Gunslinger Girl Ends with a Bang!

What a great ending to a rather original series!  The last volume of Gunslinger Girl finally found its way to my shelves.  For the past couple of years, it’s been the only manga I’ve purchased translated.  On returning home, however, I discovered that I had never read the penultimate omnibus!  But, unwilling to wait for that book to arrive through Amazon (I don’t recall ever seeing that volume in a bookstore), I read those chapters in an online reader before turning to the last volume.

GSG opening

Despite how boring most people find the anime version of this work, the manga never bored me, and the anime hooked me until the end–even when it got slow.  The last three volumes of the manga, which have yet to have an anime version (But, I can still hope), blew me away by their non-stop action.  The last three volumes include more gun fights and agonizingly suspenseful situations than the other twelve volumes combined!  This even includes the fight between Triela–my favorite character–and Pinocchio, whose arc still stands as my favorite and features in Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino.

A picture of Triela.  The modifications to her body prevent shots to the arms from being disabling.

A picture of Triela. The modifications to her body prevent shots to the arms from being disabling.

Part of the fun of Gunslinger Girl is how the cybernetically modified young girls in the service of the Italian government contrast the vision of human beings with cybernetic parts found in Ghost in the Shell.  (Nota bene, I have not seen more than a few episodes Ghost in the Shell, but draw the following ideas from two essays in Anime and Philosophy: Wide Eyed Wonder edited by Josef Steiff and Tristan D. Tamplin: “The Making of Killer Cuties” by Christie Barber et al. and “Just a Ghost in the Shell?” by Angus McBlane.  That’s a book well worth owning!)  Basically, where Ghost in the Shell offers a future where cybernetics allow mankind to overcome human weakness, the heroines of Gunslinger Girl are still weighed down by their humanity as the machines inside them drain away their lifespan.  Henrietta, Triela, and the rest still retain the hopes and dreams of girls their age, but are forced to suppress them as they are mere tools of the Social Welfare Agency.  The author of this manga, Yu Aida, leaves one with the impression that the bad consequences of modifying human nature might outweigh the benefits.

Alfa Romeo

The struggles of the heroines to make the most of their limited lives create some very deep characters and engross the reader in their fates.  Few mangaka do characterization so well!  This, along with the great action of the final volumes, almost caused me finish the remaining chapters in a single sitting.  Indeed, they would have had not something important torn me away from them!  I might also add that Yu Aida is incredibly literate and well-versed in Western culture.  Gunslinger Girl contains allusions to the Bible, Thomas Macaulay, Beethoven, and others.  Few manga combine action with learning so well!

Triela with shotgun

 

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Gunslinger Girl

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!