6 January 2007 | Alan-40
The Care and Operation of the Lethal 10-year-old
This outstandingly well drawn and beautifully set anime is centered on very peculiar fetish (or fantasy if you prefer) in the spirit of La Femme Nikita only ten years younger. In this variation, martially dominant men literally own very attractive young girls who have been altered with cyborg technology to be selfless, efficient fighting machines. They undergo "conditioning" that makes them totally dedicated and obedient to their handler, willing to defend them at any cost, and they will never grow old because their life spans are shortened to a few years. But they're working on that.
Although the title style has the phrase "
still an adolescent child" in fact it seems none of the girl-cyborgs except Triela has reached puberty. The rest of them seem to be 10 or less, and when Henrietta first sees that Triela is suffering from menstrual cramps, she un-resentfully explains that her own uterus had been removed during conditioning. Oy.
Disregarding any cases out there of full-blown misogyny, I suppose any male who has ever been even slightly frustrated by the female of the species should find something to like here in an ambivalent way.
Anyway, the point of all this is to create an urban combat force (you didn't think there was a peaceful reason did you) comprised of "fratellos" (or handler/girl-cyborg pair) to fight terrorism. To further shore up the shaky moral basis, supposedly all the altered girls were otherwise terminal patients if not fully willing participants in the process. It seems many of the missions they go on could have been carried out by the handlers themselves, and it would not be hard to argue that the "good guys" are a bigger societal problem than the bad guys are, but that doesn't matter because the fighting scenes are not the story.
What are interesting to watch is the differences between the handlers, the cyborg-girls, and the effect on their fratello relationships. In spite of the official line that the girls are now altered to the point where they are no longer human, and need no more human consideration than any other piece of combat equipment (well cared for, valuable, but expendable), some handlers subscribe to this and some do not. There is Jose, who dotes on his Henrietta and rewards her when she is not on mission, and at the other end there is Helsa's handler who is all business and is brutally dismissive of his charge. And there are steps in between.
Even more beguiling is how the girls act when they are together, which is usually hanging out around their dorm room. Aside from the weapons-maintenance tasks they do, they do normal things like laundry and hobbies and chat. Although they are supposed to be conditioned against having any emotions, they clearly do. Further, they discuss themselves and their conditioning in dispassionate but fully self-aware terms. They may suffer, but they do not resent. They may disagree, but they don't disobey. It is hard to describe.
One of the reasons to watch anime is that it can illustrate certain points of drama in ways that no other form of performance can. Gunslinger Girl manages to do this, and that makes it worth adding to any collection, and I hope there is interest in continuing the series.