In the heart of Italy, the Social Welfare Agency rescues young girls from hospital beds and gives them a second chance at life using the latest in cybernetic advancements. With their artificially enhanced bodies, the girls are brainwashed and trained as assassins to carry out the dirty work of the Italian Government. Despite all the modifications, they are still just children at heart, struggling for recognition from those they love, even knowing the love they feel is manufactured. This tragic tale unfolds as these girls grapple with their emotions in an agency that treats them as nothing but ruthless killers.
“I’ve tried turning you into someone stronger,
but lately, I feel uneasy whenever I look at you.”
Simply put, Gunslinger Girl is about hopeless children who are granted another shot at life at the cost of their freedom and innocence. They are given cybernetic implants which enhance their combat capabilities and drugs which impose upon them unquestioning loyalty to their respective masters. Paired with their handlers, they are known as “fratello”, and they must face not only terrorists but the tragedies of the past and the uncertainty of the future as well.
Admittedly, the question “Does the end justify the means?” has been asked implicitly in many other anime and manga. However, GSG is more realistic in its delivery and, some might argue, more socially relevant in the light of the so-called “war against terrorism.” The series shows people on both sides often pursuing honorable goals through questionable means, and the viewers are left to resolve the ethical dilemma on their own.
Nonetheless, the battles against terrorists, corrupt officials, and the mafia serve only as plot devices in most cases. The series focuses instead on the intertwining personal stories and the effects of the conditioning on the girls.
If analyzed individually, the characters themselves are relatively plain. However, it is their complex web of relationships which makes the series shine. The bonds between fratello cover a wide range of roles such as those of parent and child, elder and younger siblings, mentor and student, master and tool, superiors and subordinates, colleagues, and accomplices; and each pair shows varying degrees of compassion and indifference. Several antagonists also retain a certain degree of dignity, further blurring the line that separates “the good guys” from “the bad guys.” Every character has a unique personality as well as a plausible backstory, and these make their interactions all the more interesting.
The anime adaptation closely follows the events of the manga and is faithful to its spirit even with the introduction of new content in the later episodes. However, this may be one of those few instances wherein the anime adaptation is actually more successful in bringing out the full potential of the story. The pacing works better on the screen than on paper, and the quality of the audio and visuals give it the impression of a cinematic experience.
The animation is fluid, consistent, and brimming with fine details. The firearms are shown accurately to the point that it is touted by some as the gun enthusiast’s anime. Prominent brands, landmarks, and works of art are regularly featured, and these contribute to the distinct European ambience of the series. The animators also seem to have deliberately emphasized and blurred light and shadow, giving the show a certain haziness as if to reflect the moral ambiguity which permeates the story.
The soundtrack is composed primarily of intricate orchestral music and unusually devoid of typical J-pop, which seems rather fitting since the events take place in Italy. The Japanese voice actors did well in portraying their respective characters while the English dub is tolerable though stiff sounding in comparison.
As for the opening song, The Light Before We Land by The Delgados sounded odd the first time I listened to it but I later came to appreciate its significance. It’s hard to imagine that the song wasn’t written specifically for this series since its melancholy lyrics and melody fit the show like a glove.
Gunslinger Girl is sober both in content and execution, using a level of subtlety and realism that separates it from other tragic dramas such as Elfen Lied and SaiKano. The series refuses to deal in absolutes, painting everything in shades of gray rather than plain black and white. It shows tragedy and injustice but it also presents a moral dilemma which encourages the viewers to question if the sacrifices have been worth it and if the alternatives would have been any better.
Its open-ended nature would undoubtedly irritate/frustrate some viewers but I think it’s rather fitting for a series that emphasizes hope amidst uncertainty and misery. As Dr. Bianchi might put it, what the audience needs is not proof but faith that the girls would find happiness, even if the facts and metaphors suggest otherwise. read more
Gunslinger Girl is a very tough anime to summarize. Part of it is action, most of the story is drama, some sci-fi, and a dash of comedy make this a blend of many different genres. However, Gunslinger Girl nails the mark on every level, making this one of the most compelling anime shows I have ever seen.
The content of this show is ultimately the highlight, and also the whole reason for the controversy: young girls that have had their lives torn apart are given a second chance by having their memories wiped and insides replaced with mechanical parts, and are then trained to do the governments dirty work. What further adds to the controversy are that the young girls have to have supervison by their guardian/superviser called the "handler". Now this may sound kind of wrong, but the story never veers into that perverted/pedofilic territory, which is a bit of good news, for those who were worried.
