In an Italy divided by the difference in wealth between the north and south, many of the rich in the north are unhappy about how their taxes are spent on the south’s welfare. A movement for independence began, and a terrorist organization by the name of Pandania, or the Five Republics, started killing oppositions to the north’s independence.
The Social Welfare Agency is a government organization that helps children in trouble. They take in crippled children and give them new bodies with the latest cybernetic technologies – but with one catch. The girls of the Agency undergo ‘conditioning’, a form of hypnosis that takes away all their old memories and enforces absolutely obedience to their handlers. The handler – ‘Fratello’ or Brothers – trains the girls to be assassins that does the dirty work of the government, mainly but not limited to fighting the Five Republics.
In a world where the moral values are twisted, and children are given social conditioning of all sorts to keep them as lethal weapons of the government, the life stories of the girls and their handlers are exposed to the reader, providing a hard look at how these girls survive in this world.
Story synopsis and characters
The story of Gunslinger Girl is about the girls at the Welfare Agency and their Brothers, how each one handles the difficulties of their varying abnormal situations. The best way to talk about this manga is probably to talk about each girl and their handler, so let’s start there.
Henrietta: The victim of an incident in Rome that left her family dead and herself mutilated, Henrietta was chosen by her Brother Giuseppe to be the newest addition of the SWA. She is somewhat jealous over Giuseppe whenever he is close to any other girl and this is apparently a result of the mental and social conditioning received. This is perhaps the reason to explain her strong feelings toward Giuseppe. She is also the character that is given the most development due to her clear struggle in this new world.
Rico: Rico is a girl that is born with a lot of birth defects, with her parents eventually giving her up to the SWA. Her handler is Jean, one that is harsh and unkind to her, but she somehow seems to be delighted with her new body in which it is strengthened by bio-technology and machinery parts. Rico is someone of a strange entity in which she remembers her past despite the strong social conditioning received in the SWA. Jean considered her merely a tool for the SWA.
Triela: Triela is a girl who has suffered a lot of mental trauma during her younger days, when she is exposed to physical torture, abuse as well as rape due to her position as a smuggled child by the Mafia. She was then rescued by the Europol, where one of her rescuers also became her handler. Hilshire refused to use too much social conditioning on her, preferring to allow Triela a more normal life. Triela is somewhat sarcastic at times, but is seens as a big sister to the other girls.
Claes: A bespectacled girl, her handler Rabello, had somehow died in mysterious conditions and she is the only girl that does not go out in active combat. She seems to have little memory of what has happened toward Rabello and is often in experiments to test out the cyborg parts and functions of the girls.
Angelica: Angelica was the first girl who experienced social conditioning after she was involved in a deliberate accident where her father tried to use her in order to receive a huge amount of insurance. She is also perhaps the first girl that received social conditioning as well as the ills that brought out the loss in long term memory. She is somewhat yearning to get affection from her disinterested handler, Marco and there seems to be an incident that caused Marco to be distant and unconcerned.
Petroska: The newest girl that is introduced in volume 6, she was a promising ballet dancer before her future was ruined by cancerous growth in her knee, and an operation that left her only one leg. Having lost her most important ballet, she tried to kill herself by throwing herself off the roof of the hospital – only to be rescued by SWA and turned into another assassin for the government. She is the first of the second generation cyborgs, undergoing different conditioning than those around her. Her Fratello is also very different the ones we’ve known previously.
Despite the setting, one of revolution, darkness and bloodshed, Gunslinger Girls places very little emphasis on the bigger picture. The story is all about the characters, and the driving force of the story is character development. Any references made to the greater conflict (which isn’t revealed in any detail until volume 6 and 7) are done to either give the reader a greater understanding of the world or, as is more often the case, to aid in showing each character’s own world view.
Instead, the focus is placed very squarely on the characters; the unique relationships between each Fratello and the ones in their care, and how each of them deal with the world around them. Sounds like a slice-of-life doesn’t it? But the setting makes this a very unique slice of life, where the themes and topics we’re familiar with are twisted and bent to give us a truer look than what we’re used to.
The problem with the relationships of the handler and the girls tend to give this wistful feel of resignation, as though nothing can be resolved from this social conditioning. It immediately opens up a lot of psychological dilemmas in which to treat these children, who do have an innocent mind that is conditioned to have a murderer’s hands, in which to allow them to degenerate into mindless assassins for the SWA, or somewhat preserve whatever they have in terms of humanity.
The theme of guns and girls is not new, but the very fact that young girls are created in such a way projects a huge social dilemma. You often think of innocent girls as merely innocent, but beneath their innocent faces are cold-blooded assassins that will not hesitate to shoot you without you thinking of them as any form of life-threatening entity. It is somewhat of a betrayal of childhoods, one to show the devastating effects of war and battle, in which people will do anything at all during desperate times to win. To them, the girls are merely tools.
As stated earlier, we never did know too much about the major story of Gunslinger girl, which is just as well because it will overshadow this story and merely relegates these children as weapons of war. From these story developments of the manga, we know that these children do not even understand much of what they have to do, and it’s an ironic story of normal girls forced beyond their will to do things that only a machine can.
Gunslinger Girl, despite the character orientated style, is not for the faint hearted. If you want a series that deals with moral conscience, societal conditioning as well as warped relationships between the handler and the girls, this is for you. If you want action, Gunslinger Girl does not provide that much of it until the later stages, but with likable characters, confusing mentalities between the conditioning and their true self, the girls make it good enough for at least a read.