The Social Welfare Agency believes that it has learned from its past mistakes and is ready to begin production of a second generation of cyborg assassins. There will be an initial run of 10 new girls with new design improvements. While the physical abilities of the new cyborgs will be less than that of the first, the new "conditioning" process will double their lifespan and make them easier to maintain. If this new system works, SWA has even started thinking about a way to make money by selling its cyborg girls to the highest bidder. The first candidate is Elizabeta Baranovskaya, a ballet dancer who is suffering from bone cancer in one of her legs. It's gotten so bad that the doctors say the only way to save her life is to amputate it! But nobody realizes that Elizabeta's dream of being a great ballerina is stronger than her will to live. If she loses her leg, in her eyes at least, her life is over. End of story. Meanwhile, Giuseppe and Jean take their fratello, Henrietta and Rico, on a rare vacation where they hope to get away from their job. Unfortunately, it ends up dragging up old memories as Jean is reminded of dead parents, dead sisters, and a fiance killed by Padania. He's not really a happy fellow.
Gunslinger Girl really stands out in the writing and characterization departments. That's not to say that Aida can't handle the action sequences as well. In fact, while there is only one short battle in this volume, it is handled exquisitely and cinematically by. The way the panels are laid out is something he couldn't do in earlier volumes. It's really cool to see someone mature not just artistically but as a writer too. The new girl, Petrushka, joins a cast that the reader was already very sympathetic to, but in a surprise move, her backstory is front and center. In the past, Aida has glanced over the lives of the girls before they became part of the SWA. Up to this point, it was merely a footnote, so it was a clever twist for Aida to use the newest member to begin some character exploration. Alessandro, Petrushka's handler, comes across as a bit of a jerk, but maybe he's insensitive simply because of the nature of his job. It's pretty creepy that the handler can actually tell the doctors of the SWA exactly what they want their girl to look like. I mean, the hubris of these guys to play God like they do. Unfortunately, if you like this series, it is currently in publishing limbo. This volume was published in December 2007 and there's been no word when ADV will put out the next book. After losing most of their new anime titles, I'm beginning to wonder if ADV will even be in business this time next year