Now the story is the highlight of the show, and in turn, makes this a bit of a slow moving show. Don't get me wrong, it definetly has action scattered throught, and it is top notch when it takes place, but its nowhere as heavy as the story, however, I like that aspect. And what a good story it is. Henrietta, Rico, Triella, Angelica, and Clyce are all loveable, and their handlers even have a bit of backstory, including Jose and Marco, however the real stars are the girls.
The animation, even for being a 2004 show, is superb. The characters, the environments, and even the guns have a very real look, even though this is still an anime. When shown, the guns are rendered in painstakingly realistic detail. In the first episode, you can see how Henrietta layed out all the parts of her pistol on the table, yes all the parts. Even the reloading details are superb, and add to the realism. Lighting is also very well done, especially on the last episode with the fireworks, so this was the cherry on top of the ice cream for the animation/lighting.
Sound was another flawless piece. All the voices, and even the English dub, were fantastic. When you have the Japanese and English dub on the same level, you know you have a hit. To compliment the animation and detail on the guns, the sound is perfect. I have seen countless movies, and played many video games, and the sounds in this were perfect, and on key with the actual sounds of the guns of their real life counterparts. Test this, especially in the second episode where Rico is using the Dragunov sniper rifle. Awesome. Surround sound setups will definetly get their workout here.
Overall, Gunslinger Girl is a deep, thought provocing show, that really shouldn't be missed. The characters, the guns, and overall, the story, make this one to have on your must see list. Because of all the above, this is my all time favorite anime. read more
Any subject matter, whether it be disturbing or not, should not be shied away from being written into a story narrative because of the fact that it’s too dark for the mainstream audience to handle. Almost all of the well-regarded films since the last century have implemented controversial social commentary and bring about heavy subject matter that involve sex, violence, and political corruption. These days we don’t often see anime take advantage of showing people the deep impact our world has within the dark subterfuge of our own universal culture. For all intents and purposes, Gunslinger Girl will leave some people with a sour taste in their mouths; whether they were expecting an action-packed girls with guns show, as the title Gunslinger Girl clearly represents just by saying it out loud, or because of the disturbing nature of the characters. The real argument to be made, however, is how it handles in developing those themes and characters mentioned beforehand.
To begin analyzing the way the plot is structured, it would be fitting to compare this to Stand Alone Complex in how every episode has its own plot yet every one of them are connected from the development of its characters. Execution should be the key in establishing an overall impression of how we view each character through fresh and innocent eyes before they take away our innocence and make us experience the disturbing nature underneath the foreground of the show. Gunslinger Girl has one of the most heart-wrenching and almost beautiful representation of showing the development of each girl in question.
One scenario in particular involves one of the girls named Rico who is now put into a position where she has to eliminate any emotion regarding the job she is given, now she is thrust into a situation where she finds an interest of someone who makes her question her existence concerning why she’s a part of the organization. What makes the execution written so well is just how subtle you see her ponder about the questions that are coming out of her mind after the job is done, in a harrowing and deep atmosphere. Normally, dealing with robotic characters who ponder about love and how they question has been done to death in some instances and can be seen as silly or laughable, but seeing how the atmosphere is so serious and hardly has any inclination of humor in the characters makes it believable. It does still beg the question whether there should have been a more convincing or less clichéd way of bringing up melodrama, but that shouldn’t necessarily be a huge draw in the writer’s part.
With this in mind, however, one begs the question whether the writers only wanted to fully develop the girls and hardly bother trying to give the same amount of development for the “fratello”, or the girls’ master that is given to them. Some people could argue that the point of the show was to mainly focus on the girls instead of their masters. That may be true, but even with that said they do actually try to give an inkling of development from how they question their organization and so forth. The problem is that they don’t ever go far enough, it’s as if they had an idea for how the adults would grow into a different mindset than before but they decided that it wasn’t as important. Because of this, there’s really nothing for me to feel about them, whether I should pity or sympathize with them other than the girls.
Narratively speaking, the plot doesn’t really gain any weight as how it’s structured since there’s hardly a plot to follow other than the fact it’s mostly followed by character interaction. There are some episodes where the plot of one particular mission didn’t feel like it was written with any focus on how it was structured. As if they didn’t have a goal in mind when they wanted to establish any conflict or a solid plot arc, not to say all of them did but on occasion it does and it can be distracting in parts.
