\nGunslinger Girl\n \n \n \n \nWhat makes an anime great? Is it the illustration, the animation, or the plot? Can an anime be great if it is vital in story and weak in animation? Or vice versa? What about the characters? Do characters make or break a series? Does an anime get a strike if it tackles topics that make some audiences uncomfortable? These are just a few questions that cross my mind from time to time when a series captivates me enough that I may need a box of tissue for the tears.\n \n \n\n \n \nGunslinger Girl is an anime that may make viewers uneasy because it doesn’t follow the general girls with guns format. While it has its share of violence, it focuses on themes of abuse, neglect, emotional trauma, loss of innocence, and what it means to be human. Similar themes have existed both in anime as well as film. \n \n \nI’m getting ahead of myself, but movies like Robocop or anime such as Angel Cop or Ghost in the Shell have often depicted humans, primarily adults, being merged with robotics. In most cases, they become shells of their former selves while attempting to regain or maintain their humanity. Because they are adults, we do not look at these characters as being innocent. In many cases, characters such as Darth Vader, another cybernetic being, are viewed as tortured souls. \n \n \n\n \n \nGunslinger Girl is the story of six girls selected by the Social Welfare Agency or “the Agency” for short. The Agency in Italy selects young girls who were castaways for reconditioning as cybernetic assassins. Their memories erased, these young girls are assigned to Section 2 of the Special Ops division. \n \n \nConceived by manga writer and illustrator Yu Aida, it began serialization in May 2002 and ended in September 2012. The manga spans fifteen volumes. It was published in Japan by ASCII Media Works and in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. \n \n \nGunslinger Girls was adapted into a thirteen-episode anime produced by studio Madhouse. It aired in Japan on Fuji Television from October 2003 to February 2004. A second season Gunslinger Girl II Teatrino was produced by Artland and released in 2008. Morio Asaka directed Gunslinger Girl. He also directed a similar anime, Chobits, exploring the relationship between humans and computers.\n \n \nGunslinger Girl explores the lives of five girls, Henrietta, Rico, Triella, Angelica and Claes. A sixth girl, Elsa, appears later, around episode nine.\n \n \nThese young ladies range in various ages though, in the anime, it is not disclosed. They are residents of the Social Welfare Agency or the Agency for short. The SWA operates under the front that it rehabilitates the physically injured and is a charitable institution of the Italian Government.\n \n \n\n \n \nThe agency, however, specializes in counterintelligence and counter-terrorism. Its primary attention is directed towards the Padania Republic Faction, an organization seeking a Northern Italian independent State. \n \n \nThe girls are selected based on traumatic or near-death experiences. Their memories are erased, and their limbs are refitted with cybernetic implants. These implants allow for increased reflexes and strength while enabling the girls to withstand combat damage and pain. Each girl is assigned a handler who trains them as he sees fit. These handlers are called “Fratello,” which means brother in Italian.\n \n \n\n \n \nWith the exceptions of Claes and Elsa, Gunslinger Girl provides us with intimate details as to how each girl arrived at the SWA. Henrietta was the remaining survivor of her family being murdered. The events left her psychologically traumatized and unstable. In the anime, she is presented as a shy and worrisome young girl. Despite her shyness, she can be outspoken when necessary. \n \n \nHenrietta and her handler Jose share a sibling relationship. She reminds him of the sister he lost in a terrorist attack. Despite his desire for revenge, he treats Henrietta as a person and not as a machine. Jose’s treatment of Henrietta is opposite his brother Jean whose desire for revenge caused him to treat Rico like a machine and less like a person. He would become more humane towards her after the Elsa arc.\n \n \nUnlike Triella, who was rescued from a child smuggling ring, and Angelica, whose father, for an insurance policy, tried to kill her, Rico’s backstory is the least traumatic as her parents saw her as a burden due to the high cost of medical treatment health issues she encountered at birth.\n \n \n\n \n \n \nThe remaining handlers are Hillshire, who years ago was the rescuer of Triella, Marco (Angelica), and Raballo (Claes). The latter two provide some of the more sensitive moments of this anime. Raballo would form a bond with Claes that almost resembled a father-son relationship than a brother-sister one. It is of note in the anime when he receives his charge and is told he has to name her, he asks, “does it have to be a boy’s name?’\n \n \n\n \n \nMarco would struggle with his emotions towards Angelica. Early in her arrival at the SWA, Marco created a story to help her adjust. The story called “The Prince of the Land of Pasta,” or Pasta Prince for short was about a prince who only ate pasta.\n \n \n The two bonded over the book, but Angelica would experience a condition similar to Alzheimer’s due to constant conditioning. The bond would fracture, and Marco would become ambivalent towards Angelica, often treating her harshly, even striking her.\n \n \nIn one of the anime’s sad moments, the two would reconcile over the same book moments before closing her eyes one final time.\n \n \n\n \n \nThe beauty of Gunslinger Girl is that it allows you to look through the lens of all the characters. It is the type of story that I can watch multiple times.\n \n \nAnd each time, come away with something different. Thoughts of how growing up I wish I had a sister like Triella or Claes, or how despite the constant conditioning that shortened their life span, the girls’ bond remained strong are takeaways I’ve had. It has also caused me to reflect more on childhood trauma and my relationship with my own daughter.\n \n \n\n \n \nGunslinger Girl shines in that its characters are human and relatable. Coupled with an excellent soundtrack and an intro “The Light Before We Land” by The Delgados, an indie rock band from Scotland, each episode sets the mood. \n \n \nThe anime doesn’t bog itself down with morality but allows you to conclude. Although it is beginning to show its age, Madhouse Studios did an excellent job with this anime. Viewers may dislike its slow pacing, and the shonen demographic may be a tad disappointed to discover isn’t all mafia wars and police drama in the land of history and fine wine. Still, I give it an 8\/10.