Gunslinger Girl would not be nearly as good of a series were it not for the character designs, which is a large part of why the second season of the anime adaption sucked for changing them. Aida Yu achieves a perfect balance of ‘cute’ and ‘real’ that keeps the characters from ever looking like they were meant to be seen as cute anime girls, yet does not condemn one from adoring them (as Aida Yu definitely would not want to do.) Because the characters aren’t forcefully cute, their place in a brutal and tragic story never feels like a forced attempt at sympathy, but like a grueling look at the truth and reality of something that the viewer can easily buy as a potentially true story.
The clothes that each character wears does not reflect their own personality, but the personality of their handlers who hand the clothes to them (with the notable exception of Claes, who doesn’t have a handler and dresses conservatively of her own accord.) Henrietta always wears girly clothes because Giuseppe treats her like a little sister. Rico wears plain and sensible boys’ clothes because Jean treats her like nothing more than a tool and is interested her effectiveness above all else. Triela wears very professional-looking men’s clothes because Hillshire didn’t really know what to get for her. However, Triela’s style has become a part of her personality, as when Hillshire asks her if he should get her normal girl clothes, she explains that she enjoys the feeling of her professional attire.
In all three cases, though, the clothes may not have been chosen by the girls based on their own personality, but have instead created the girls’ personality, as it is the treatment from their handlers that develops the way that they act. There is definitely a conscious level of complexity to the designs in this series, as is true for Aida Yu’s storytelling in general, which is why Gundlinger Girl is such a blast to read and watch. At first, my favorite design from the series was always Henrietta for the simple reason that she is the cutest, but it has since become Triela as I’ve read more deeply into the story and seen the way that her design effects her interactions.
Darker than BLACK
I am a fiend for cool-looking eyes. My own (young and developing) art-style focuses a lot on making ‘intense’ eyes, and Darker Than Black is one of my influences. One could say that the eyes define the nature of the series itself along with the personalities of characters who are completely numb to the terrors of their ever-gruesome world. But the eyes speak louder than words in some cases – there is the difference between the eyes of a contractor, who is incapable of emotion, and the eyes of someone who is merely suppressing their emotions to try and deal with their reality, or the eyes of someone who has grown tired in their long years. And of course, the wild eyes of one who loves every minute of their own insanity, or on the opposite side, the eyes of a woman whose strong sense of justice puts her at ends with it.
Besides the incredible eyes, Darker Than Black is constantly stylish, dressing it’s characters up in every manor of classic ‘professional killer’ attire, from Hei’s black trenchcoat and action suit look to November 11th’s white pimp suit. The show lives and breathes ‘gang drama’ style, and is even willing to lampshade this by including characters who have nothing to do with that style in a comic way, or as something more. It’s worth mentioning that even the talking cat character looks like a badass in Darker Than Black, which can almost certainly be attributed to original designer Iwahara Yuji whose manga Cat Paradise (being released stateside by Yen Press) is literally all about badass-looking cats. My favorite design in the series, without cheating and using the loli heartthrob Suou, has got to be the lead himself, Hei. It takes a certain kind of awesome to earn the ‘Batman’ nickname moniker, and Hei has completely earned it. Especially with his mask that brilliantly contrasts his attire and usual surroundings.
Character Designer (and other shows the I like their designs in): Umakoshi Yoshihiko (Casshern Sins, Mushishi, Mari and Gali)
To be fair, a big part of why I love the designs in this show so much is because of Casshern Sins. I realized that it was the same designer semi-instantly, and thinking about how this series connects to classic action hero designs just makes me all giddy, but if I were to pick a favorite between the two series, then I would pick Heartcatch Precure, for the easy reason that I like adorable girls just a bit more than 70s robots. Umakoshi Yoshihiko is both a genius designer and incredible art director, though he only performs the former for this series. His style is very pointy, with harsh, jutting lines defining long, lanky limbs. The villains in Heartcatch Precure (not pictured because I failed at image searching and had to take some quick screen shots) bear his obvious old-school influence, but he makes the heroins and other lead characters feel more modern by, well, rounding them out a bit more.
Besides my love of Umakoshi’s design sense in general, he (or some other art staff) also has a great fashion sense. Everything the girls wear is turbo-cute, as it has to be with one of the lead characters belonging to a family of top designers. What’s more, the magical girl outfits are probably my favorites from the whole genre, being as they perfectly balance frilliness with sensibility and cuteness with mobility without losing any of the glamor that comes with these usually-overdesigned costumes. Admittedly, I have been kind of sad so far that we haven’t seen the girls in more outfits, with them having a fairly standard out-of-school wardrobe, which is probably related to the show’s goals in toy sales. My favorite design is aforementioned fashioness Erika, who is everything that I wish I was ;_;
(Continued on page 5)