Gunslinger GirlModern day Italy, and as always there are still some cleanup jobs that need to be done, but cannot officially be acknowledged or sanctioned by the government. This is where the Social Welfare Agency (often referred to as simply “the Agency”), ostensibly a charitable institution, steps in. Sponsored by the Italian government, internally the Agency consists of two divisions, namely Public Safety and Special Ops, the later of which is further split into Section 1 and Section 2.

Section 2’s existence is top secret and they often get the dirtiest jobs – but their methods are the most questionable of all. You see, the Agency steps in and takes little pre-pubescent girls who have been badly injured or orphaned into their care, only to turn them into …Artificial Girls’ by replacing body organs with cybernetic implants, synthesized muscles and carbon fibre frames. The result is young girls with heightened strength and reflexes, as well as high resilience to damage and pain.

These girls are then brainwashed, stripped of their identities and assigned to a handler, an older …brother’ who is then in charge of conditioning them and turning them into the perfect, unquestionably loyal killing machines. These fratellos are then deployed throughout Italy at all the terrorist flashpoints, taking care of the dirty business out of the public eye.

Henrietta and Giuseppe are one such fratello, but Giuseppe approaches the job of ‘handling’ Henrietta significantly different from all the other handlers in the Section. He does his best to get emotionally involved with Henrietta and treat her like a human child with love, care and respect, a concept that is often foreign and unheard of to the other handlers who move in the dangerous world of modern anti-terrorism in a country split by civil opinion.

Gunslinger – Girl is a 13-episode anime television series that is based on the ongoing manga …Gunslinger Girl’ by Yu Aida. The series is directed by Morio Asaka, produced by Madhouse, Bandai Visual, Marvelous Entertainment and Fuji Television, and features music by Toshihiko Sahashi. The anime is based on the first two volumes of the manga.

You’ll notice that my above description of the series doesn’t really say much, other than outline the background of Gunslinger Girl. It doesn’t say what the series is about or what the storyline actually is – and that is simply because I can’t.

Gunslinger Girl is a wonderful introduction to a good story idea, but the truncated 13 part series is so short that it doesn’t achieve any sort of storyline whatsoever, mucking about instead with showing us the motivations and circumstances surrounding each of the artificial girls and painting a bit of a picture of the world in which they find themselves. While the show focuses on Henrietta and Giuseppe’s pairing obviously, but the lack of direction kills the story’s many observations and commentary, simply because you don’t feel that you are being taken anywhere.

That gripe aside, it must be said that nothing must be taken away from the writing of the show. It is extremely well written and explores the complex feelings and emotions of the various characters and relationships deftly and with an expert hand. It paints a dark and disturbing picture in which morality is replaced with duty and it masterfully explores the connection and distinction between natural love and imposed loyalty through the ongoing …conditioning’. It opens up discussion points surrounding murder of innocents and government-initiated elimination of unwanted elements in a democratic society and focuses on various moral and sociological issues including brainwashing, exploitation of children and general inter-human relationships.

In fact there are so many issues that this series tackles that you can’t help but end each show with some serious questions to ask yourself about the nature of the world that you live in today. The show is violent in nature and although never goes over-the-top, a lot of scenes do leave a bitter taste in your mouth, simply because of the nature of the show’s subject matter, namely the use of young girls as assassins and the way in which they get treated merely as tools of the government.

On the production side of things, Madhouse has once again pulled out all the stops and created an absolutely breathtaking set of visuals and animation. Gunslinger Girl is done in a very realistic manner, from the settings to the gun fights and Madhouse has managed to capture this feeling of ‘modern world’ perfectly. Italy itself provides for a colourful, aesthetic experience and the level of detail poured into the backgrounds are immediately evident.

The animation itself is extremely fluid and although the title sticks to realism in terms of visuals, it is not to say that the action sequences come through boring at all. In fact, Madhouse manages to convey the short, swift and brutal gun fights so efficiently that you immediately discern just how good these girls actually are at what they do.

The main characters are all well fleshed out and because the stars of the show are the young girl assassins, a lot of effort and time have gone into getting these characters right. The necessary differences in age and character are immediately apparent and in fact, there is nothing in this series that looks even remotely’ …wrong’. – The animators also play around deftly with shades of colour, using brightness of scenes very effectively to convey the mood and tone of each scene.

In terms of the voice acting, the actors involved managed to hit every character on the head, helping to paint the very realistic world that Gunslinger Girl tries to set itself in. No one stands out with fake squeaky voices and the whole production comes off slickly like a well-oiled (and professional) machine.

And seeing as the anime is set in Italy, Gunslinger Girl incorporates a very instrumental influenced soundtrack, the nature of which captures the European spirit perfectly. The Delgadoes provide us were a hauntingly beautiful opening track and the series closes off with an equally beautiful piece by Yoshitaka Kitanami.

As much as I hated the fact that this series doesn’t go anywhere and feels simply as if it is painting a canvas for a much bigger story at a later stage, I have to admit that the reason why I was so bitterly disappointed is most likely because it left my begging for more – it was THAT good. Intellectually stimulating, well written and fleshed out characters in a very believable world, all coupled together by a slick production and beautiful visuals (and great action sequences to boot), Gunslinger Girl is a must see for all discerning anime fans.

It will leave you with a lot of food for thought and flash by so quickly that you can’t help but blink and say …What, that’s it?’, before feverishly digging around for the manga, just so that you can see what does eventually transpire in the masterfully crafted world. Not for youngsters are immature of mind people at all. They are going to miss the whole point of what is trying to be said in this one I’m afraid, and that is exactly what Gunslinger Girl is all about.

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