(Quotes are paraphrasing, not exact wording).
Welcome to the Social Welfare Agency, a top secret part of the Italian government which, despite its name, has absolutely nothing to do with the Social Welfare of the nation’s people. Instead, this agency deals with terrorists, the mob, and other such criminal organizations, by assassinating their leaders.
Now meet Harrietta, possibly the cutest little girl in the world, trained by the government to be the perfect killing machine, a weapon of war and destruction, a tool and nothing more. She is the perfect weapon, skilled in her trade, unquestionably devoted to her handler, Josay, able to go unnoticed because of her innocent and harmless appearance. After her parents were brutally murdered she was taken in by the Agency, her memory wiped clean, her organic body replaced with cyborg parts making her very much like Darth Vader from “Star Wars” or the Major from “Ghost in the Shell”. She is a tool to be used and disposed of when her usefulness is done, but at the same time she is still the little girls she once was.
Gunslinger Girl is a show that I’ve been meaning to see for some time now. I’ve known about it since I started watching anime two years ago, but not until now have I had a chance to actually sit down and watch it. I thought I’d like it, after all sad and depressing anime’s like “Now and Then, Here” and There” and “Grave of the Fireflies” are among my all time favorites, but I had no idea how completely amazed I’d be with it.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way; this is one shockingly grotesque show. Think about it, it’s about little girls, some maybe as young as ten, being transformed from cute little school children into coldly efficient killing machines. Is there anything more disturbing then seeing a little pre adolescent girl wielding a machine gun and killing at will dozens of people? Is there anything sadder then said girl pleading to be allowed to do so again?
“I know I’ve only killed six people this month, but last month I killed at least twenty, so can’t I come back to work?”
Although this show relies on its action and disturbing content early on to draw the viewer into the story, it doesn’t dwell on it throughout the shows entirety. It isn’t about the gun slinging at all, it’s about the gunslingers and their handlers. None of the characters are wasted, especially the cyborg girls, each of whom received adequate detail to their characters and plenty of history. Herrietta, Triela, Ricko, Clide, Angelica, even the reclusive and barley mentioned Elsa (who looks a lot like Sara from “Now and Then, Here and There”) were treated with just enough love and care to make their characters more then killing machines and into confused, emotional, and caring little girls simply doing their best to please those they love and feel needed. Their stories are the real meaning for this shows existence. One was born paralyzed; another was nearly killed by her parents who needed the insurance money. One by one their stories unfold. Each character has at least one episode devoted to them with Harrietta acting as the sometimes silent, sometimes active observer. Unlike other shows which try this approach, such as “Air TV”, these characters aren’t dropped once they’ve produced the desired emotional effect. They all have a part to play in this story; each one relies on the others in order for the show to move forward. They need each other. But despite the attention to detail put into each character, in the end its Harrietta’s story. She is the common denominator which glues the characters and events to one another.
Where the emotional stories lie exclusively with the cyborg girls, the moral, ethical, and philosophical dilemmas are for the “handlers,” the men whose job it is to raise, train, supervise, and care for the girls, to deal with, and they are as different from one another as the girls they train. Josay, Harrietta’s handler, feels guilty about the dehumanizing conditioning the girls are forced to go though and tries his best to alleviate that guilt by trading Harrietta as a little sister. He takes her on vacations to the Italian countryside, buys her expensive gifts, and tries his best to have her act as if she were a normal little girl. But deep down he knows that he, and the agency he serves, is merely using her as a tool; a means to an end. He deals with this guilt more and more as Herrietta’s affection and emotional attachment to him grow stronger. He is a man torn between his duty and his love and affection for her.
Other handlers deal with their girls very differently. Some act cold and menacing towards their girls in order to instill fear and discipline, others simply treat then as if they were machines.
“They’re cool and all; they can get you a soda if you ask them to, but it doesn’t go beyond that to me.”
No matter what the approach they take, the girls always develop a strong emotional attachment to their handlers and desire their affection above all else, with devastating consequences sometimes.
The animation in this show may not be flashy, but it’s more then adequate for a show of this nature. The battle scenes are done extremely well, as one would expect, as well as the stunning scenery of Italy. The characters are drawn as cute as possible to make their actions all the more shocking. The music isn’t worth making a big deal out of. Although the background music serves its purpose and sets the mood very effectively, it isn’t something to listen to by itself. It’s rather simplistic. The opening and closing songs are likewise less then noteworthy.
Gunslinger Girl is not a show to be missed. Although it is very much like Ghost in the Shell in regards to the philosophical questions it raises, the depth of its characters and the attention to detail the creators put into making them is well worth the time, energy, and money. It may not be the best anime ever made, but it certainly is one of them. Good to see a depressing anime that doesn’t drop the ball at the end.
Questions to ponder while watching.
1. Is Josay, Harrietta’s handler, a moral person? Is his using Harrietta as a tool negated by the fact that he tries to make her happy? If he makes Harrietta happy, is he still acting immorally by using her, as the agencies pawn, as a tool?
2. Are the girls really human? If so, then why? What is it that makes them still human beings?
3. Do the ends justify the means? Does the fact that the agency uses these girls to foil potential terrorist plots which could kill innocent people make it right to use these girls as tools and weapons?
Replay value; High.
What did you think of this review?