Gunslinger Girl, Fuji TV
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Well. This is one of countless animes I've been wanting to see for some years, since originally hearing of it in Anime Insider magazine (I don't recall if I ever read a review of it, but at the very least I saw ads for it). I don't suppose it was one of the animes I've been most keenly anxious to check out, but whatever. I didn't really know particularly what it was about, except it involved young girls who were assassins. I kind of vaguely thought of it when I saw the movie Kick-Ass; that movie featured a young girl called Hit Girl who looks all cute and innocent, but actually is a really tough fighter and good with guns and whatever. Which isn't your typical sort of character, but I thought, I'm sure there are other stories with girls like that, like maybe "Gunslinger Girl." Anyway, maybe a couple months or so later, I was thinking I might like to write a character like that into one of my books, thinking she might be inspired somewhat by Hit Girl, but maybe I should mix in someone from something like Gunslinger Girl. So, I figured I better finally see the series. So, I did (though I can't say at this point if I'll actually end up writing such a character, or how much she'd have in common with... anything).
Honestly, aside from seeming so cute and innocent yet being capable of extreme violence, the girls in this show bear relatively little similarity to Hit Girl, in terms of personality, so I'll just drop that whole reference right now. I suppose the first thing I should do is establish the premise. It's set in modern day Italy. There's a government sponsored organization called the Social Welfare Agency, which is publicly known as a charitable organization that takes care of the physically injured, I guess... in fact it's a counter-intelligence and counter-terrorist agency. It's comprised of a Public Safety branch and a Special Ops branch, the latter of which is itself comprised of Section 1 and Section 2. While they're technically on the same side, of course, there are obvious strained relations between the two sections, which don't entirely trust each other. Section 2 is the prime focus of the series. It takes in young girls, who all seem to have tragic pasts, and it changes them. The girls are given cybernetic implants which enhance their strength, senses, and reflexes. They're also given intensive training in the use of various firearms. On top of all that, they undergo mental "conditioning," which erases their memories of the past, as well as making them fiercely loyal and obedient to their handlers.
Each girl is assigned to a handler, a man who is, in theory, something of a big brother to her (for this reason, each team of cyborg and handler is referred to as a "fratello"). The cyborg is conditioned, as I said, to be devoted to her handler, and follow his orders unquestioningly. She is given a new name by him, and he's responsible for all aspects of her training. Each handler interacts with his cyborg differently, though it seems most of them tend to treat the girls as if they were just mindless machines, tools. The main fratello of this series is Henrietta and her handler, Jose. He's the only handler, generally speaking, who really seems to care about his cyborg and tries to treat her like a normal girl. Because of this, she loves him very much (it often kind of seems like she has a crush on him, rather than seeing him as a brother, but this is pretty ambiguous, and certainly innocent). Henrietta is definitely the sweetest, most innocent and shy one of the various cyborgs we see in the series, but of course, she's as deadly as any of them. They're all utterly dedicated to protecting their handlers, and to pleasing them (which means completing their missions successfully, which of course means killing lots of people).
I should say, Jose doesn't really like what the Agency has done to any of the girls, how they're being used, and he tries to limit the use of conditioning on Henrietta as much as possible. Undoubtedly her devotion to him is a mix of the conditioning and the way he treats her, but it's worth noting that none of the girls are any less devoted to their handlers, even though those handlers usually don't treat them anywhere near as well as Jose treats Henrietta, and clearly don't return the girls' affection for them. So obviously, the conditioning, when done in high enough doses, is just as effective as maintaining a genuinely caring relationship. (The danger inherent in this scenario is eventually made apparent in the case of one fratello, Elsa and Lauro, though I won't spoil that for you.)
Well, that last pairing is a minor one. I'm not sure if there are more cyborgs we haven't seen yet, but there are five major cyborg characters, including Henrietta. There's also her roommate, Rico, and her handler, Jean (who is the older brother of Jose). Rico's probably the second sweetest girl, after Henrietta, and enjoys her life at the Agency, which is much better than before her parents signed her over to them. (She seems to remember her pre-Agency life better than the other girls.) Then there's Triela, and her handler, Hilshire. Like Jose, Hilshire doesn't use too much conditioning on Triela, though he doesn't get close to her like Jose does with Henrietta. Triela is, I think, the oldest of the girls (though only the second to undergo the cybernetic implants and conditioning), so she's a bit of a mentor to the others, and her attitude seems the most "normal" of any of them. She seems to have the clearest perspective on the situation they're all in. She's devoted to Hilshire, of course, but otherwise... she doesn't seem quite as serious as the others. Then there's her roommate, Claes, who is fairly quiet, likes reading, and continues to wear her old glasses, though she doesn't need them anymore. We see one flashback episode with her handler, Raballo, though... he's not around anymore. She has been reconditioned not to remember him, but many aspects of her personality reflect a subconcious influence from their time together. Anyway, since she now hasn't got a handler, she almost never goes on missions, though the Agency's scientists run tests on her, to help refine their understanding of, you know, what they've done to the girls, and how to better the techniques in the future, I guess. The fifth major cyborg is Angelica, and her handler, Marco. Angelica was the first girl to undergo enhancements and conditioning, and the process was still experimental at the time. So, her memory loss adversely affects her ability to retain her training. On top of this, conditioning, even when it works perfectly, has the side effect of shortening a cyborg's life span. So Angelica spends most of her time in the infirmary. She wishes she could be more helpful to Marco, but mostly he's just frustrated with her uselessness... though we do sometimes see clear signs that he does care about her.
Well, the stories seem to skip around in time a bit, both within episodes and between episodes, so that I'm not always entirely sure in what sequence events actually transpire (though for the most part it's reasonably straightforward, I guess). But clearly not much times passes over the course of the series (there are, after all, only 13 episodes). Anyway, we occasionally see various fratello assigned various missions, sometimes alone and sometimes in combination. As I've said, this mostly involves alot of killing, but sometimes it can involve surveillance or protecting people, things like that. They mostly work against terrorists, and the main group seems to be the Republican Faction (RF). But there may be other enemies, including anyone who might be a threat to the Agency, possibly even politicians. However, it seems like more of the series is devoted to just getting to know the girls, how they think and feel, how they relate to each other and their handlers, and so forth. It can be beautiful at times, or even a bit amusing, but mostly it's just sort of tragic and heartbreaking... but in a good way. There's not really much in the way of a cohesive plot, but there are threads that run throughout the series, as I say, mainly about the psychological and emotional impact everything has on the girls. Sometimes plotlines cross over between episodes, as well. And there are a pair of characters who show up a couple times, bomb-makers named Franca and Franco, who sometimes do freelance work for terrorists. I'd definitely like to get to know them better. I'd also like to get some of the other people in the Agency better.
Not sure what else to say. There's lots of good background music. And I really like the opening theme, "The Light Before We Land," by the Delgados. It's rather atmospheric, like the show itself, and I think very fitting... the sound of it just... gives me an odd sort of paradoxical feeling of sunny optimism set against a larger background of pessimism. Or something. Whatever, it just fits the tone of the series. I also like the closing theme, "Dopo Il Sogno." It's um... fairly operatic and sad, which also fits the series (and the closing animation kind of reminds me of the closing from Cowboy Bebop). I should say I'm a bit conflicted about how to rate the series. Overall, I've chosen 3 and a half smileys- rather liked, almost quite liked- but there are times when I feel I should say I loved it. It definitely is a very moving series. As I say, tragic but also beautiful. And I should mention there's a second series (or a second season) called "Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino," which I definitely intend to see at some point. Anyway, I guess that's all I can think to say, for now....