(This post is part of a series of posts covering Christmas-themed anime episodes. For more posts like these, check out the 12 Days of Anime tag.)
Watching Gunslinger Girl is simultaneously humanising and dehumanising. It’s humanising because all of its characters display such poignant depths of emotion. It’s dehumanising because these characters are cyborg assassins whose love for their handlers is partly a result of brainwashing and conditioning.
It’s no surprise that Christmas in the world of Gunslinger Girl is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking.
I wasn’t always a fan of Gunslinger Girl. The anime is visually bland, featuring lots of slow pans and uninteresting camera angles. Because of its bloated content, the anime ended up repeating the same points over and over. The filler content of the anime almost entirely revolves around the softer feelings of the girl assassins, which skews the manga’s fine-tuned balance between empathising with these girls and showing them for the dangerous killing machines that they are.
Revisiting the anime after reading the manga, though, did help me understand some of the choices the anime made, or at least put them into perspective. The focus of the anime might be narrower, but it does do an excellent job putting the viewer directly into the girls’ shoes.
Episode 4 focuses on Triela, the “big sister” among the gunslinger girls. Here, the gloves come off and Triela is revealed to be, you guessed it, an ordinary girl.
Throughout this entire episode, Triela is on her period. When she mentions her period pains to Henrietta, Henrettia responds, “I’ll never know what that feels like. They took my uterus out during conditioning.”
This was a really simple, yet rather chilling exchange. At the same time they’re discussing something so mundane and universal to the female experience as having a period, one of these girls reminds us that she is not an ordinary girl – her body has been tampered with beyond recognition. It’s these incidental moments that give Gunslinger Girl most of its power and poignancy.
The meat of the episode itself is about Triela’s decision to take pity on a mafia member she is supposed to safeguard and restrain. When she finds out that the guy wanted to be with his daughter for Christmas, she lets him slip away. She is moved by his display of fatherly love, wishing she could experience some of it for herself.
This also shows in her relationship with her handler Hillshire, who is an awkward man uncertain about how much distance he is supposed to keep from Triela. Triela wishes for some kind of affirmation from him, but is unsure about how to express it. Hillshire gets her a teddy bear every year for a gift, but she is unsatisfied, thinking that it’s a sign that he doesn’t put much thought into it. So when Hillshire lowers his standoffish front for once and asks Triela what she would want for Christmas, she realises the gift itself doesn’t matter. “Just get me a teddy bear like you always do,” she says.
Triela’s changing attitude towards her handler’s gifts is reflected in the bears themselves. Notice the contrast between Triela’s bears in the beginning of the episode and how they seem at the end:
In the end, even in a messed up world like that of Gunslinger Girl, kindness and the human spirit are ever present. Triela, an assassin, saves the life of a mafia member who feels partly responsible for her becoming a cyborg in the first place. And for Christmas, he gives her a teddy bear as well. No matter how cruel the world is, no matter how much evil human beings are capable of, people will always be performing these humble acts of kindness. In this world, even cyborgs are capable of human dignity.
There’s a nice message wrapped up in this episode as well. In the Gunslinger Girl world, as in the real world, it’s the thought that counts.