Gunslinger Girl, the anime

It’s said that if the topic of baby blenders comes up, a good engineer will happily sit down and discuss optimal blade angles. The writers of this series came up with a horrifying premise, and cheerfully followed it to its logical conclusion. The premise is, suppose we took a bunch of little girls, pre-teen girls, girls who would otherwise certainly die or be crippled by disease or injuries — and give them new, strong, artificial bodies, with carbon fiber bones and synthetic muscles….and then, oh yeah, use them as political assassins. It’s classed as shonen, for teen boys, probably because of the graphic violence.

I did not particularly like this anime, primarily because of the sterile premise and the cop-out ending. If you like lots of gunplay and the same kind of frisson you get when the ventriloquist’s dummy comes at you with a knife, you might like it better than I did.

Plot Summary, with spoilers
The premise is as stated. The setting is modern (or maybe postmodern) Italy. There is not much of a plotline – more like four or five separate storylines that get highlighted one at a time. The girls work with their handlers as a team. Each episode centers around the dynamics of a team and the impact the dynamic has on how the team performs. Evil people are targeted and killed. Most of them have large entourages of minions, and these are also killed. Sometimes bystanders are killed. The girls go about their business wearing suits and ties and carrying name-brand musical instrument cases, in which they keep their name-brand automatic weapons.

Other than that, there’s not much to say about the plot. Most of it can be deduced by iterating the question “and then who’d they kill?” There is a subplot of an outside group investigating two deaths, but that’s mostly a vehicle for showing us the team dynamics. Their findings mean nothing and go nowhere.

In the end, nothing in particular is resolved. The handler we have followed the most admits he is aware that they are exploiting the girls in a totally inhumane and immoral fashion, followed with a very Italian shrug and the admission that he doesn’t like it. In the final scene, most of the girls collect at a dark-sky-site to watch a meteor shower, and sing Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th (which, I am led to understand, is a popular Japanese New Year tradition). One girl, who has been overstressed by overconditioning, lies in her hospital bed, listening to the song on a CD, watching the meteors out the window, and dies holding her handlers hand.

I am sure this series started with the most innocent of intentions: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a bunch of little girl assassins who go running around offing the bad guys while wearing schoolgirl business suits and carrying automatic weapons in Amani violin cases?” Later, it moved to the dark side: “You know what we need? They’ve got to be exploited. How inhumane can we make their treatment without actually putting chains on their legs?” “What’s wrong with chains?” “You can’t rappel down the side of a building with them. We have to have psychological chains…” Or something like that.

There are three sets of psychotic psychodynamics at work here:

1. The bureaucracy. The ones who created the girls and designed their mission. The ones who take the girl who was ‘orphaned’ by the ‘accidental’ death of her handler and proceed to use her as a stress test object. How much strength can she exert before the artificial muscle causes the shoulder joint to dislocate? We don’t see much of them, but we see the results of their decisions. To the extent that we see them, they are the epitome of all soulless bureaucrats. To the extent that we don’t, they are…the writers.

2.The handlers. They are professional operatives, recruited from the police, military, and intelligence. They know the girls in their charge are not only short-lived (additional conditioning shortens lifespan) but are totally expendable. The way they deal with this differs. One treats his almost like a little sister, bringing the occasional gift. One treats his like a simple tool, and not a very good one. One grandfatherly type finds he cannot manage her to her death, and attempts to blow the project’s cover. He is killed by the project before he can do so. Much in the way of those who implement torture directives on accused terrorists, the handlers know know better than to do what they do. They are the implementors of much of the horror, but hold it at arm’s length, and so are as guilty as the bureaucrats, only in a different way.

3. The girls. They are emotionless killers. One girl meets a boy her own age while casing a target. Initially, she wonders what to say to him in that situation, but they do manage to talk for a few minutes and become friendly. Later, she encounters him during the ‘kill all witnesses’ attack on the target. She again wonders what to say to him. Oh yes — gomenasai. The girls are naturally fixated on their handlers as father-figures (never more than that, we are spared egregious loli), and are starved for attention and approval. How this need is filled depends on the handler, and is a major driver in team dynamics. In one case, the girl treated as a tool, who realizes that her handler will never have any affection for her, kills her handler, and then herself. Here and there, now and then, the real little girl peeks through.

This is a horrifying series, and the older you are, the more the girls look like somebody’s grandkids, the more horrifying it is.

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