Title: Gunslinger Girl
Genre: Drama, Animation
Duration: 25mins (13 episodes)
Take that name, and then think of all the connotations and suggestions that come to mind from such a title, and then throw it away. The reality is so far from what the title might lead you to expect, it’s no wonder that it got overlooked. If you go into this looking for action, you will be sorely disappointed as its for the most part a throwaway part of the story, present only to instil upon you what is being asked of the young girls that the story focuses on. This isn’t just about some secret organisation that goes around with young child assassins; this is about their humanity as they struggle to keep control of their emotions, and their relationship to those who care from them. This is an unbelievably dark and depressing drama, forcing you to watch what could almost be considered a form of child abuse from their apathetic handlers.
The story largely centres on Henrietta, after an accident she is left without parents on the brink of death. Chosen by her handler Jose, to be fitted with mechanical limbs and rescued in order to join the ‘Social Welfare Agency,’ a government organisation interested in maintaining the security of the Italian government. Their wing – Section 2 – utilises children as emotionless weapons, an experimental project that all too often comes under critical scrutiny from those against the notion of brainwashing children into becoming willing arms of the government. Through mental conditioning they become fiercely devoted to their handler, willing to sacrifice their lives for his and determined to complete their mission, if only to make him proud of her.
But not all the handlers are the same, Jose treats her like a little sister, whereas others subscribe to the ‘official’ stance that they are nothing more than weapons to be effectively utilised, unaware of their emotions. Others treat them more like colleagues, expecting them to be mentally strong enough to deal with whatever they need to deal with and come to work with a professional attitude. The manner in which the girls talk amongst each other, however, clearly removes any notion that the conditioning they have undergone has stripped them of their humanity; clearly self-aware in how they openly talk about their conditioning, devoted to their handlers and how they care for one another between missions. They are all too aware of their situation, and this makes for many dark situations as you realise what pressures are being placed upon them, forced through their conditioning to sacrifice themselves for their handler, only a few come to respect them.
Even the children themselves are unique; Henrietta with an unusual crush on her handler; Triela, the eldest, with an almost dysfunctional father-daughter relationship, not devoid of emotion but poorly able to express it; Claes becomes largely reclusive, forced into conducting strength experiments without anyone to care for her, putting a brave face on her torment; Rico is quite shy, not helped by her handler who treats her like a blunt weapon; as well as Elsa and Angelica who also have smaller roles to play in the series. Each character is well thought out, with their own dark history which goes into making them who they are.
These girls may have mechanical bodies, and they are trained in such a way that they are capable of killing without remorse should the handler require it of them, but they are all too aware of their actions; never questioning their handlers why, but tormented by the knowledge that they may never be ‘normal.’ Visually it is stunning, and memorable, and with a soundtrack that complements the emotions felt in the story marvellously. This is completely character driven, with far more interest in the characters and how they respond and react to various situations than the plot itself, which when described may often sound a little thin. I shed more than a few tears before this films conclusion – an honour bestowed to very few things I’ve watched – and they were fully deserved. After being warned against it, I’m glad I took no notice as the result was one of the more gripping stories I’ve discovered. Take it for the dark drama that it is, and you’ll find one of the most heart-wrenching tales around.