There are a few things that Gunslinger Girl is. It’s a show about cybernetically-enhanced young girls, their guns, and their trainers. It’s a look at society and how we treat those that are vulnerable. And it’s about the relationships forged between those who are vulnerable and those who are meant to care for them.
It’s a difficult premise to get into- and for good reason. There are frequent moments to push boundaries of the viewer. How far they are willing to go, and how much they are willing to watch. While anime has always been one to push boundaries, series creator Yu Aida showed the world something different; a series utterly heart wrenching but still peppered with hope. All of that is wrapped up in a hyper violent world where young girls struggle for autonomy against what they’ve been created for.
The manga for Gunslinger Girl premiered in 2002 followed soon by an anime produced by the powerful studio Madhouse in 2003. The anime even had a sequel, Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino-. The series even went on to spawn a series of video games that were Japan releases only. The games had the player as one of the girls from the series throughout her missions.
Gunslinger Girl is the story about a military agency posing as a social welfare agency in Italy. The agency often referred to as such, takes in girls who have suffered traumatic injuries and near-death experiences. These girls are cybernetically enhanced with implants, synthetic muscles, and equipped with carbon fiber that allows them to possess incredible strength, endurance, and resilience.
The girls are then paired with a male trainer. These men often come from military backgrounds and are charged with molding the girls into superweapons. The dynamics vary between the girls and their handlers, with some taking on a more fratello (Italian for ‘brother’) dynamic and others remaining strictly business.
The girls and their trainers are charged with dealing with the Padania Republic Faction, which seeks an independent Northern Italy. They attempt to do this through violent means. The girls have to deal with this in equally violent ways, something that strikes as disturbing coming from the guise of the young girls.
That disturbance is what lies at the very core of Gunslinger Girl. From the very beginning of the series, the anime sets you up to know that this isn’t going to be a comfortable ride for anybody. The series plays off the obvious disconnect between the young and innocent-looking girls and the violent acts that they are required to carry out.
The palette itself for the show is a stark reminder at every turn, with the colors all mute and dreary. The soundtrack features swelling orchestras accompanying rapid gunfire. The girls are all uniquely done, with characteristics of young girls obvious but paired with things that feel very adult but not inherently obvious. One of the biggest signs are the girls’ eyes. They constantly look tired and worn, experiencing things most adults never will.
But then there are the girls themselves. It’s what makes the series almost difficult to watch. The girls featured throughout the series are small, almost doll-like. Often encouraged to still act like little girls. But even that encouragement to be truer to who they are comes at a cost. It’s not for their own benefit but rather, it helps with the missions they are tasked with.
Yu Aida’s Heart Wrenching Art Comes Alive in the Anime
The series shows the burden that is placed on not only the girls in the show, but girls in real life as well. We watch as they have to grapple with knowing what they are being used for and the relationships they have with their handlers. They are at times simultaneously expected to act their age while also being mature beyond their years.
It’s a heavyweight for the girls to deal with and we see how it wears them down in battle and in their own personal time.
The series forces the trauma of the girls at the forefront of everything that happens. From the beginning to the end, it’s something that always lingers in the minds of not only the audience but the characters as well.
Even with the difficult nature, the series provides it remains both a fan favorite and a critical darling. The series manga even won an award at the 16th Japan Media Arts Festival. Fans have held it in high regard, praising its gritty premise accompanied by beautiful art.
But it’s not without criticism either. The series sequel is known for having some strange animation choices and a stuttering plotline. But one of the biggest arguments is for the girls themselves. At what point do they retain their own autonomy, instead of abiding by what is expected of them not only by their handlers but the agency as well. At what point does their own well-being trump their rescue from dire circumstances?
The story is there, well written, and well-composed. The anime remains true to its source material and shows the harsh realities the girls are constantly facing. Whether or not it’s something you yourself are willing to watch remains a question to be asked. Is the trauma there for titillation or something greater?
For those looking for a menial escape in the guise of an anime, this might not be for them. The show is relentless in what it shows the viewer; the girls’ lives are incredibly hard and the things that are asked of them are brutal.
It’s never truly light-hearted or fun. Any moments that are comparatively softer to the rest of an episode or even the show in general are always tinged with sadness. If it isn’t inherently revolving around bloodshed, there are always subtle reminders.
However, if someone is looking for a show to help them get deep into their emotions, this might be more to their preference. It’s a revolving door of sadness, it just depends on whether or not you truly want to go in or if you’re okay standing outside.