The fact that the show is slow-paced does help in some cases to help us figure out what the world of Gunslinger Girl is like. The political climate and corruption is put into context how it impacts the characters and their struggles with coping it, whether they like it or not. There is an issue regarding how the show hardly gives any context to the actual political office in question. If you asked me now what the people in the government were like or what their motivations were, I couldn’t really tell you because of how so little explanation is given to their reasons and therein lies how narrow the political landscape is like, unlike how Stand Alone Complex did it perfectly in its political realm.
While it is argued that this is quite different from your typical girls with guns show, that isn’t to say there aren’t tropes that can be associated with the genre. What is very interesting and intriguing about how they handle the violence and action is very intelligent and almost strategic in how the characters handle any given action scenario. While there are some questionable scenes, such as Henrietta pretending to be an innocent child to a group of terrorists inside a building where it’s obvious that no one else but them is inside, how it is directed and choreographed is intense and realistic to its very core. It doesn’t glorify the violence to the point where it’s severely distracting; when you see a person get shot, you really feel in your gut that he’s been shot.
Direction-wise the show is really stellar in its animation and pacing, even if at times it goes a little too slow in parts where it didn’t really need to be. The animation, while isn’t amazing compared to others, is still done well from how the action scenes are played out in the end and the art designs of the characters are crisp and clear to the eyes. The one thing that normally wouldn’t be needed in discussing animations is the actual gun designs themselves, that are almost on Angel Beat’s level of precision and detail in how they are portrayed as an embodiment of the girls. Almost like a subtle metaphor in how you see a gun next to a girl on nearly every scene they are on-screen, whether they are carrying it with them on a mission or if they are cleaning them.
The music in Gunslinger Girl is pretty to listen to, implementing nice orchestration to capture the disturbing nature of the show’s framework. There is one aspect of the show that I wholeheartedly admire and commend with open arms, the sound design. It’s extraordinary how real and authentic it is from how the guns sound like actual firearms and not just cookie cutter weapons on any other anime, or movie for that matter, and the subtle ambiance of the show’s natural landscape. There was a moment where I almost wanted to cry from just how beautiful and somber the people who worked on the show put forward to crafting this realistic atmosphere that gives Gunslinger Girl its unique look and feel from other anime.
From its dark subject matter to its beautiful nature, this is a show that might rub some people off the wrong way. That can be understandable, but at the same time that should not sway people who are nevertheless intrigued in giving Gunslinger Girl a watch just to see how anime can go to unfamiliar territory in using familiar tropes and pull it off in a serious fashion. It may not be perfect in how they didn’t go far enough as it needed to be in establishing a well-rounded world that deals with political corruption, but as time goes on we have to at least appreciate the effort put into writing a gripping character drama with excellent development from our main characters, minus the supporting cast. We sometimes have to embrace the darkness of the real world in order to coup with our insecurities and Gunslinger Girl lives up to its credit as one of the most underrated that has these qualities to deal with.
A premise is one of the more deceiving parts of a show; a first impression that isn’t easy to explain to my friends untrained to the oddest of Japan’s odd. I could say that Gunslinger Girl is a niche show for middle aged men in unfulfilled marriages that name their guns after loli characters. People who complain the government wants to take away their gun rights, softly licking a handgun and whispering sweet nothings into the ejection port. While this is sort of what I expected, I was actually immersed in a story bearing a premise more introspective and thoughtful than initially thought. A problem I had with the show is that plot will occasionally fill in questions with easy answers. Many of the questions about the girls’ memory or the technology in the show is walled off with “because they’re cyborgs” and the existence of goodness in humanity through the stress is generally solved with “because Guise is a nice guy”. However these moments were far and few between an otherwise tightly written and at times an emotionally wrenching show. While it isn’t perfect and occasionally dry it’s a surprisingly cerebral show that smoothly rides the fine line between dark political drama and childhood wonder. A constant sense of tension from this dichotomy is what makes it so watchable; making the really cerebral or really intense moments pop and leave a lasting impact. Rifle Lolitas knows what it’s doing, even if at times it doesn’t tie up loose ends.
