Company: Studio Madhouse
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 10/8/2003 to 2/19/2004
Henrietta was an ordinary little girl up until the day she was left for dead after witnessing her family’s brutal murders. Horribly traumatized and without the will to live, she stayed in the hospital in a comatose state until Italy’s Public Corporation for Social Welfare decided to use her for one of its secret projects. After undergoing mental conditioning and having much of her body replaced with mechanical parts, Henrietta has no recollection of her past and begins her new life as an assassin, working for a top secret anti-terrorism group.
summary by Gatts
Highs: Interesting concept; character relationships
Lows: Unanswered questions; disappointing finale
Reading descriptions of Gunslinger Girl makes it sound like a grim action series along the same lines as Noir, but in reality, it ends up being something much different. That’s not to say that there aren’t beautifully animated action scenes and impressive gun fights, but this is not really an action series. At its core, this anime is about the relationship between characters and questions the essence of humanity.
Each of the young assassins is paired up with an older man who serves as her guardian, partner and supervisor. These pairs are referred to as “fratellos”. Instead of having any true plot to connect all the episodes, each one focuses on a single fratello and explores the dynamic between the girl and her supervisor. These relationships vary greatly; some supervisors act as loving parents while others only use the girls as tools to get the job done. The anime does a good job developing the character relationships and showing how it affects each of the girls. It comes across with a depressing realism that adds to the emotional impact of the series and raises some interesting questions about what makes a person human.
Unfortunately, after spending so much time on the relationships, it is disappointing to see some of the main characters neglected as far as development is concerned. Barely anything is ever revealed about Jose, Henrietta’s partner, even though he is easily one of the most important characters in the series. The reasons why he works for the Public Corporation for Social Welfare are never explained, and many other questions are left unanswered. Also, the ending feels rushed. While it does answer some of the philosophical questions raised, it ends abruptly without giving any sense of closure for the main characters.
Gunslinger Girl certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but it is an interesting concept. It’s a really depressing series and is hard not to feel for the girls’ tragic situations. Despite having some problems, it is an anime well worth watching, but just don’t go into it expecting intense action or an amazing plot.
Highs: Realistic character chemistry; great action scenes; decent opening theme
Lows: Transitions cause confusion; a “meh” ending
The last anime I watched that featured child assassins was Kite, and I won’t hesitate to admit that I thought that Gunslinger Girl was going to follow the same premise to a T. Instead of gun battles by the dozen, senseless killings and a vapid plot, this is a story about innocence lost and an exercise in our humanity.
Numerous characters are put under the microscope in Gunslinger Girl, but whether or not a whole lot of background is given on them, it’s when they interact with one another that they come alive. The wide variety of inter-fratello attitudes generate many avenues that probe and explore the complexities of the characters. Surprisingly, quite a bit of information can also be gathered on the cast from the action scenes, which are well done. Featuring incredibly detailed weapons the likes of which you haven’t seen since Noir, the fights are very well animated and choreographed, and they don’t hesitate to show the nastier side of these girls’ jobs. The Light Before We Land by The Delgados is a fitting song because its melody and beat set a precedent for the rest of this anime.
If there’s something that rubbed me the wrong way about this series, it was the way that it would explore character background. While most characters are explored rather well, and we come to emotionally connect to some of them, the manner of rapidly shifting time in flashbacks caused confusion more often than not. Without any proper lead-ins or transitions, it’s easy to lose track of time. On top of that, the ending left me with a “what of it” feeling. Perhaps I was expecting an action-packed and exciting conclusion, but it instead shifted back to its dramatic roots. The ending was appropriate, but at the same time it didn’t feel properly concluded.
Gunslinger Girl is far from being another Kite, and that’s a good thing. I don’t know how faithful this anime is to its manga counterpart, but I do know this: Studio Madhouse made a helluva anime, and it’s definitely more than worth your time.
Highs: Vibrant, elegant artwork; beautiful and appropriate music; characters evoke an emotional attachment
Lows: Some questions unanswered; repetitiveness of the first few episodes
It is easy to get sucked into the world of Gunslinger Girl from the very first episodes. The bloody violence enacted by such small, cute and innocent-looking girls is shocking, even a bit uncomfortable. However, as the character behind each blank assassin mask is revealed, little girls yearning for love and acceptance are revealed. For them, even these acts of extreme violence are part of the quest for affection from the one adult figure in their young lives, their “brother.” Somehow, understanding the motivation behind these actions makes them both more realistic and even a little more disturbing.
With roughly one episode each devoted to backstory, the girls are transformed quickly from unfeeling assassins to lifelike, little girls. As they easily insinuate themselves into the heart of the viewer, the tragedies in their young lives make for an emotionally wrenching experience. At its core, Gunslinger Girl is a love story, an exploration of what each of these girls would be willing to do for the love of her Brother. The storytelling structure of this anime is non-linear, and its unfamiliar style may initially throw off some viewers. However, this storytelling structure works extremely well in this anime, allowing for exposition outside of the relatively short time span of current events. Though the first two episodes are extremely repetitive, Gunslinger Girl quickly pulls together and picks up the pace as the action taking a backseat to the quieter stories of love and longing. Even so, violence-hungry fans will still see enough gunplay to keep them well satisfied.
Artistically, this anime shines. Being both vibrant and beautiful, the depth and warmth of the color palette creates an atmosphere that evokes the feeling of being in a Mediterranean country. Mostly classical, the musical score was extremely fitting, emotionally moving and never obtrusive. The end theme, Dopo Il Sogno, was especially beautiful.
Though this anime is short, Gunslinger Girl is well fleshed-out and fills its promise nicely, though some questions were left naggingly unanswered. However, after an emotionally draining and explosively action-packed series, the quiet and understatedness will leave some viewers unsatisfied. For those who grasp the message behind its subtle simplicity, the ending will leave them feeling fulfilled.