The basic premise: dehabilitated, parentless girls are healed, brainwashed and then forced to work as cyborg assassins for a government institution.
In my mind, there would have been a far easier way to make this anime. With almost no mental effort whatsoever, one could very easily use its pretext as a jumping board for a lighthearted, mindless action anime. The plot could have been the kind of meaningless, unimaginative action fluff found in animes like Naruto, Noir or Scryed. If one made the girls older and the men younger, one could effortlessly throw in a few love triangles as well. All in all, the series would most likely be outrageously successful, and there would be sequels upon sequels to harvest money from.
Or, even better, they could have transformed Gunslinger Girl into a manipulative, super-obvious morality fest. The message of the anime could oh-so-easily be the no-shit statement, "Its wrong to brainwash young girls!" After a few painfully preachy expository episodes, the anime could punctuate its "point" by finding an excuse to murder a million or so people, Saikano-style. This would ensure a hardcore following by anyone "with a heart," and would soon spawn hundreds of reviews on animenfo praising the animes "symbolism" and "realism" (have you ever noticed that people who say a work has symbolism without mentioning whats being symbolized are full of shit?).
Lets thank God the creators didnt do either of these two options. Instead, the anime opts for a much more intelligent approach. Rather than dwelling in the blatantly obvious (what this organization is doing to these girls is obviously wrong), it asks a much harder question: "Are these girls still human?"
The anime thinks hard on its seemingly unanswerable question, and carefully ponders the girls humanity. At the end, rather than have a traditionally violent climax, the anime answers its own conundrum. I wont reveal the direction the series goes in, but allow me to say that in the final episode it is very clear what the anime thinks these girls are.
To accomplish its study, Gunslinger Girl is very heavy on character development and somewhat light on actual storyline. Furthermore, action scenes are well done when they appear, but far less frequent than fans of Noir will probably expect. Many people may be put off by this somewhat unconventional method of storytelling. I, however, enjoyed the approach immensely. Contemporary entertainment nowadays seems to be focusing far too much on the What, When, Where and How. In my opinion, the Who and Why are much more important. The creators of Gunslinger Girl clearly agree with me.
Although not particularly necessary for this kind of character study, the animation is nonetheless surprisingly good. As mentioned before, when action scenes occur, they are nothing short of exceptional (unlike Noir and Witch Hunter Robin, they dont skimp out on blood either). The rest of the time, the animation is still pretty good. All of the girls character designs are deceptively pleasant to look at, with pretty, guileless faces that belie their true nature, while the "brothers" character designs realistically show the lines of guilt creasing their faces.
As for sound, I enjoyed the OP immensely. The rest of the OST is very introspective and classical, and while it isnt very good to listen to by itself, it works very well when combined with the anime itself. Voice acting is done in a very low-key, charming sort of way.
There are few anime characters that are as simultaneously frightening and sympathetic as the ones in Gunslinger Girl. Put simply, the characters are what make the show as compelling and memorable as it is. Over the course of the series, the viewer is constantly thinking about these girls' humanity. Are they the monsters they were manufactured to be, or the innocent children they were born as?
Over the course of the anime, the creators carefully weigh both sides. On one side, the girls at first glance certainly SEEM normal. In many ways, they ARE normal. They carry the same naivete characteristic of an adolescent girl and also share the overwhelming desire to please their (surrogate) fathers. The fact that their love has been artificially misplaced by the government doesnt make the love feel any less real. On the other hand, these girls have absolutely lost their morality. They no longer feel any guilt whatsoever for murdering hundreds of men, so long as they feel their "brother" (a euphemistic term the agency uses in place of "master") wishes them to. The total absense of hesitation with which these girls slaughter is remarkably chilling.
One of the animes best and most moving moments is an almost throw-away scene that effectively combines both arguments. When one of the girls feels that she may be temporarily removed from her "work," she panics; to stop killing, even for a little bit, would prove that she was unsatisfactory to her master. In desperation, she pleads, "though Ive only killed four people this month, last month I killed ten!" Do we love her for her earnest desire to be loved, or do we hate her for her amorality?
All in all, I really enjoyed this series. Gunslinger Girl could have easily devolved into one of the aforementioned anime archetypes, but instead it manages to maintain a good deal of its integrity and originality. Others may be put off by its generally philosophical nature, but those with an open mind will most likely be pleasantly surprised.
In the past, I only sporadically watched Anime that was on Cable/DirecTV and didn't bother with it since I was not overly impressed with Naruto, Pokemon, etc...
When I decided to give anime a second chance, this was the first title that I watched. The psychological and philosophical challenges to the viewer showed me what good anime could be. So "Gunslinger Girl" sucked me into anime's entertaining possibilities. Your review just touched on what made this one so great.
I could not enjoy this one for some reason. I'm used to slow anime, but this one just didn't have anything to offer for me.
I loved this anime and I thought it was a masterpiece. I was upset that it didn't go on. I hate "season 2" and wish there was a continuation of season 1 by the same guys.
Your review is spot on. I was really surprised how good this anime was. When i began watching this i couldn't stop! - I love Henrietta and Triela.
This was an exceptionally great review. Totally got everything you needed to down and explained all of it perfectly. This anime was definitely one of the better ones I've seen. I don't understand why series like these don't get as popular as some of the crappiuer ones way high up.