Gunslinger Girl(S1): The Search for Happiness finds only Love

SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains spoilers! Beware!

WARNING ALERT: This Anime deals with very mature subjects. Young girls who have been severely abused are turned into cyborgs, and are trained as killing machines. The violence is extreme with graphic bloodletting. But there is no fan service, and never any visual image of actual abuse which is only briefly discussed. But many consider this Anime to be highly objectionable just from the obvious fact that very young girls kill with no emotional concern or care.

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The following AMV gives you a very good example of what to expect from this anime.

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ガンスリンガー・ガール (Gansuringā Gāru)

Manga

Written by Yu Aida
Published by ASCII Media Works
Magazine Dengeki Daioh
Demographic Shōnen
Original run May 21, 2002 – September 27, 2012
Volumes 15 (List of volumes)

Anime television series Season 1

Directed by Morio Asaka
Produced by Takatoshi Hamano
Mori Ōi
Kazuya Watanabe
Satoshi Yoshimoto
Written by Junki Takegami
Music by Toshihiko Sahashi
Studio Madhouse
Original run October 9, 2003 – February 19, 2004
Episodes 13

The following Anime review sites give these ratings:

ANN

manga 8.381
S1 7.861
S2 7.708
S2 OVA 7.434

MAL

S1 7.42
S2 7.17
S2 OVA 7.01

IMDB

S1 7.4

This review of Gunslinger Girl is only for Season 1 (S1). S2 and the OVA are by different artists, and there is a shift in tone and emphasis.

Be aware that Gunslinger Girl is highly controversial even in hard core Anime circles due to the subject matter of the series. Extreme abuse of little girls is at the root of the story. While nothing is ever shown about this history, enough is said to give one a clear picture of the horrendous evil of every kind inflicted upon innocent little girls. As a result the girls are badly damaged both physically and emotionally and border on death.

A secretive government agency called the Social Welfare Agency takes these destroyed and damaged girls under its wing, rehabilitates them by a method of brainwashing called conditioning, and turns them into efficient cyborg killers who have no emotional response to the killings which they perform. This in and of itself raises substantial questions of morality of what is going on here by a legitimate government agency. These questions are never answered, and the entire series remains and ends ambiguously.

Little girls were chosen because they are easier to condition to absolute devotion, are very small as a target, and men generally scoff at the idea of a little girl being a threat. This is shown clearly in EP 1 where the criminals snicker at the idea of being afraid of a girl.

And yet the little girls kill with bone chilling efficiency and have no emotional reaction to what they are doing. Its almost like getting gold stars on a grammar school grade report. But it is not the elaborate choreography of the killings which is the focus of Gunslinger Girl(S1).

As our title indicates, much more is going on than the constant death and mayhem. These girls still have some humanity within themselves, and while their memories have been played, it seems and is clearly stated in the text, that the conditioning of the girls is very much like falling in love.

Each cyborg girl has a male handler who she is devoted to, and will defend even with her own life.

In the series this is played very much like the search for happiness finding only love. The girls are obviously Romantically in love with their handlers, and will even kill each other, if necessary to defend their fratello (played like a big brother-little sister relationship).

The dynamic of how this plays out among the six girls, and their handlers is what makes Gunslinger Girl so interesting. All of the characters are very well designed, with individual personalities and divergent emotional responses. But the common element is that the girls want their handlers to respond to their love and devotion. And in some cases this is an actual command under threat of death which these girls can easily dish out. All of the male handlers show varying differences in attitude, and emotional response to their personal cyborg girl. Some treat the girls like machines, others try to escape the situation only to be run down by their own agency, and others such as Jose, Josez, Giuse almost respond with love and caring. All of the girls hang on even the most insignificant indication of affection by their Fratello.

And this constant yearning, this incredible emotional need and search for happiness, gives rise to find a true and pure love which places the story into a very unstable tension which is also never resolved.

The end result is a pervasive mood of complete and utter sadness as only an unrequited love can produce in the human heart. It is painful to watch little girls suffering such pain, even more than the grotesque abuse to which they all were subjected. Because the yearning for love that all these girls suffer is palpable on the screen and on their faces. The viewer can clearly and cleanly feel the pain, suffering, and sadness. And ultimately it is a no win, no escape situation for all involved which then leads back in to a consideration of the overall morality of what is going on here.

And Gunslinger Girl refuses to moralize or to pass judgement.

It is not the constant violence and killing which takes center stage, but rather this mood of profound sadness which settles onto the human heart.

Gunslinger Girl(S1) is not a pleasant experience nor is it rewarding and fun or exciting. There is no resolution, there is no happy ending for anyone in this story. So if you decide to begin the series, please remember that this mood never shifts, changes, or remediates it’s own bleakness to such a degree that tears are probably the only release possible.

Recommended by Pywackett Productions but be ready with the tissue and the tears!

© 2021 Folcwine P. Pywackett (mox009)

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2 Comments

    1. Yes, that would be a fair comparison with one difference. Violet Evergarden has no back story. She is found on a deserted island at 10, and she proceeds to kill all of the soldiers who land on the island with the exception of Gilbert’s brother, who then gives her to Gilbert for the war. Also Violet develops feelings and guilty regrets in her attempt to answer Gilbert’s last statement, “I love you”. The girls in Gunslinger never develop feelings for the people they kill. But you are right, they have a very close symmetry.

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