This post concerns an action manga/anime written by Yuu Aida named Gunslinger Girl, which centers on young female cyborgs employed by the Italian government in anti-terrorism activities. The manga has been published since 2002, spanning 92 chapters (i.e. in its 15th volume), and an anime adaptation aired in 2003 with a sequel and OVA being produced in 2008. The pacing is rather slow because of its focus on the daily lives of the cyborgs, but do not let that turn you away! This anime has so much depth that an entire article was included in a work titled Anime and Philosophy: Wide Eyed Wonder comparing its ideas about how the development of cyborgs will benefit mankind vs. the ideas on the same subject found in Ghost in the Shell. How few modern shows are worthy to be compared with that classic! Yet, I would say that its pacing works much better in print than animated. Also, the manga includes more story arcs than the anime and includes more details despite the anime following the manga very closely.
The cyborgs in our story were either unwanted children or seriously harmed either physically or mentally before being taken in by “the Social Welfare Agency.” At the agency, they’re brainwashed, given new, stronger bodies, and trained to take out domestic terrorists–usually a separatist group based in northern Italy known as the Padania. (Here, I must mention that I am slightly sympathetic toward the Padania: their methods are entirely wrong, but they have the burden of funding Italy’s welfare government. So, they naturally would want to form their own nation, but the government does not want to let that happen!) Despite their super strong bodies, these girls are emotionally scarred and fanatically attached to their handlers. They even get worried about being considered useless if they don’t kill “enough” people over the course of a month! Which is where the comparison with Ghost in the Shell comes in: while Ghost in the Shell envisions people becoming freer, living longer, overcoming the limits set by their gender, Gunslinger Girl has cyborgs who are still quite feminine–though unable to live according to their nature, doomed to live a short life because of the effects of their conditioning, and forever enslaved to the Agency. Indeed, the latter scenario is more believable, and the setting is the present-day rather than some distant utopia.
The other strong point is its bevy of sympathetic and interesting characters: Triela, Claes, Rico, Jean, Jose, and Hillshire all stand out as unique. Even the villains are well done, Pinocchio and the bombers Franca and Franco are compelling and sympathetic. The author really seems to understand human nature so that the characters become more like real people than characters. (Think Ernest Hemingway vs. Geoffrey Chaucer) Another part of the great characterization is the fact that so much time is spent getting to know the characters: their daily life, hobbies, opinions, distant past, motivations, etc. This is unfortunately done at the expense of the story’s pacing. But, I did find the anime quite enjoyable: they did not leave me hanging for too long between action sequences. And, as I said, one can always pick up the manga as well, where the interest in all these details doesn’t hamper the plot.
I mentioned action scenes. Whether it’s hand-to-hand combat between Pinocchio and Triela or gunfights between the Agency and the Padania, this series does not disappoint either in print or animated. In particular, the second anime season, Il Teatrino, has some of the best fights and the most spectacular finale. So, if you have a little patience and are tired of the same stock characters, pick up a copy of Gunslinger Girl–but, if you have very little patience, make sure that it’s the manga you pick up!