Part of the problem with any art form (movies, music, anime, painting, books, graffiti at the bus stop) is that there is so much already out there and so much more coming through, it is very easy to miss or overlook or just be oblivious to whatever else is out there and you cruise right on past things. There are a lot of really good shows out there, but you may not have heard of them or the capsule description doesn’t really capture the flavor of the show.
As part of an on-going series, I want to draw your attention to these overlooked gems and suggest that you take some time out of your busy day (there is no need to see a replay on the NFL Network of a game between the Patriots and the Falcons played in Week 13 of 1992) and check them out, which brings me to my first offering, “Gunslinger Girl”.
It is interesting in that it is fully set it Italy, something that you rarely see in anime. We begin with the Social Welfare Agency (or “the Agency”), ostensibly a charitable institution sponsored by the Italian Government. While the Agency professes to aid the rehabilitation of the physically injured, it is actually a military organization. It is composed of two independent branches: Public Safety, its surveillance and intelligence-gathering division, and Special Ops, the anti-terrorist division.
Special Ops is itself divided into Sections 1 and 2, the latter of which employs young girls who have experienced traumatic and near-death experiences and are fitted with cybernetic implants. They are now agents, or, more to the point, assassins. Each girl is paired with an adult trainer, or “handler”, and together they are referred to as a fratello – Italian for “sibling”. The handler is responsible for the training, welfare and field performance of his charge, and is free to use whatever methods they considers suitable. While these methods vary according to the handler, a common part of each girl’s regimen is “conditioning”, which produces a deadly assassin with unquestioning loyalty to her handler but, if used excessively, also limits her life span.
When we start, we have our quintet. Left to right:
There is a sixth, Elsa de Sica, but that’s a special case. Now, to the outside world, it looks like a young girl and her father (handlers are always men) either on their way to or coming from a music lesson, as they tote around their instrument cases. Ahhh, but if you could look inside, you might find a Sig Sauer P239 or a Benelli M4 Super 90 shotgun or even a Steyr AUG. These girls kill without hesitation, remorse or conscious. Between the brainwashing conditioning and the physical operations to make them more cyborg than human, these are some tough customers. But they still have their emotions. They may not specifically remember their horrific accidents that nearly killed them, but they feel something emotionally. This needs to be addressed, as you can’t have your assassin breaking down on you in the middle of an assignment, or, even worse, questioning things.
I enjoyed this series greatly, as I was drawn in by the concept of these young assassins. What is going to happen to them when they grow up? How can you leave behind a childhood of murder and death? How could they even meet someone special when their lives are so rigidly controlled? The show is broken into two 13-run seasons and an OVA. The first season aired in Japan in 2003, but for us, we got a straight shot through of them in 2007 and 2008, with the OVA coming a couple of months after the conclusion of Season Two.
The only sniggering complaint I had about the show is that there was a huge amount of dining out. It seemed like in every episode, there was a lunch somewhere or a late dinner or pastry and espresso at the corner café or even a glass or two of wine. Well, we are in Italy and there is just so much out there to feast upon. I guess they burn off a lot of calories in the pursuit of their job, all that action and adrenaline running through you. I found the second season better than the first (a rarity in anime), but they may have always had a strong idea as to what to do and not fling it together when they were surprised it got picked up. As the first season put them through their paces and we learn their personalities, the second season had a more defined story line with the arrival of Pinocchio, a male version of the Gunslinger Girls and their running battle. Although not as cat-and-mouse as “Death Note”, they still wove an intriguing tale of intimidation via assassination.
Although other shows have come along with the same approach (“Akuma no Riddle” and “Blade & Soul” come to mind), I feel that those shows were not as deft with the intrigue and amoralism this show produced. The OVAs are a bit on the weak side, as I felt there was more that could have been told and it wasn’t, but those can either be seen or unseen, as it has no overall impact on the series. I give this high marks and strongly suggest that if it hasn’t gotten on your to-do list, please put it there.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 8 (Perhaps they wanted soft vs hard)
Plot 8 (Strong in application and execution)
Pacing 7 (It did sometimes go soft in places)
Effectiveness 8 (Good use of back story)
Conclusion 5 (It reaches a ‘coupler point’, but hasn’t ended)
Fan Service 2 (A similar show would be “Okamisan”)
Overall 8 (A great story told very well)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. Did I do well?