What happens when young girls who are left for dead are given cybernetic enhancements and subliminal combat training? They become gunslinger girls. Adapted from the manga by Yu Aida, and featuring music by Toshihiko Sahashi (Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Full Metal Panic!), Gunslinger Girls, is set in modern day Italy and follows the conflict between the separationist political party, the Padanians, and their splinter cell, The Five Republics Faction, and the Social Welfare Agency and its mysterious Section Two.
Henrietta, and her fratello (sibling), Jose, are sent by the Agency to acquire a witness. The mission goes horribly wrong when Henrietta snaps, killing everyone, and is injured in the process. Her "handler," Jose, flashbacks to when Henrietta first joined the Agency, and sees the correlation between the abused girl there and the broken one before him. He begins to question Section Two's motives to use child assassins despite reassurances from other handlers. When Henrietta's actions come under review by the Agency, the determination is that she should undergo additional "conditioning," a psychological brainwashing treatment that's used to pacify their emotions by wiping the girl's memories of their horrific pasts, but with dire consequences.
In each episode of the series we learn more about Section Two's special unit, with each of the girls backstories unfolding revealing their own dark histories and personal strife as they commit murder to stay alive. We also watch as Henrietta and Jose's relationship progresses, partially due to Henrietta's physical similarities to Jose's former little sister. Later in the season, the "second generation," is revealed, as the Agencies furthers its attempts at creating the perfect killer.
Gunslinger Girl, fits well into the "girls with guns" genre and is a close match to animes like Kite and Gunsmith Cats, especially with the attention to detail given to the firearms in the show (all the firearms shown are drawn from real guns). It also pays a small homage to works like Luc Besson's The Professional, but with a government conspiracy twist.
One of the recurring themes throughout the series is disconnection. This is illustrated in the visual direction of the episodes as we're shown Henrietta "framed" and alone in numerous scenes. This alludes to the "big brother is watching," both the literal and figurative sense as Jose, and other handlers, often look in on her through a one-way mirror. At times there is an obvious lack of physical contact between characters, this includes even basic "sibling" behavior like holding hands. The color palette used in the show tends to be neutral, but locations often come off stark and sterile giving the Agency an even more "institutionalized" look.
The selection of Europe, and even more specifically, Italy, seems intentional by the writer as though the series was made intentionally "foreign." Meaning, that the subject matter and situations aren't something found in their native environment. It also distances the viewer from the show's concept of child soldiers, but subsequently challenges the viewer to identify with Jose, the narrator for most of the first episode., and his guilt versus acceptance. Making the viewer ask themselves, is life disposable for a cause, and if so, whose?
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