While the plot itself picks up in the second half when the Fratellos go out into the field, the story really takes place at home and among the characters’ conversations, interactions and side stories. The at home and psychological struggles were the highlights of the story. While the main plot’s thin political intrigue made them less impactful than they could have been, each action scene has enough emotional weight to it. The gunfights in close corridors add a nice extra layer of tension and give the split second decisions made during the action-packed raids impactful nonetheless. Another area where the calm and the storms in the show intersect is between cyborg and handler. The gruff, mission focused adults are the perfect clash to the innocent on top of being brainwashed kids in the show. The amnesia is a rather annoying feature of the show because it conveniently scratches out back story that would make select slices of the show more interesting. Henrietta is a prime example of this, and because of it remains a bland character for the first half. However, the story still moves because it allows her to have a moral compass in Guise. His kindness seen by the other girls and their handlers is the crux of the show and why it stays a compelling watch. Not only are the Handlers different from him in the ways that they train but also how deal with their pasts. He too lets the other handlers and their counterparts seek answers to some interesting ethical and psychological issues revolving around severe mental strain and even death. This is usually done by characters being folds or foils of each other for each end of the spectrum to express their opinion, for example Claes & Angelica disagreeing on their perspective of death, based on their respective pasts. It’s a gut wrenching scene but fits perfectly into the place it does in the show. The very end of the show was left a little too open-ended in the way that it barely explained the revolutionary cell that the agency fought against, or why the agency has such a contrived way of taking out its targets. But, I’m willing to overlook it IF it’s resolved in the second season. And while the characters performing in the show aren’t the most exciting box of sardines in the tense 13 episodes, they move the plot along in interesting and thoughtful ways.
The art doesn’t stand out as being particularly interesting but functions well to set the tone of the show. I enjoyed that the premise while a bit far out and borderline ridiculous still raised human questions and the art and sound reflect that a lot. The characters are all drawn simply yet diversely enough to the point where they’re unique and distinguishable while matching with the setting. The settings function sort of the same way. Depending on where the characters travel to the backgrounds play more than the role of being pretty set pieces. Whenever a background shows up it’s not always just for the sake of playing up an action scene but because it’s actually being used. Courtyard and city scenes in Italy are emphasized for their historical setting depending on what the characters are talking about. The ocean view Guise uses for Henrietta’s catharsis from stressful missions is emphasized by its sun-soaked beauty; contrasting episodes prior brimming high with minion bloodspatter and sad little girls nearly shooting themselves in the face. Soft colors paired with weeping violins and a melancholy, symphony focused soundtrack uncoiled my yarnball-tight heart, but not quite enough to end up as just a strand. It does well with what it’s got even if GG doesn’t go above and beyond to create moments that shake up the tone consistency.
The characters are the trickiest part of Gunslinger Girl. They contribute the most but aren’t the most exciting part of the show. What happens to them and the repercussions to their mental states are what make them interesting, not necessarily their individual traits. Guise (notice the trend here) and the former secret service agent are handlers that stuck out as distinguishable characters. The other handlers not so much, they’re mostly just pissy adults who don’t always handle the situations well. And again, how they deal with situations is what makes characters interesting, but everything leading into their actions is rather dry. Yes full grown adults are more boring than brainwashed little girls. The assassins too, are more husks that get filled with character development (the smidge that there is) and back story than players with a strategy to grow. A couple of the characters, namely Rico and Claes, get their own episodes that look at the past. In Rico’s case, she starts naïve and is pushed to her limit that changes her in a tragic way that makes her more useful to the agency. When the show does character well, it focuses on the individual girls and the relationship with their handler. While I was happy that Henrietta grows a little bit overall, I felt that her losing control and disobeying Guise during tense situations could have been explored a little bit more consistently. This would have made it more rewarding, but I was glad it was done at all, just not deeply. Despite how good the episodes were that focused exclusively on handler and assassin, I felt their presence broke the pacing of the plot a little bit. In addition to this, Triela, the most interesting character for being older and slightly more jaded could have used one of these episodes, and I was surprised she didn’t interact more with Henrietta. There are small problems I have with the setups of the characters and they could have been explored more because of their interesting premises. However psychological results from the stress of missions make each of their stories a little bit more rewarding.
It’s a little flawed here and there, but Gunslinger Girl pleased me in a way that not a lot of shows do. The show bears a premise with big shoes to fill, and doesn’t necessarily deliver as much as I wanted it to with character and plot, put from ethical questions that arise naturally from everything that transpires. I look forward to watching season two, hoping it answers some of my questions when I get around to watching it. read more
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Welcome to the land of futuristic drama where humans have evolved to cyborgs, computer viruses are the norm of the day and war has completely destroyed the lands. The terminator franchise no longer seems funny, does it?