from being your run-of-the-mill orphanage, the Agency is actually a covert assassination squad. They collect young orphan girls who are on the verge of death, implant their bodies with artificial strength-enhancing prosthetics, then brainwash them and condition them with an unfeeling efficiency for killing. Each girl is then paired up with a older male "handler," who monitors them and doles out their orders, and to whom the girls are conditioned to be intensely loyal.
At first glance the show seems like it's going to be violent, action-oriented thriller; but as it turns out, the main thrust of the show focuses on the relationship each girl has with her respective handler. Sure there is violence, but really just enough to establish the girls' role as assassins and their efficiency -- or lack there of -- at performing their job. Each episode is a character study of a particular pair of handler and cyborg. Each handler reacts to their cyborg differently; some view the girls as tools, others take on a more paternal relationship with them, while still others are not quite sure how to react to them at all.
What will really make or break it for most people is the fact that you have cute little girls being subject to extreme psychological cruelties. The contrast can be disturbing at times, but at the same time, it does make for some compelling drama. Still, at other times the show just seems to be pushing the girls' cuteness factor and their "woe is me" attitude a little too much, making it just seem sappy. Part of that is due to the character designs, but I think at least part of it is due to the voice actors (English version anyway) whose attempt to alter their adult voices to sound young and cute sounds forced. The one exception to that rule, and the one character that I consistently liked was Triela. She has a "take it as it comes" attitude to her situation and she isn't as whiny as the other girls tend to be.
The fact that the show is more about character interaction than about action or plot development also gives the show a very low-key tone, which is a nice change of pace. The characters don't have extreme reactions to each other the way you see in other anime. Luckily the English voice actors in this show recognize this and keep their voices relatively quiet, and as a result the acting in this show is better than most dubs. (In my experience it seems that English dub actors tend to overplay their parts relative to the Japanese actors.)
The animation quality varies from one scene to another. During the action scenes when the girls are in full swing, the action is smooth and dynamic. But during most of the rest of the show the animation is as jerky as you'll see in any other anime. One thing that does stick out is the weapons designs. The artists obviously did a lot of research in this area, because the girls' arsenal looks extremely convincing, with plenty of detail and a real sense of weight to the designs. Though it's an odd contrast when you have these big-eye unrealistically cute girls bearing these very realistic weapons.
The music for the show helps to set the mood. It does a good job of complimenting the understated tone of the show with operatic music or piano instrumentals. The music also helped to cushion the action scenes by bringing out the emotional implications more than just the bloody violence.
I really like the opening song, which is in English. I read another review that said it sounds like something from a James Bond movie opening, but I'm not so sure about that... Maybe if Sheryl Crow did a James Bond theme..? The ending is an operatic-theme which was pretty good too, but I still like the opening better.
The show really doesn't have much of an ending, which is appropriate because there isn't any overarching storyline that would need to come to a climax. Instead, all the girls just come together in a nice little poignant moment and they all sing a song together.
So overall I guess I do generally like the show. I think more than anything I like it's understated tone because it's a nice contrast to most of the anime that I watch. Though I do think that it pushes the cuteness factor a little too much at times, and I usually prefer anime with a more involved story lines, but yeah.. it was pretty good.
Well, regardless, I think I would recommend the show if for no other reason than that this review is so ambiguous that you'll just have to watch it yourself to know for sure.