Any subject matter, whether it be disturbing or not, should not be shied away from being written into a story narrative because of the fact that it’s too dark for the mainstream audience to handle. Almost all of the well-regarded films since the last century have implemented controversial social commentary and bring about heavy subject matter that involve sex, violence, and political corruption. These days we don’t often see anime take advantage of showing people the deep impact our world has within the dark subterfuge of our own universal culture. For all intents and purposes, Gunslinger Girl will leave some people with a sour taste in their mouths; whether they were expecting an action-packed girls with guns show, as the title Gunslinger Girl clearly represents just by saying it out loud, or because of the disturbing nature of the characters. The real argument to be made, however, is how it handles in developing those themes and characters mentioned beforehand.
To begin analyzing the way the plot is structured, it would be fitting to compare this to Stand Alone Complex in how every episode has its own plot yet every one of them are connected from the development of its characters. Execution should be the key in establishing an overall impression of how we view each character through fresh and innocent eyes before they take away our innocence and make us experience the disturbing nature underneath the foreground of the show. Gunslinger Girl has one of the most heart-wrenching and almost beautiful representation of showing the development of each girl in question.
One scenario in particular involves one of the girls named Rico who is now put into a position where she has to eliminate any emotion regarding the job she is given, now she is thrust into a situation where she finds an interest of someone who makes her question her existence concerning why she’s a part of the organization. What makes the execution written so well is just how subtle you see her ponder about the questions that are coming out of her mind after the job is done, in a harrowing and deep atmosphere. Normally, dealing with robotic characters who ponder about love and how they question has been done to death in some instances and can be seen as silly or laughable, but seeing how the atmosphere is so serious and hardly has any inclination of humor in the characters makes it believable. It does still beg the question whether there should have been a more convincing or less clichéd way of bringing up melodrama, but that shouldn’t necessarily be a huge draw in the writer’s part.
With this in mind, however, one begs the question whether the writers only wanted to fully develop the girls and hardly bother trying to give the same amount of development for the “fratello”, or the girls’ master that is given to them. Some people could argue that the point of the show was to mainly focus on the girls instead of their masters. That may be true, but even with that said they do actually try to give an inkling of development from how they question their organization and so forth. The problem is that they don’t ever go far enough, it’s as if they had an idea for how the adults would grow into a different mindset than before but they decided that it wasn’t as important. Because of this, there’s really nothing for me to feel about them, whether I should pity or sympathize with them other than the girls.
Narratively speaking, the plot doesn’t really gain any weight as how it’s structured since there’s hardly a plot to follow other than the fact it’s mostly followed by character interaction. There are some episodes where the plot of one particular mission didn’t feel like it was written with any focus on how it was structured. As if they didn’t have a goal in mind when they wanted to establish any conflict or a solid plot arc, not to say all of them did but on occasion it does and it can be distracting in parts.
The fact that the show is slow-paced does help in some cases to help us figure out what the world of Gunslinger Girl is like. The political climate and corruption is put into context how it impacts the characters and their struggles with coping it, whether they like it or not. There is an issue regarding how the show hardly gives any context to the actual political office in question. If you asked me now what the people in the government were like or what their motivations were, I couldn’t really tell you because of how so little explanation is given to their reasons and therein lies how narrow the political landscape is like, unlike how Stand Alone Complex did it perfectly in its political realm.
While it is argued that this is quite different from your typical girls with guns show, that isn’t to say there aren’t tropes that can be associated with the genre. What is very interesting and intriguing about how they handle the violence and action is very intelligent and almost strategic in how the characters handle any given action scenario. While there are some questionable scenes, such as Henrietta pretending to be an innocent child to a group of terrorists inside a building where it’s obvious that no one else but them is inside, how it is directed and choreographed is intense and realistic to its very core. It doesn’t glorify the violence to the point where it’s severely distracting; when you see a person get shot, you really feel in your gut that he’s been shot.
Direction-wise the show is really stellar in its animation and pacing, even if at times it goes a little too slow in parts where it didn’t really need to be. The animation, while isn’t amazing compared to others, is still done well from how the action scenes are played out in the end and the art designs of the characters are crisp and clear to the eyes. The one thing that normally wouldn’t be needed in discussing animations is the actual gun designs themselves, that are almost on Angel Beat’s level of precision and detail in how they are portrayed as an embodiment of the girls. Almost like a subtle metaphor in how you see a gun next to a girl on nearly every scene they are on-screen, whether they are carrying it with them on a mission or if they are cleaning them.
The music in Gunslinger Girl is pretty to listen to, implementing nice orchestration to capture the disturbing nature of the show’s framework. There is one aspect of the show that I wholeheartedly admire and commend with open arms, the sound design. It’s extraordinary how real and authentic it is from how the guns sound like actual firearms and not just cookie cutter weapons on any other anime, or movie for that matter, and the subtle ambiance of the show’s natural landscape. There was a moment where I almost wanted to cry from just how beautiful and somber the people who worked on the show put forward to crafting this realistic atmosphere that gives Gunslinger Girl its unique look and feel from other anime.
From its dark subject matter to its beautiful nature, this is a show that might rub some people off the wrong way. That can be understandable, but at the same time that should not sway people who are nevertheless intrigued in giving Gunslinger Girl a watch just to see how anime can go to unfamiliar territory in using familiar tropes and pull it off in a serious fashion. It may not be perfect in how they didn’t go far enough as it needed to be in establishing a well-rounded world that deals with political corruption, but as time goes on we have to at least appreciate the effort put into writing a gripping character drama with excellent development from our main characters, minus the supporting cast. We sometimes have to embrace the darkness of the real world in order to coup with our insecurities and Gunslinger Girl lives up to its credit as one of the most underrated that has these qualities to deal with.