Review: Gunslinger Girl
by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
There are few bonds that are as strong as those you have with family members. These are people you spend your life with and develop relationships to which no other can necessarily equate. Not that of friends, not that of co-workers, not that of significant others that come in and out of our lives. Now many anime have looked at relationships, but none quite took the approach that we see in Gunslinger Girl, an action-based anime with guns, explosion and yes, people do die. But at its core is something much deeper which, when focused upon, reveals a stunning gem amidst the chaos.
Set in contemporary Italy, the Social Welfare Agency is publicly reputed as a charitable institution that rehabilitates victims of severe physical injury using state of the art science. In truth, the Agency is a government organization that modifies dying young girls into assassins with cybernetic enhancements. Each girl is assigned to an adult male handler who oversees their development and together each pair is known as fratello – the Italian term for brother. These fratellos receive missions from the Social Welfare Agency and they are set out to dispose of these threats, be they mob affiliates or terrorists. Between missions, the girls shed their cold combat demeanors and we’re able to watch as they adjust to their enhanced bodies, new living conditions, and relationships with fellow girls and their handlers.
The script for Gunslinger Girl is not the only great thing about this series. All of the action sequences are directed very well, dynamic and suspenseful, and the animation is crisp and clean. The character designs are also top-notch and the English voice acting (yes, I saw the English-dubbed version) was also top notch. If there’s any real complaint about this anime, it would probably be the background art. Too often, it’s sketchy and blurry, and while you can recognize the places in Italy they are meant to depict, they are far from well-drawn. Fortunately, the great soundtrack makes up for this.
The fratello relationships between girls and handlers are the best aspect of Gunslinger Girl by far. Five main fratello pairs yield five dynamics such as master and servant, siblings, disappointed teacher and struggling student, coworkers, and even nonexistent. When they are not performing in tandem during missions, the episodes show the bond each handler shares with his girl. No two fratello pairings are alike. The handler’s teaching determines each girl’s weapons and combat style while a brainwashing process known as “conditioning” reprograms them into the perfect obedient assassin. Handlers determine how much conditioning to use, which in turn determines the personality of the girls and their working partnerships. It’s wonderful to watch the relationships between the pairs as we see the other girls’ reactions and their views on life as they continue to grow themselves, finding out who they are and what their roles are in this world. Truly wonderful to watch!
Gunslinger Girl is a phenomenal series with a great story (told episodically while focusing on specific fratellos in each), wonderful relationship dynamics and characters we come to care about. Taking the step back, it’s easy to look at it as potential child soldiers, which is prevalent in a few countries, but Gunslinger Girl takes a different approach to the story and makes it about the bonds that are formed and not about the battles and war. The series may start a little slow for some, but should you stick it out, you’ll form a bond with this series that is only seen in the closest of fratellos.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars