"The girl has a mechanical body. However, she is still an adolescent child."
Gunslinger Girl is a manga created by Yu Aida, which also received an anime adaptation, telling the story of a group of young girl assassins.In Italy, the Social Welfare Agency scours the country for little girls who have been traumatized or abandoned ostensibly to give them a second shot at life. In reality, the Agency (as it is usually called) subjects the girls to cyberization, drugs and brainwashing and uses them to do the government's dirty work. Each girl in the Agency is partnered with a male handler to form a unit called a "fratello". Her handler oversees the girl's training, determines the level of drugs and conditioning she receives and is ultimately her control when out on a mission.The stories focus on relationships between the girls and their handlers. The relationships range from handlers who care for their charges like daughters or little sisters to others who regard them merely as disposable tools. The back stories of how the girls come into the custody of the Agency are routinely horrific (Henrietta, the new arrival, had her family murdered in front of her and was then assaulted all night by the intruders before being mutilated and left for dead. We won't even go into what happened to Triela.) The girls' cybernetic implants as well as the drugs and conditioning they receive are killing them while slowly destroying their minds and personalities. None of them will see adulthood. Despite this bleak backdrop, the show is interesting for its fairly nuanced and even-handed approach to these relationships and the girls' situation as child soldiers - while it does not glamorize the girls-with-guns concept, nor does it wallow in cynicism or mawkishness and treat their lives as entirely despairing black tragedies, instead having an optimistic tinge of the girls finding solace and new worth in their situation where they can.The manga began publication in Dengeki Daioh magazine in 2002 and finished in October 2012 with 100 chapters in 15 volumes. Two separate anime seasons were produced in 2003 (by Madhouse) and 2007 (by Artland). Both seasons of Gunslinger Girl's anime series were licensed and released in the West by FUNimation. The manga has been continuously published in French, Italian and German, but the English version was more troubled: six volumes were released by ADV to on an erratic schedule, then lapsed when ADV shut down its manga division before the company folded entirely. Seven Seas Entertainment revived the English license and began republication of the manga with a new translation from February 2011, this time compiling the volumes into omnibi. Both the anime and manga are well worth your attention but prepare yourself for a moody introspective on mortality and identity mixed with gun battles.
Adaptation Expansion: The first series of the anime adds several original incidents that did not appear in the manga (e.g. filling out Elsa's backstory), but they remain complementary to and consistent with established continuity, rather than setting up a different canon.
All There in the Manual: The radio drama fills in the cracks during manga volume 6 and the first half of 7. It's mostly the girls elaborating on events that were shown (Triela's 2nd fight with Pino, Rico's whole day in Venice and her reaction to falling in the Lagoon, and Claes's reaction to her Berserk Button moment with Petra). We also learn where Angelica got the stuffed dog we see in volume 9 (and its name), and just how widely read Claes really is (enough to shock Hilshire). Plus, Triela scolds one of her bears.
Amulet of Dependency: Seen when the girls forget to take their medicine — Triela becomes weak and unable to fight properly, while Angelica becomes so desperate to get her hands on a weapon she breaks Priscilla's wrist.
And Your Reward Is Clothes: Someone calls Jose on the expensive perfume he's bought his cyborg. Jose points out that the gifts he buys constitute Henrietta's salary. To all the girls the meaning behind the gift is far more important than the gift itself. Triela places little value on the bears Hilshire buys her as a matter of routine, until she realizes her handler really does care for her; then she refuses the option of a nice dress in exchange for another bear.
Anime Theme Song: A melancholic song by Scottish band The Delgados, fitting the mood of the series nicely.
Incidently, the same album containing the song, also contains the song Child Killers.
Il Teatrino got a very solid, somewhat more driving piece in Japanese by domestic artist KOKIA, which also fit the escalating conflict portrayed in that series.
The girls themselves are Punch Clock Heroines and the more sympathetic members of the Social Welfare Agency such as Jose are basically good people even though they are part of a (to say the least) morally questionable initiative. Some of the less sympathetic members, such as Jean, come closer to Type V, and some of the assignments of the Social Welfare Agency such as assassinating a congressman on request from a political rival thrust them all into this category.
Jose and Marco. Jose has some serious mental issues and a drinking problem to boot. Marco is too straightforward and simple a person to make a good handler. Jean's a Knight Templar with a personal vendetta (and way too much influence over his brother), and Sandro is in it for himself, period. Hilshire is an actual hero-slash-Knight in Sour Armor but he is in way over his head (not for the first time).
Anyone Can Die: Several cyborgs and agency personnel die over the course of the manga, including main characters.
Art Evolution: The character designs change quite a bit between the first and second seasons of the anime due to a new studio. It matches the manga better but the fanbase was less than pleased.
As the Good Book Says: Claes frequently shows off her wide-reading. Bad developments Henrietta's recent breakdown prompt her to quote Ecclesiastes 11:8-9 note "Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility. Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things." to Rico. She never names chapter and verse, she simply answers Rico's question "Is that poetry?" with "Not quite, it's biblical".
The central chapter of the Triela/Victor and Sandro/Petra team-up in volume 7 is called "The sheep and the goats" (in English) again without explanation.
