Gunslinger Girl

Gunslinger Girl

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The Public Corporation for Social Welfare is a shady government agency that is secretly running an experimental programme. This programme involves the use of young girls as elite operatives and assassins. The girls are augmented with strength and ability enhancements that the corporation refer to as ‘conditioning’, and are paired with a trainer. With this somewhat uneasy setting, this anime explores the individual situations surrounding the trainers and their gun-slinging girls.

Gunslinger Girl is exactly what it says on the tin. You only have to give it one look and images of young girls with big guns springs to mind, along with all the associations and expectations you would have for an action title involving young girls… with guns.

gun3But the actual story is a little different from the in-your-face title. It doesn’t really focus on the missions performed by the girls, but rather explores the relationships between the individual girls and their trainers. Since absolute loyalty is required in this very delicate power-balance, the girls are conditioned for obedience according to the specific measures that their trainers require, which the viewer sees in the rather varied level of ‘brainwashing’ among the girls. The main character, Henrietta, is a petite and polite with a deep affection for her trainer, Jose, but only remains moderately conditioned. The other girls vary from the blindly-loyal Rico, whose innocent obedience (to the point of death) is deeply disconcerting, to the talkative Triela, who would be able to pass for any other young adolescent girl (except for her ability to block gunshots with her arm).

In turn, the trainers possess different perceptions of how they look at these young girls. While Jose treats Henrietta like his own daughter, others distance themselves from them, not entirely comfortable with what these girls are or even viewing them as mere killing machines. As the story develops, this emerges into a really interesting moral dilemma – no one really knows what effect emotional bonding will have on the girls or the trainers themselves.

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Set in the midst of much European political tension, Gunslinger Girl tries to engage you in a plot that involves underhanded activities by various individuals, republics and governments, but sometimes fails to create a coherence between the various episodes and their individual missions. It’s largely segmented compared to your usual anime linked story ploys and name specifics are sometimes vague when referring to enemies, using names like ‘the Republicans’, ‘our employer’ or ‘the terrorists’, keeping me from completely believing that I was witnessing anything other than random acts of assassination or terrorism.

The mission scenes do flow really well, with backgrounds and locales showing a great amount of detail, but the show’s pacing sometimes slows down drastically, which is odd for this kind of show. Coupled with the lack of continuity between episodes, it often makes for rather disjointed viewing. And (one of my biggest pet peeves in anime) the second episode ends up using the same action scene from the first episode, which takes up nearly a quarter of the runtime. I don’t understand why this sort of thing needs to be done so early in the story, and it makes me wonder if it’s just down to laziness or reduced production time.

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The relationships between the girls and the trainers could cause concern for some viewers, but I saw it as a young girl’s affection for a father figure for than anything else. There are definitely some interesting dynamics which make a stark contrast to some of the (rather graphic) action scenes. Gunslinger Girl definitely goes all-out in the visualisation of the gun battles. Bodies, blood sprays and head-shots do happen in full view. It’s a bit of a shock sometimes, especially when you’ve just seen an innocent of one of the girls walking through town with their trainer in a family-like setting!

Gunslinger Girl does have the potential to impress. It raises some poignant questions about ethics and addresses a range of perspectives. However, it is let down with the vagueness of its main plot in places, which would have given validity to more of its outlandish aspects.