Gunslinger Girl

This review is extracted from here.

This has to be one of the most emotionally challenging shows that this reviewer has watched in some time. Gunslinger Girl is not quite at the psychological level of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it does come somewhat close.

Gunslinger Girl is an anime series that will definitely yank your chain and jerk around your emotions as you follow the story of Henrietta and the girls that belong to Section 2, a secret Italian government sponsored corporation. Officially, Section 2 belongs to the Social Welfare Agency, an agency that is in the business of saving young, terminally ill lives. In reality, the agency is actually a cybernetic research institute. They give terminal patients another lease on life through the use of cybernetic implants. In turn, the cybernetic research is funded by jobs assigned by the Italian government. It just so happens that all of the patients in this program happen to be young to pre-adolescent girls.

Upon receiving cybernetic implants, each girl’s memory is wiped out. All of her prior memories are completely gone. Next, the girl is paired up with a handler. A handler is responsible for the girl’s training, conditioning, performance, and overall welfare. A handler and cyborg are referred to as fratello, Italian for sibling. The conditioning process that the handlers put the girls through shapes them into efficient killing machines that are more than capable of handling all of the government’s dirty work.

The series begins with a character study of each fratello. Here, the history and the developing relationship between child and handler are introduced. Henrietta and Guise are the first fratello introduced. Here we see Henrietta storm into an apartment where a group of Italian terrorists are held up. The reality of Henrietta carrying an assault weapon and blowing away a bunch of terrorists is unsettling. She is quick in efficient in taking care of the situation while protecting Guise from any harm.

Interestingly enough, Guise’s relationship with Henrietta is very nurturing and loving. He truly cares for her and treats her like she is his own daughter, but he also conditions her as an assassin. The most disturbing thing in the show is how the other fratello interact. Many of the handlers treat the girls as trained animals. Often, the other handlers strike, harshly criticize, and somewhat abuse the girls when they do not perform or size up to their expectations. Guise is often criticized and ridiculed by the other handlers in that he is too attached to Henrietta.

As the series progresses so do the core conflicts. Each the girl finds that it is hard to separate her natural feelings and emotions from those instilled by her handler. Due to the brainwashing process, we find that each girl’s world revolves around that of their handler. In essence, they worship the very ground their handler walks on and will do anything to meet the approval of their handler. All the handlers, besides Guise, are struggling with balancing the needs and desires between the assassin and the developing adolescent.

The real plot of the story is how these brainwashed girls begin to slowly redevelop their adolescent nature from the brainwashing and conditioning. Each girl has a different background and way of looking at her situation. Henrietta barely survived the abuse inflicted on her by those who killed her family. She is the quietest and most reserved, but she is also the most emotional. Henrietta often looks to her handler Guise as a father figure and seeks emotional validation from him. As the most intense and extreme in her reactions to perceived threats, Henrietta is very protective of Guise.

Rico was born with a crippling birth defect that left her bedridden. Reluctantly, her parents give her to the Social Welfare Agency for a new life. Her new freedom of mobility from the cybernetic enhancements gives her a renewed love for her new life. Even though her handler Jean treats her poorly, Rico’s spirit doesn’t seem to be dampened at all.

Triela, the oldest girl and the most senior member, appears to have been rescued from a child slavery ring. She is very unsure of who and what she is supposed to be. In turn, she prefers to constantly participate in conditioning so she doesn’t have to think about it. She typically takes on the role as a big sister to the other girls.

Claes background is virtually unknown. She serves as a test subject for the agency, because of the unfortunate demise of her previous handler, Raparo. Raparo became attached to Claes like Guise is to Henrietta. Unlike Guise, he was unable to deal with what the agency is doing to the girls and what was expected of him. Claes currently lacks a handler and has been re-brainwashed to remove all of her memories of Raparo. The only thing she has left from Raparo is a dorm room full of books that she immerses herself in while the others are on mission.

Angelica was one of the first to go through the cybernetic program. Her past is one of the most tragic in that her own parents tried to kill her in order to collect insurance money to help pay off their debts. Miraculously, she survives and ends up with Marco, a somewhat caring handler who amuses her with a made-up fairy tail about the prince of pasta to distract her mind from what her body and life is going through. Despite Marco’s coldness towards her, there is some connection that is welling up inside him that draws him closer to a true father-like relationship with Angelica.

Elsa, the most socially withdrawn of the group, is the newest girl brought into Section 2. The main reason for her inability to relate with the others is directly associated with how her handler treats her. The psychological trauma endured by Elsa is by far the most abusive. Her handler is very abusive and neglectful. Elsa and her handler’s demise are tragically revealed in a murder investigation, which is the most traumatic story arc in the series. This results in an investigation by another government agency, Section 1.

Section 1 hopes that the details found in the murder will lead to having Section 2 disbanded so they don’t have to compete for the same government resources. Section 1 believes that the cybernetic implants aren’t nearly ready for field duty and that Section 2 has pushed the girls too far. They believe that they can expose the weaknesses that are inherent in the cybernetic implant project.

Unaware of the investigation, Section 2 sends Guise and Henrietta off on a vacation in order to draw out the Section 1 investigation team. Taking the bait, Section 1 chooses to follow Guise and Henrietta. This purposefully fools Section 1 into focusing on Guise’s and Henrietta’s relationship rather than the true reality of the harsher relational dynamics exhibited by the other fratello.

As the series closes, we get to see some closure to the strife that the girls have endured. It’s pretty much a given that Henrietta is in good hands and her outlook on life is somewhat positive. Closure doesn’t always mean that there is a happy ending as is depicted in Angelica’s struggle for gaining approval from Marco.

In the final mission the government has intercepted a terrorist plot to kidnap the daughter of an Italian senator. Claes, who looks like the senator’s daughter, is sent in as a body double and is captured by the terrorists. The sequence that follows involves all fratellos as they infiltrate the mountain villa where the terrorists are holding Claes. Claes finally gets to participate in the raid as she helps subdue some of the terrorists in attempt to help her comrades. However, Angelica gets caught in the crossfire by one of the terrorists. Claes has to help bail her out of a near life and death situation. The mission is a success, but not without casualties.

As I watched this series I became very frustrated as the handlers constantly belittled, ridiculed, neglected, and abused the girls in the name of protecting the government. I could almost sense that something of this sort would eventually happen. In essence, these girls are just as real as any other girl in that they require the most basic of human needs; physiological, safety/security, belongingness/love, and esteem. Guise was the only one who really met Henrietta’s basic needs while the others only provided the physiological and security needs for the girls. Were the other handlers so caught up in themselves that they couldn’t see that these girls were literally screaming for belongingness? The final episodes never completely answer that question.

The final scene works out to be one of the most honest emotional scenes of the series. How it affects everyone is not quite so obvious, but it does something different for each person. A real tear jerker, the final few moments between Marco and Angelica end on a somber note, as he finishes the fairy tail story about the prince of pasta. This was the right kind of ending for a very somber and emotionally involved series.

There is a lesson found in this story. But, it may mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. At the most critical times in life we can’t count on the things of this world, not what we have acquired, and not what we do. We have to count on where we belong and who belong to. A very highly recommended series that should be in every anime lover’s library.

My personal feel. This is a very depressing anime. The combat scene in the story is not the main things we should notice. It is part of the plot. The real story lies in the relationship between the girl and her handler. The handler is a natural human and the girl is a cyborg. The human handler will grow old but he cyborg will remain. The best episode is episode 11 when Section 1 investigating a murder happned in Section 2. This episode expose even though the girls are cyborg, but they too need love, understanding and appreciation from their handler.

You will need to watch it to understand and learn to appreciate it.


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