Augmented Reality: In the final chapter, that takes place 10 years later, Speranza has a pair of AR glasses. Realistically, they are used much like a modern smartphone: for timetable management, taking photos, navigation and communication.
Badass Normal: As well as Pinocchio (see Character Sheet) there's also Triela's unarmed combat instructor, Major Salles of the GIS. Moments after Triela flips a GIS trooper twice her size, Salles takes her down twice without showing a great amount of effort.
Sandro encourages Petra to play up her attractiveness since her cyborg body is so much more mature than the others', and thus a lot of her wardrobe goes for this look.
Petra and Claes disguise themselves as teens out carousing in order to mingle with a group of criminals on a boat, and short shirts are part of the disguise.
Battle Trophy: After knocking out Triela, Pinocchio claims her SIG pistol, a particular humiliation as she was personally issued it by Hilshire. After fleeing though, Pinocchio realizes the necklace given to him by his cell leader and Parental Substitute has been left behind. Triela claims it for herself until she has the opportunity to leave it on Pinocchio's dead body.
The first season anime opens with Jose taking a walk with Henrietta, overlooking the city as the bell tower rings. The final shot actually reuses those frames, albeit without the dialogue.
Though not applied to the exact beginning and end of the story, the cases of Elsa and Henrietta are clearly intended to mirror each other. Elsa, who was not loved enough, and Henrietta, who was loved too much, both reach the same point of killing their handler and committing suicide, for their directly contrasting reasons, though in Henrietta's case she was killed by her handler as she offed him.
In a further Book End their bodies are cataloged by the same pair of detectives who investigated Elsa's death.
Boxed Crook: Hilshire kidnaps Triela from a Dutch hospital in order to get her treatment from the SWA. When he discovers the truth about the Agency, Section One coerces him into becoming Triela's handler as the only way to protect what's left of her.
Cain and Abel: Jean and Jose. They lost their parents, sister, and Jean's fiance to a roadside bomb aimed at their father. Jean has become completely obsessed with vengeance. Jose's feelings are much more conflicted; he's turned Henrietta into a Replacement Goldfish, and has confessed to having been distant from his father (who was just as obsessed as Jean). Hinted at in the manga by Jean's reaction to Claes's movie.
In the manga chapter "Fantasma", things move in an even more blatantly Cain-and-Abel direction, what with Jean now hallucinating about Enrica being angry over Jose's surrogating of Henrietta. The implication of her words at the end of that chapter were not particularly encouraging.
Chekhov's Gun: On several different dramatic occasions, Jose tells Henrietta the story of Orion and Artemis. In the very first issue, shortly after they first meet and he's looking for a way to connect with her, as well as after she is turned into an automaton by the Agency and he wants to know if she still has any memories of him. Then, dozens of chapters later, you see how they die...
During the investigation of Elsa and Lauro's deaths, Henrietta is the one to figure out what happened (that Elsa killed Lauro and then herself). While demonstrating, she heavily implies that she would take the same course of action were she to learn that her affections for Jose were hopeless. After Henrietta frags Jose and he lies there dying, she remembers this moment through her Laser-Guided Amnesia, and Jose holds a gun to her eye and tells her to fulfill her promise.
Children Are Innocent: Zig-zagged. Yes, they're basically child assassins, but there are several moments that remind you that at heart, they're still adolescent girls. For example, all the girls enjoy star-gazing; the handlers at one point remark on the fact that they're a group of child assassins who are looking at stars and singing Beethoven.
Conveniently an Orphan: Done plausibly as the Social Welfare Agency only selects girls who don't have extended families who'll be concerned about them. As a victim of child sex trafficking, Triela's background is unknown even to the Agency. Henrietta's entire family was murdered and Angelica's parents are in prison. Petra's family are too poor to travel to see their daughter — which is just as well as her appearance has been altered completely. One of the final chapters hinted that they (and the dance school she attended) were told that she died of her cancer. As Rico is one of the few cyborgs who retains memories of her previous life, the occasional visit from her estranged parents is no doubt enough to reassure them that their Ill Girl is receiving the best of care, and the Agency would have no trouble getting Rico to play along.
Cool Down Hug: Hilshire on Triela after her second go-round with Pinocchio — a Book End to how Triela refused to let Hilshire comfort her after her first defeat by Pinocchio.
Creepy Child: The girls, to different extents. Rico, with her tendency to kill and torture while grinning cheerfully, easily takes first place in this.
Alphonso: It's just the thought of these little girls who can kill terrorists and speak three languages, and here they are singing Beethoven in the bitter cold. It's a shame they have to be cyborgs.
Cultured Warrior: The girls are exposed to varying amounts of culture, depending on their aptitudes and handlers. Henrietta is a skilled violinist, Claes is very well-read, and she and roommate Triela have discussed Balzac and the opera "Tosca" in a "matter of fact" way. Rico expressed great interest when she visited an art museum, and Angelica can barely remember anything anymore. Triela notes that she knows virtually nothing of pop culture while guarding Mimi. Likewise Pinocchio can play the piano, but only the one tune. He also has little interest in cars or girls unlike other Italian boys his age.
