Gunslinger Girl (2003-2004)
Directed by Morio Asaka

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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After being maimed in a brutal attack, Henrietta, an adolescent girl, is taken in by the Social Welfare Agency, a secretive group funded by the Italian government. Having been given an artificial body and having been brainwashed so that she can be used as an assassin, Henrietta subsequently bonds with her handler, Jose, who has been assigned to train and supervise her, and meets the other girls living at the agency, all of whom have been treated as she has.

Morio Asaka's thirteen part animated television series Gunslinger Girl is amongst the most affecting programs I have had the pleasure to encounter.


The series is loosely structured, each episode telling its own tale and focusing on one of the girls more than on the others. Nevertheless, none of these stories is entirely self contained. Each builds on those that came before it, and each includes several or all of the girls in some way or another. There is, thus, a unity to the series, even if it is never tightly organized. On the whole, this approach works well, allowing the director to present a series of brief mediations on the nature of his protagonists' existence.


Most of the episodes of the program bring out the consequences of the situation the director has envisioned. The girls are shown as being completely devoted to their handlers as a result of their conditioning, but these older men are revealed as often not caring for their charges. Several appear not to know how to relate to the girls, and one sees his charge as nothing more than a machine, although Jose does involve himself in Henrietta's life, apparently caring for her nearly as much as she cares for him. The girls' relationships with one another, and their perspectives on their situation are also explored extensively. Much of what is shown about the children's lives is painfully tragic, but, amongst all the misery these young individuals endure, there is enough hope and enough relishing of one's present life to imbue the series with a charm that keeps it from becoming wholly depressing. What is more, its frequent, skillfully choreographed action sequences often make it genuinely exciting.


Such emotional effects are supported by the series' visual qualities. Many of the backgrounds, which present the viewer with visions of quaint Italian cities composed of narrow, winding streets lined with tall, often ornate buildings, are quite appealing, and the character designs are, without a doubt, even more beguiling, especially those used to give life to the girls around whom the narrative revolves. All of these children are made so charming that they are sure to appeal to the viewer, enabling him to engage with them and feel their sorrows, as well as their joys, with a surprising poignancy.


I will hardly claim that Gunslinger Girl is a masterpiece, but it is both well made and a melancholy pleasure to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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