Previously, we had girls-with-guns up against a secret organization bent on controlling them. What happens when the girls with guns already work for the secret organization?
What is it?
Gunslinger Girl is a 13-episode anime series based on the early volumes of the manga series of the same name. It is succeeded by a follow-up series by another studio with the title of Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino-. We’re focusing primarily on the first series here.
What kind of story is it?
In Noir, the fantastical element was the big shadowy secret society behind the plot shenanigans. In Gunslinger Girl, the fantastical element is that our young girls are brainwashed cyborgs. They don’t look it, of course. These cyborg shooters work for a secret arm of a branch of the Italian government, tasked with counter-terrorism activity. As a semi-realistic (keeping in mind, cyborgs) treatment of a grim topic like terrorism in the European theater, this isn’t entirely a cheery kind of show.
And yet. The actual focus is on the relationships between these cyborg girls themselves, as well as their relationships with their handlers, or “fratello.” (Big brothers, basically.) So you get a lot of “what does it mean to be human,” and how various parties deal with the fact that these girls, while useful, are both disposable tools of the state and doomed young mind-wiped children.
I’m painting a darker picture than the show warrants, perhaps, but it’s worth knowing all this going in. I usually like to leave a lot of details in these write-ups out so the new viewer can experience the joy of discovery. Since almost everything I wrote above is revealed in the first episode, though, I don’t feel like I’m taking anything away. This is a case of properly setting expectations.
Why do you like it?
Two aspects of this show appeal to me.
One, I like when a story takes one fantastical element (the sci-fi cyborg enhancements) and uses it to tell an otherwise matter-of-fact, grounded tale. You have cyborg assassins, what do you do with them when your job is to root out terrorists? Gunslinger Girl answers that question in a realistic enough fashion to be interesting and thought-provoking.
Two, a lot of the downtime between missions is spent exploring the ideas opened up by the cyborg enhancement concept. You’ve made these girls stronger, but the cost is that you have to keep them doped to the gills and worry about implant rejection and so on. There are other drugs used to ensure compliance, which of course raises a whole slew of ethical questions.
So, yes. For what is ostensibly a girls-with-guns action show, it’s lighter on action overall than one might expect going in. I find it interesting, though.
What might one not like about it?
Did you come into this expecting an action extravaganza? Sorry. Less shooty, more talky. Still, by comparison to Noir, a whole lot less screen time is wasted with repetition and puttering around. By comparison.
Also, while there’s nothing overtly ooky on-screen about the fact that these young girls are emotionally bonded to adult men, there’s an inherent layer of ooky-ness about the whole thing.
Other thoughts about it?
I bought The Delgados’ album Hate thanks to the opening song to this series. I recommend against it.
The follow-up Gunslinger Girl series, Il Treatino, has… let’s call it “lackluster” visual production values and leave it at that. I couldn’t finish watching, though I’m told that it has a better-told story.
Where can I watch it?
As of this writing both series are on Netflix, but I’ll point you to Crunchyroll anyway since they’re less prone to removing shows from their lineup.