Lampshaded when Raballo shows Claes his extensive library and says that reading makes you a good soldier... then notes ironically that he's reading a book on growing vegetables.
Cycle of Revenge: Both handlers and terrorists are obsessed with avenging family members killed by the other side. Those who aren't are invariably either corrupt leaders or disillusioned veterans.
The exception that tests the rule is Hilshire, who works for the program for personal reasons that have nothing to do with Italian civil wars.
The self-destructive nature of the spiral of revenge and recrimination is a central theme and oft-repeated motif in Gunslinger Girl. One chapter is even entitled "To break the cycle of retaliation" and an entire story arc is entitled "Vendetta".
A Day In The Life Of Claes is a surprisingly moving episode (especially in the anime with its rendition of "Scarborough Fair") showing how Claes tries to mourn a handler she no longer remembers.
Decoy Protagonist: A good portion of official artwork, the logo, and the earlier part of the series focus heavily on Henrietta and Jose over any other pair, and even though the others begin to get more screentime as the series progresses this makes most people automatically assume that they are the "main heroes". By the end of the series it's clear that there have been two main plots; Triela and Hilshire's hope, and Jose and Jean's revenge.
Diabolus ex Machina: Just when you thought Petrushka might have escaped the Everybody Dies ending, she's told that the implants she received only cured the symptoms of her cancer (by allowing her to function normally and so on), not the disease itself, which has now already spread throughout her remaining organic parts and will soon kill her. Mind you, the SWA knew all along - they just didn't consider worthwhile to pay for treatments for a cyborg who's going to die young anyway.
Dirty Cop: In the GSG world, a lot of them (Both mostly Polizia di Stato and Carabinieri) are on the side of the FRF, most of them bribed.
There is an episode where the SWA is deployed to take down a team of corrupt paratroopers from the Tuscania Regiment. One of them was Jose's friend from his Carabinieri days.
Distant Finale: The epilogue of the series happens many years later, featuring Triela's daughter living with Roberta in California. Meanwhile back in Italy, Jean Croce has become chief of an anti-terrorist unit. He keeps a photo of Rico on his desk.
While meticulously polishing her assault rifle to the extent of almost caressing it, Elsa goes on to elaborate and describe her obsession for her handler.
Claes isn't allowed on the shooting range since her handler is dead. She comes back one evening and roommate Triela notes the scent of cordite on her. Claes just smiles.
Henrietta clasps Jose's shirt to her body while lying on his bed.
Petrushka mentions that Sandro does her makeup every day. Angelica and Henrietta are immediately rapt over the idea of receiving such intimate attention from a handler.
Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: In the first season opening title, Triela is shown sitting like this in a chair. Her pose is relaxed and calm, which is deceptive considering that in the previous scene she was running and shooting a pistol.
Elephant in the Living Room: Angelica is in hospital, shunned by her handler after stuffing up on a mission. Her friends are trying to cheer her up when she suddenly bursts into tears, declaring that they are all going to die without having the chance to know anything about life. The other cyborgs maintain an embarrassed silence until Claes punches Angelica in the face.
Elites Are More Glamorous: The GIS, being the Carabinieri's elite anti-terrorist unit. The 1st Regiment Carabinieri "Tuscania", the Carabinieri's elite special forces paratrooper unit.
Emotionless Girl: Between drugs and conditioning all of the girls are more than a bit emotionally stunted. Beatrice however, is an extreme case, we never see her get angry, excited, or anything.
When Angelica finally dies it affects the handlers more than her friends; even Triela is surprised how little she's affected.
Inflicted on Henrietta when her deteriorating emotional state forces the Agency to redo her conditioning, which "resets her to factory settings," so to speak. One of the doctors explains to Jose that while she is a usable assassin again, her personality is little more than that of a robot soldier.
Even Evil Has Standards: At times evil has higher standards than the good guys, such as a Padania hitman who refuses to kill someone in the Galleria Degli Uffizi while Jean is torturing his accomplice in the men's room.
Done in episode 12, when Triela and Angelica break into a mountain terrorist base. The glass is weakened beforehand to justify this.
Triela and Beatrice effectively pull this off in reverse (climbing up a tower hand-over-hand really fast) during Vol 11 of the manga. Cybernetics are cool like that.
Fore Shadowing: During Jose and Henrietta's investigation into Elsa's death Henrietta asks him about making a Suicide Pact. Near the end of the series Jose is accidentally shot by Henrietta during the nuclear power plant assault after she is frenzied by resurfaced memories of her rape and torture. They fulfill the pact they made by fatally shooting each other after she snapped back to her senses.
Front Organisation: The Social Welfare Agency carries out legitimate research and charity work involving cybernetics and hypno-therapy, which provides a cover for the few patients who get diverted into Section Two's assassination program.
Gender-Blender Name: Some of the cyborgs are given male names to make it easier for the handlers to disassociate themselves from what they're forcing these young girls to do.
Grey and Gray Morality: The Social Welfare Agency mostly fights terrorists and extremist factions, but all sides have understandable motivations for their actions and use morally reprehensible means to accomplish their goals.
Go for the Eye: The one weak point of a cyborg, though Jean says they're working on bullet-resistant optics. Any cyborg who commits suicide knows this and will shoot herself through the eye.
Hallucinations: Jose and Jean imagining their dead little sister, and Angelica imagining her pet dog.
Hand of Death: Every time a handler physically touches one of the girls in the anime, even in a friendly manner, they're wearing sinister dark gloves, except for multiple instances with Jose.
The Handler: All the girls have one, and the relationships between girl and handler vary with each pair.
Handicapped Badass: Marco (eye damage) and Captain Raballo (lost a leg from an accidental discharge) are both using Section 2 as a chance to get back into the field.
Harmful to Minors: Nearly every one of the girls has been a witness or victim of horrific violence, sexual assault, or both.
The Heart: Priscilla, an intelligence analyst who dotes on Angelica.
Heel Realization: Angelina shields Marco from a car bomb, but Marco — relieved that he didn't lose his sight in the blast — doesn't even ask about her until Jose brings the subject up. The realization that she’s dying finally causes him to start comforting her; in fact it makes all the handlers rethink their relationships with their cyborgs — Alessandro and Petrushka share a First Kiss, Jean's Jerkass Façade slips when he's moved to hug Rico, and Hilshire becomes overly protective of Triela to the extent of leaving her in a hotel room while taking on an assassination himself — leading to a further Heel Realisation when he realizes that he’s been letting Triela do all the killing as a means of avoiding guilt.
Padanian agents in general, and their superiors in particular, often try to avoid choosing their own cultural and religious icons as targets despite being terrorists because they're conservative terrorists and those icons represent the things they believe they are fighting to protect. Furthermore, they limit civilian casualties as much as possible by only attacking government locations. Their enemy is the government itself, not the people under them.
Hollywood Healing: Justified as all body-parts can be replaced through each repair, replacement or reconditioning requires a drug that causes brain damage and shortens the girl's lifespans. On one occasion a terrorist leader sees Rico and wonders whether she's one of the rumored child assassins, but concludes otherwise due to the smooth skin of her hands. The next time this terrorist encounters Rico those hands have just rammed his driver's head through the window of his car.
I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Averted: Raballo goes ballistic when he sees Henrietta look down the barrel of a jammed pistol and berates Jose for neglecting her training.
I Know Karate: Subverted; the girls have their fearsome combat abilities programmed into them as a part of their reconstruction package, but at the increasing cost of their remaining humanity. After her defeat to Pinocchio, Triela gets supplementary training from Italian special forces, as she's become too used to relying on her cybernetic abilities.
Improperly Placed Firearms: Apart for Triela's Winchester 1897, all of the guns used by the Social Welfare Agency are fairly difficult to find in Italy even for a government-sponsored assassination force, and all of them could have been easily replaced by actual Italian military hardware (the only exception being Petra's SITES Spectre submachine gun, that is actual Italian military hardware specifically made for special forces. It's the most properly placed weapon they could have possibly given them).
Lampshaded in Chapter 4 - a SIG Sauer pistol is found at the scene of a dead SWA team by local police, who comment on the rarity of German-made automatics in Italy. It is possible that the agency deliberately sources its hardware outside of conventional channels to lessen the suspicion of government involvement.
The Infiltration: The SWA does this for several missions, as do the terrorists that raid the Turin Nuclear Power Plant.
Interservice Rivalry: Seen between Sections 1 and 2 during the investigation into Elsa's death, and at the start of the Pinocchio arc.
I Surrender, Suckers: Used to great effect when Henrietta is raiding a Radical Faction safehouse — she tells two men guarding the hallway she needs to get through that she's frightened of the "scary men downstairs". Quite possibly a case of Too Dumb to Live as they were warned that the Social Welfare Agency deploys little girls as foot soldiers and they both wonder out loud how she got in. They quickly dismiss this and instead try to take her hostage. It doesn't end well for them. Possible overlap with Trojan Prisoner.
Ill Girl: Rico before her "enhancement", Angelica at the end of the first season. Elizabeta was a prominent one since unusually for this series, we get to see quite a lot of her life before she joined the SWA.
In a Single Bound: Henrietta when chasing a purse thief - the same incident also features a Magic Skirt and Neck Lift. Petrushka also leaps multiple stories and from the ground to the top of a crane on two separate occasions.
Ironic Echo: Manga only, during the initial search for Pinocchio, Triela is trying to get information out of a trio of teenage punks. When they start hitting on her to go off with them she asks them "Shouldn't you be in school?" They laugh it off and ask her why she isn't. Before things get really threatening, Hilshire shows up to collect Triela. As they are walking away, Victor turns around and lectures the boys "Why aren't you in school?"
Jean acts like this, though as the series goes on it looks more and more like a Jerkass Façade. He can be hard on Rico, but it's made clear that he really is interested in her well being.
Lauro, however, is a perfectly straight example. He makes it clear he regards Elsa as nothing but a tool, and he flat out tells Jose that he doesn't like him and the other handlers for treating their cyborgs otherwise.
Kick the Dog: Some of Jean's interactions with Rico qualify, but Lauro's every thought and action toward Elsa take this to a whole new level, until she kills him and then herself.
Kill 'em All: The gruesome battle between the forces of the SWA and Giacomo's cell has brought the series right into this territory, and the face-off has resulted in the deaths of three cyborgs with Beatrice being among the dead. After the battle, the government decides to shut down the SWA by declaring them terrorists and sending the army in to kill them.
Out of all the first-gen cyborgs (and Petrushka) only Rico, Petrushka and Claes survive to (almost) the end. In the second to last chapter, Rico's revealed to have succumbed to her shortened lifespan, and Petrushka succumbed to her leukemia, and it's probably safe to say that Claes didn't survive to the Distant Finale.
Knife Nut: Pinocchio. Triela is never without hers either, though she uses a full-size old-fashioned bayonet (for her almost a sword). When they go one-on-one, it is not pretty.
Knights Templar: A deceptively named Intelligence Agency that uses brainwashed little girls to kill anyone who gets in their way or spots them on a job and occasionally handle unrelated kills as political favors. They get said girls by scouring the hospitals and are at best deceiving the staff/families about the nature of what is in store for them. Seems like they might be bending a few laws into pretzels in the name of anti-terrorism.
Rico's Shoot the Dog moment seems to have been a one-off, I'd put it down to Jean. While they are definitely fighting a "dirty war", the others tend to play the "nothing to see here" card rather than shooting witnesses.
They also express distaste for the political favors, but can't really say no since they're from high-ranking politicians that give support to the cyborg research.
Laser-Guided Amnesia: The girls have been conditioned out of their previous identities, but not of their basic social skills. Some of them show signs of things from before their transformations. When they start remembering more of their past life than what they did last year it's a very bad sign. See Angelica.
Rico seems to have retained memories of her past identity as her introductory episode in the anime's first season shows, presumably because her bedridden past gives her a good incentive to be loyal to the Agency which gave her the ability to walk.
Laser Sight: Averted. Particularly with Rico, who is almost always the sniper/sharpshooter during missions.
Left Hanging: We're shown a Distant Finale with Triela's daughter and a page with Jean, but we're never really told of the fates of any other characters.
That's from the original manga, the collections added a half-dozen pages about the remaining girls. They were put on a boat, along with the technical staff.
Left Your Lifesaver Behind: Triela runs away in tears after realizing Hilshire went on an assassination mission without her and got wounded in the process. She leaves both her pistol and conditioning medicine behind, and withdrawal symptoms make her too weak to defend herself when she gets grabbed by a couple of Camorra thugs.
Let's You and Him Fight: During the Turin Nuclear Plant siege, it's strongly implied that the Italian Prime Minister is hoping that the politically-dangerous Section Two and the militant wing of Padania will wipe each other out.
Literal-Minded: Used for the girls' Creepy Child moments. When Raballo first starts instructing Claes he's annoyed by her lousy shooting (actually because she's not used to her cyborg implants) and tells her not to leave the range until she can consistently hit the target. The next day it's pouring down rain and Raballo grouches that he hasn't seen any sign of the girl he's supposed to be teaching. He's told to go to the firing range where he finds Claes cold and shivering, still trying to hit the target as instructed after practicing all night. Henrietta also stays up all night stripping and assembling her pistol because Jose told her to get proficient quickly.
It's worth noting that, like the book Lolita, the story is actually written the other way around. Romantic and sexual relationships between the girls and their handlers exist and are discussed to a great depth, but in all cases it is made very clear (sometimes even to those involved themselves) that these relationships are wrong, unhealthy, and will only result in tragedy one way or another. As such, the characters, mainly the Handlers, consciously or unconsciously try to distance themselves from their charges to avoid becoming attached or too emotionally involved, from only seeing them as tools (Lauro and Jose after crossing his Despair Event Horizon ), "being cold to be kind" (Jean and Raballo), being like an older brother (Jose), or being a distant father figure (Hilshire and Marco).
Luminescent Blush: Henrietta does this the most, starting with the opening credits. And any attempt by Hilshire to bridge the gap between them causes Triela to react this way too, which says a lot about her true feelings.
Made of Iron: It takes heavy weapons or a bullet through the eye to harm a cyborg. This occasionally works to their disadvantage as well, since it causes them to underestimate threats and neglect their defense.
Meaningful Echo: An angry Marco tells a wounded Angelica that's she's "freaking useless!" after she stuffs up on a mission. However his tone (as opposed to Lauro's curt and derisory "Useless!" after Elsa's mission-related stuff-up) shows that Marco is showing a Jerkass Façade as opposed to Lauro who was just being a Jerk Ass.
You can't really expect anything good from a character named Dante.
Triela's daughter Speranza (Hope).
Mercy Kill: Winds up becoming a part of Henrietta's suicide pact with Jose after accidentally shooting him during her rampage during the nuclear plant fight.
Mistress of Disguise: This is a quality of all of the cyborgs - few suspect a sweet young thing to be a Spec-Ops killer, allowing them to hide in plain sight - but is a particular proficiency of the Alessandro & Petrushka fratello, who are well-acquainted with wigs, make-up, and quick wardrobe changes.
Mood Whiplash: Every time the cyborgs switch between little girls and ruthless killing machines; i.e., Angelica on her first mission - she massacres half a dozen terrorists in as many seconds, then turns and gives the camera a "Did I do good?" smile. Marco, watching the scene later on video, is noticeably disturbed.
