The Social Welfare Agency in Italy is not what it seems. Yes, it rescues young girls who have been brutalized, but it then brainwashes them and turns them into ruthless killers for an elite and secret counter-terrorism unit for the Italian government.
Enter a young girl named Henrietta. After witnessing the savage murder of her family and barely surviving, the Agency takes her in and repairs her injuries using the latest in cybernetic technology. All traces of Henrietta's past are wiped from her mind, as she becomes one of the Agency's most lethal assassins.
Gunslinger Girl had six volumes published in English by ADV Manga from December 29, 2003 to December 11, 2007, following several periods of hiatus. After the publisher went defunct, Seven Seas picked up the license, republishing the entire series with new translations and in an omnibus edition (with the exception of the last volume) from February 1, 2011 to July 2, 2013.
I walked in thinking I was going to get some otaku fetish for 100 chapters. Wrong. This series turns into a whole different monster by the 8th or so volume. I would say it even deconstructs the manga itself. It became way more adult and mature for my taste. But, I can tolerate mature stuff when I am reading. It made this series very engaging.
Gunslinger girls volume one looks nothing like Gunslinger girls volume 15. It's actually brilliant and well thought out writing that overarching led the whole series. I would say, if you get bored of it, keep reading. That piece of
information comes around in the later chaper.
Overall, I highly recommend this series as one of your earlier manga series. It's a mix between mature and childish, action and political critique. You learn the different philosophies of the handlers and backstory of several girls that they didn't receive in an anime. The lesson doesn't celebrate gunslinger girls,. Rather, it says it was not a good thing to do, though the ends justify the means.
This is a manga with a very silly premise, but it addresses that silly premise so earnestly, in a way that only manga really does. Troubling implications are taken seriously, and disturbing aspects evolve towards their natural conclusions. Violence is never shown as uncritically "good". It's a bit of a stretch to imagine how Italy got to the point of using cybernetically modified little girls as assassins, but aside from that—and a few other details—this is a realistic story about something that could actually happen (and in some ways, something that really did happen in Italy in the 1970s, and in many other places continuing
to this day).
At some point in this manga, a character quotes the poem Horatius at the Bridge. Here's part of it: "And how can man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his gods". All of them, terrorists and secret police alike, believe they are defending something sacred from the barbaric horde at the gates. And many of them are willing to commit any atrocity that they think would aid their cause. To me, that encapsulates this story. It's a story about violence, escalation, and how morality falls away in conflict. But it's also a story about the reasons why people fight. The girls fight because they are programmed to love, protect, and obey their handlers. The way the handlers treat the girls in their charge shows their own ambivalence, and how they cope with the dehumanization of their violent lives. Ultimately, the escalation of violence is driven by the tit-for-tat desire for vengeance, but many of the characters are shown fighting for some of the same reasons as the girls, out of love or loyalty for their comrades. Some of them could even be considered brainwashed themselves.
In a different story, quoting that poem would come across as laughable or passe, but here, it actually made me cry.
I once asked my friend “why don’t you like Dragonball Z” and he replied “because back in primary school (when it was very popular) I thought the aliens were creepy and disgusting.” That is how I feel about this manga, I just really dislike the idea of turning people into mechanical beings and on top of it trying to produce a drama manga out of it, simply because is cruel and they’re only expressing feeling programed into their heads, and hence I found it very hard to connect with cyborgs especially Henrietta and Rico. Well, at least that’s how I felt half the time, but
I can’t say that the manga is bad because most of the drama concerning the REAL HUMANS was pretty good.
The manga also felt really slow at times, especially when it’s introducing new characters or attempting to add more depth to existing characters by giving more background info. Some of the intended drama was really boring simply because I couldn’t connect with the cyborgs, or maybe is just me not being used to the writing style but to give you an idea of how I felt while read the manga, imagine playing a video game where it took twice as long to kill your enemies and your enemies took twice as long to kill you than the game’s original intention, that’s what it felt like.
Because of the slow pacing many of the drama wasn’t memorable and made the over arcing story disjointed, also the full impact of the parts I enjoyed was taken away because of how bored I was at times. In fact the most memorable part of the story was the irony at the end of a chapter where Franca looked at Henrietta thinking she was a rich girl and said “Is girls like her we’re fighting to protect.” I mean there is something wrong when the most vivid memory of a story is a language technique used.
Overall I can’t say that it is a bad manga because some of the drama is pretty good. Lots of people seem to like it and I can understand why. To people thinking of reading this, I would say it might take a while for you to get used to the slow pace and writing style especially if you’re used to more childish themes such as Shounen like me.
I spend a lot of time reading manga at a local Barns & Noble. After reading what I wanted to read, then reading what I didn't think I would hate, then reading what they had just because they had the whole series, I started reading Gunslinger Girl. I admit, I did not have high hopes for it, having flipped through the pages often and always putting it back on the shelf, but today I decided to read it.
The first thing that drew me in was the art. With a lot of works having pretty shoddy graphics, even after being serialized into a
manga, I was relieved that the mangaka for Gunslinger Girl was pretty good. Often, in battle manga, scenes can have chaotic effect drawings, making it hard to distinguish whats going on, but I never lost track of what was happening. The characters are all drawn similar, but not clones of each other, nor do they fall into obvious stereotypes. However, even characters from different countries seem to look like they came from the same basic mold, and it gets old pretty quickly. What also doesn't help is that none of the characters have unique personalities. What I mean is, try reading a chapter of GG imagining that every line is coming from the same character. Nothing would be out of place. No one on screen seems to have any characteristics that differentiate them from anybody else.
As far as the plot, I can't help but think the story focuses on the bad guys. We see things from their perspective, but that doesn't seem to justify their actions in my mind. Without giving away too much, Gunslinger Girls is about a section of the Italian government that takes elementary-school-aged girls who've suffered fatal wounds and makes them into cyborgs, who're trained assassins. There are a few different teams the story follows around, and all they do it kill different factions of "terrorists" that oppose the current regimen. I don't think I've seen them yet spare an innocent, and in fact, for whatever reason, one of the first kills is an innocent boy who was shot just because he's spoken to one of the Girls in an earlier panel. By contrast, some of the "terrorists" were put into the exact same situation and let their child live. With so many (at least six) different "terrorist groups" trying to take down the current government, and the lack of demonstrated morals by the protagonists, one wonders who is the oppressor.
I'll probably keep reading it, until new volumes for the manga I'd prefer to read come in, but it just seems to drone on and on, a bunch of boring handlers telling lifeless dolls to kill enemies of the state chapter after chapter. In order for GG to be serialized, I know that more of a plot has to show up eventually, but for now, it's just plain.