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.
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.
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 plot yet every one of them is 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 representations 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 develop the girls fully 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 focus on the girls instead of their masters mainly. That may be true, but even with that said they do 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 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 gain any weight as how it’s structured since there’s hardly a plot to follow other than the fact it’s mostly supported 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 stable 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 are 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 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 correctly in its political realm.
While it is argued that this is entirely 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 feel 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 evident 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 feel in your gut that he’s been shot.
Direction-wise the show is stellar in its animation and pacing, even if at times it goes a little too slow in parts where it didn’t need to be. The animation, while it 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 typically 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 excellent 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 feels 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.
At first I was a bit hesitant about watching Gunslinger Girl. I was afraid it’s going to end up too serious and too difficult to comprehend. I was wrong on both counts. The girls made the anime more suited to my taste (not like I’m a pedophile or a dirty guy or anything like that). It gets serious and hard to understand sometimes, but for most of the time, I actually enjoyed myself.
I’m a bit disappointed that it’s not as violent as I thought it would be. Sure there are bloody parts but they come at a minimum and
they’re not really that brutal. However, those parts were done tastefully so it’s all good.
It’s a nice plot, but I’m too afraid it’ll attract too many lolicons and pedophiles. I mean, preteen girls wearing nice, cutesy clothes and wielding weapons at the same time. Feeling that I’m watching an anime that attracts people like that kind of bothers me.
On the other hand, what I really like about it is the setting. Anything that has something to do with Europe, especially Italy, instantly captures my heart. I even picked up a few Italian lessons from the episode titles and the ending song.
Anyway, the illustrations are nicely done, but I found that the faces were too pudgy for my taste. For the girls, it’s acceptable, since they’re supposed to have baby faces, but even the adult women have huge faces and small eyes. Because of that, I got a feeling that the illustrations were influenced by the western style. The backgrounds were nice too. The colors of the background were more subdued compared to the characters’ so the complimented each other really well. Speaking of the colors, I noticed that the colors were mostly in cool tones, which fits the anime’s feel, which is also somewhat cold and indifferent.
However, the girls make the anime much more likable. They use guns (really kick ass ones too), they’re part mechanical, and of course, they kill people but I just find them all sweet. My favorite is Angelica, she’s the loveliest and gentlest of them, but I also like Rico. I feel sorry for her because she’s stuck with someone like Jean. I also like Elsa, despite her bitchiness – she seems interesting to me.
Voice acting is another aspect of this anime that I find favorable. Although I find it weird that they’re speaking Japanese fluently while in Italy, It’s not that bad. When they mentioned Italian terms/names, they had the correct pronunciation. Besides, this is not the first time it happened. Most of the seiyus are actually quite young, like Hitomi Terakado, Angelica’s VA. I think she’s only 19, but she did a good job. What surprised me is that Ami Koshimizu, Claes’ Seiyu, also did Tenma Tsukamoto from School Rumble and Anemone from Eureka 7. Those are three different characters, and I’m definitely impressed by her ability.
Music is actually quite impressive, and that’s thanks to Toshihiko Sahashi, who’s also responsible for Akazukin Cha Cha, Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny, Cutey Honey and Hunter X Hunter. I love the Delgados opening theme – it’s a touching song that’s also well made. The ending song, which was in Italian, was also nice to listen to. The background music was also nice, although most of them are a bit dreary – I like them nonetheless.
It’s not one of my favorites, but I thought it was very good and interesting to watch. It had the ingredients of a really good series, but I’m not too impressed by it. Although, I kinda want a second season just so I know what happens. The last few episodes were implying that something big was about to begin, and I’m curious as to what that thing is.
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?
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