Moral Myopia: The cyborgs kill without a qualm and are indifferent to their own injuries, but regard any attack on their handler as an outrageous affront worthy of immediate vengeance.
More Dakka: Once Dante gets involved in the scene we see increasing firepower being used to counter the fearsome abilities of the cyborgs. Anti-personnel mines, 50-caliber and 20mm anti-material rifles, Blackhawk helicopters with Gatling Good, armored fighting vehicles, a cruise missile, and a nuclear warhead. Sandro and Petra have an anti-tank missile fired at their car, and even the Agency is getting into the act with RPV's firing Hellfire missiles, and automatic Sentry Guns being deployed to protect the compound.
Multinational Team: A bit averted since most of the SWA personnel are from Italian security forces and intelligence. A few however are recruited from other parts of Europe. Victor, for one, is a Polizei officer from Germany and formerly attached to Europol. Olga is from Russia and was an ex-Russian embassy employee.
As for the cyborgs... Well Triela has Tunisian roots prior to being with the SWA. Claes possibly has some Swedish roots due to her surname before being reconditioned. Petruska is from Russia.
Murder-Suicide: Elsa murders her handler and then kills herself because she feels that he could never love her the way she does him.
New Roman Legions: Most of the SWA black ops personnel came from the police, military or the intelligence services.
No Periods, Period: Averted. At one point Triela talks at length about her period, and is very irritable during the time (and storyline) when it happens. In the same conversation Henrietta matter of factly notes she doesn't have that problem because during her cyberization they took her uterus out.
Oblivious to Love: One example is Triela preparing candles for a romantic dinner when she's staying in a hotel with Hilshire, who responds by turning on the lights and asking what she's doing in the dark. Likely deliberate on the part of the handlers, as the adoration of underage female cyborgs makes them rather uncomfortable. Jose is regarded as rather odd for encouraging his cyborg's affections.
Oddly Named Sequel: Gunslinger Girl ~ Il Teatrino, the second season of the anime by a different studio.
Oh, Crap: About sums up the reaction of the terrorists in Padania when they realize the SWA has deployed cyborgs to take them out. About sums up the cyborgs' reaction when they find out Dante is Dangerously Genre Savvy and has prepared anti-material weapons...
Olive Garden: Completely subverted. Most of the story takes place in Italy, which is depicted very realistically, down to the architectural styles (and even traditional dishes) of various regions, the names of specific streets in various cities, street signs and text on television being written in proper Italian and the people being, well, people rather than cultural caricatures. "The Prince of The Land of Pasta" did push it a little bit, but it was made up on the spot by a person who was deliberately trying to tell a dumb story to a shocked little kid.
Only a Flesh Wound: Averted, in the training sequence of the anime's first episode Henrietta is told to just aim for the center of mass because at close range hitting them anywhere will stop the target. Justified for the main characters due to the girl's enhancements.
Phenotype Stereotype: Subverted. The European characters (which is to say, unusually for a manga, all of them except for the African) all possess realistic features which often deviate from the national stereotype. Hilshire and Claes, for example, a German and a Swede, are both dark eyed brunettes, while the Italian Rico is blonde.
Rare Guns: Marco's Steyr GB pistol and Petra's SITES Spectre submachine gun, neither of which were produced in large numbers. Another, rather extreme example of this is the Walther WA 2000 used by Henrietta in the anime — less than two hundred WA 2000s were ever made. Triela's Winchester 1897 Trench Gun is an aversion; while long obsolete, it's actually fairly common on the surplus and collectors markets, and even to this day, Chinese firearms manufacturers like Norinco make reverse-engineered clones of them.
Red Shirt: The first generation girls Chiara and Sylvia, who only get a little bit of focus before they're rather graphically slaughtered in the battle with Giacomo. In general, the series focuses on only five 1st generation and one 2nd generation cyborg.
Averted — During the the first encounter between Hillshire and Franca, Franca tricks Hillshire into misfiring his pistol. It instead merely caused a jam. Hillshire simply fixes the jam and starts firing at Franca.
There is also a scene where Henrietta is undergoing pistol training. Her gun misfires, and she looks down the barrel to see the problem. Raballo, the handler for another Fratello, promptly grabs the gun out of her hand and yells at her handler Jose for not training her properly.
Retcon: Some of the flashbacks in Il Teatrino (in the dub at least) slightly change the dialogue from the original Anime but generally keep the same meaning and tone.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Jean and Jose are driven heavily by revenge and are easily distracted by it when they learn that their adversary for the arc is Giacomo Dante, their family's prime killer. Surprisingly, Jean is consumed by it much less than Jose, and when PFC Aprea wanted to join the SWA attack on Dante's group holing up in a nuclear power plant to avenge her friends, he told her that she should go enjoy her youth for their sake and that he will take vengeance for them, showing that he didn't want anyone else to go down the path he and his brother did.
Could also be a case of You Remind Me of X (i.e. Corporal Sophia Durante) making Jean reluctant to risk her life.
Really though it's dramatic irony. Jean (and the audience) think she's referring to other soldiers in the garrison. In actuality she wants revenge for Enrica, just the same as Jean (it's been 6+ years, Enrica's classmate is all grown up). Her identity isn't revealed for several more chapters.
Sawed-Off Shotgun: For one mission Triela cut down the stock on her signature Winchester to make it handier for a reverse Fast Roping assault. She comments that she should have done this long before (recoil isn't an issue with her enhancements, but size is).
Scarpia Ultimatum: Not in-story, but one of the missions takes place during a showing of Tosca, and we see just about every important scene at least in part (see kids, anime can be educational). Claes has apparently memorized Tosca's whole cry to God speech/aria, which seems somehow appropriate.
Scenery Porn: At least the first season of the anime spends a good bit of time on the Italian cities and their architecture. Episode 7, "Protezione" is probably the most notable.
Schrödinger's Cat: Angelica is heavily implied to have died in the first anime season, but is back in full action in Il Teatrino. It is mentioned she was released from the hospital, indicating that she just fell asleep while watching the meteorite shower in the first season's last episode, which diminishes its emotional impact quite a bit. She does end up dying in volume 9 in far worse circumstances .
Senseless Violins: The girls conceal their weapons in musical instrument cases. Henrietta is the one most often seen carrying the iconic violin case. Rico once used a clarinet case in the anime.
She Is All Grown Up: A recent chapter has Alessandro dressing up Triela so she will fit in with Petra while they work together. A change in wardrobe and judicious padding push her apparent age up to the late teens. This makes Hilshire (and her) a bit uncomfortable as she is unlikely to ever reach that actual age. It seems to cause her to give up her pigtails, however.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: Nino, once a bomb-happy fanatic, now derisively nicknamed "The Tibetan Terrier" by other terrorists for his apparent over-caution (which turns out to be justified). And Franco is only inspired to continue making bombs by the fervor of his partner Franca.
Shipper on Deck: Triela is assigned to guard Mimi, a girl her age who notices her crush on Hilshire and encourages her to let him know how she feels. Being well aware that Hilshire isn't interested in having an affair with a fourteen-year-old cyborg killing machine whose feelings of love are likely a side-effect of her conditioned loyalty, Triela never follows her advice.
Shoot the Hostage: When Dante is using Jean as a Human Shield, Rico manages to do this despite her conditioning, as Jean had earlier made it clear they were to give their own lives if necessary to stop Dante.
Shout-Out: In Chapter 56 of the manga Triela finds herself having to perform emergency surgery on someone. While she's doing this she ties her hair back into a single pony-tail, leaving long strands of hair down her front. It's also one of the few times she wears a mini-skirt. She ends up looking very much like a certain other girl who knows a thing or two about medicine who also happens to share the same English voice actress.
Shown Their Work: The author's grasp on Western literature and art is surprising for a Japanese mangaka; referenced throughout the story has included pieces of work including Horatius, Tosca, and the Rape of the Sabine Women.
The Siege: The SWA barricades their headquarters when the government attempts to dissolve them. However the whole matter is resolved peacefully when the soldiers refuse to fire upon Claes.
Small Girl, Big Gun: All of the girls. But most of the time the girls will use sub-machine guns or smaller caliber pistols. We've seen Rico handle some VERY large weaponry though (up to firing a G3 machine gun "Rambo style") and Triela's default weapon is a Winchester 1897 "trenchgun" (army shotgun) with bayonet. The first DVD volume is even titled "Ragazzine Piccole, Armi Grandi" — literally "small girls, big guns" in Italian.
Snuff Film: Triela was kidnapped from her home and smuggled to Amsterdam to be part of one. She was almost dead when Rachelle and Hilshire rescued her.
Spear Counterpart: Pinnochio, an operative for Padania, for Triela, leading to a very, very bloody fight between them.
Spell My Name with an "S": Henrietta's handler is variously called Jose, Guise, or Giuseppe (Spanish, French, and Italian variations of the same name) depending on the translation. Maybe we should just call him "Joe", the English form, and be done with it. His brother is unambiguously Jean (French), not Giovanni (Italian) like their father, so perhaps dad gave them cosmopolitan names as part of his strongly hinted rebellion against their grandfather, lending support to Jose, which is used by the most English translations.
For Triela's handler, both ADV's and Seven Seas' separate manga translations and Funimation's anime dub went with "Hilshire" (English based), whereas Funimation's subtitles and the German version of the manga went with Hirscher (German based). He is German which might indicate the second form, but it's a codename which might negate that. For the purposes of this site, we stick with Hilshire as it's used by more English translations.
Standing Between The Enemies: Claes walks out to the army column advancing on the SWA compound and asks them not to attack. Despite their orders, the soldiers are unable to fire on her, and so the SWA is able to surrender peacefully.
State Sec: Section 2 is essentially a death squad working directly for the Italian Minister of Justice, without any independent oversight.
Suicide Pact: Henrietta forms one with Jose in front of him during their investigation of Elsa's death. Many chapters later, they fulfill the suicide pact together at Jose's request after she accidentally frags him during a rampage. They fire one fatal bullet at each other.
Super Senses: Henrietta listens in on a terrorist meeting from the other side of a restaurant. Rico hears a vehicle coming before everyone else on a couple of occasions and detects Fermi throwing a coin at Jean's head even with her back to him.
Tempting Fate: Both Lauro and Hilshire say that their cyborg has never let them down just before a mission where said cyborg stuffs up completely.
Tender Tears: The cyborgs have a habit of crying in their sleep as noted by the Agency doctors. Especially tragic as the audience knows why they cry but the girls can't remember their dreams so they don't understand why they feel sad on waking up (Claes dreams of her father figure/handler who was wiped from her conscious memory, while Triela dreams of a woman she believes to be her mother, but is actually the doctor who died resuscitating her in Amsterdam).
The normally cheery Rico sheds tears over her handler Jean after he's shot during the Turin siege.
Theme Naming: In-story. Triela has been getting stuffed bears from her handler from day one. The first seven are named for (Disney version) Snow White's dwarves. When she gets an eighth it gets the name Augustus (Aug=8th month). After that she seems to have switched to Roman Emperors. We've seen Augustus, Caligula, and Claudius; we have never seen Tiberius.
There Are No Therapists: Subverted with Dr Bianchi, whose job is to keep the girls functioning and advise their handlers how to handle them, but not to help the girls re-enter society.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The mercenaries allied with Padania spares no expense when they take on the SWA teams. Beatrice was gutted with an Anti-Materiel Rifle, a rifle designed for piercing the heavy armor on tanks mind you, and afterwords vaporized with a cruise missile.
Those Two Guys: Amadeo and Giorgio, Section 2's resident GIS troopers, used to support operations.
Together in Death: When cleaning up the bodies from the Turin siege, their comrades come across the Jose/Henrietta and Hilshire/Triela fratellos like this.
The Topic of Cancer: Elizabeta was a young Russian ballerina who developed bone cancer in her teenage years because she spent a period of her childhood in an area of the Ukraine that was heavily affected by the Chernobyl incident. Due to the generally primitive state of public healthcare in ex-USSR areas, the cancer is not contained properly and by the time Elizabeta arrives in Italy for further treatment, the doctors decide that the best bet would be to amputate her leg before the cancer spreads. Realizing that she will never be able to dance again, Elizabeta tries to kill herself.
Twenty Minutes into the Future / Alternate History: Nearly everything about the world seems modern except for the film cameras, which were phasing out even when the manga started, and the cyborg girls, who are well beyond today's technology. The nonexistent organizations, and events (like a nuclear incident in Serbia) make it at least one of these options.
The Padania (the northern 5 provinces of Italy) separatist movement has a Real Life analogue, the "Lega Nord" party, but it's much less of an active threat. As of now it's mostly working inside constitutional frameworks, but in their beginning they weren't that nice, at least in their declaration of intents.
There's a battle at a nuclear plant, but in our world they dismantled them in 1987 after Chernobyl.
Unequal Pairing: Age issues aside, these girls are brainwashed to unconditionally love and obey their handler and are kept isolated from boys their own age, making any relationship morally ambiguous. It's noticable that those relationships in canon with a romantic touch (Petra/Sandro and possibly Triela/Hilshire) try to emphasize that the cyborg concerned is more free-thinking that her co-workers.
Uncanny Valley (In-Universe): Sandro, a handler who's developed the ability to Sherlock Scan people, notes that he can't read anything from the cyborgs due to their memory-wiped personalities.
The girls, to any Italian. Girls that age with such an inexpressive face may be believable in other countries, but in Italy they're just plain wrong.
Velvet Revolution: An expected confrontation between the military and the SWA is averted when the SWA surrenders peacefully, and the Pope arranges a ceasefire between the government and Padania.
Waif-Fu: Every girl has engaged in hand to hand combat; Triela in particular.
We Can Rebuild Him: Pretty much the premise of the series with the tragedy dialed up to 11.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: There is mounting confusion about how to view the girls, who lose their human traits more and more as time progresses.
Dante describes the cyborgs as 'demons' when giving a Rousing Speech in a deliberate attempt to invoke this trope.
We All Live in America: The series, though it's set in Italy, had many of the adult handlers be quite reserved towards their charges, probably causing Values Dissonance for any Italian viewers. They even bow sometimes. The girls don't act much like typical Italian girls, either.
In particular, do not try to hide things from Triela. She picks up on euphemisms and omissions very well for a 14-year old, (let alone a brainwashed cyborg one). Fortunately, she tends to be forgiving.
World of Action Girls: Not only are all the major characters young girls, but all of them have been trained to take advantage of how they're young girls.
You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once Dante has been captured and the Turin plant secured, the Prime Minister sends in the Italian army to destroy the SWA. Subverted when instead of a Bolivian Army Ending when all SWA personnel surrendered peacefully before the army. Due to this, the Italian soldiers were reluctant to shoot them.
Triela dreams of a woman wearing glasses that she believes to be her mother (actually Rachelle Belleut, the French doctor who died saving her life in Amsterdam). When the Triela/Hilshire fratello encounter Roberta Guellfi, a Meganekko prosecutor they've been assigned to bodyguard, they're both driven to protect her because she reminds them of Rachelle.