Title: Gunslinger Girl
Author: Yu Aida
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Volume: Volume 3 Omnibus (volumes 7-8, ongoing), $16.99
Vintage: 2006 and 2007 by ASCII Media Works, October 2011 by Seven Seas Entertainment
Genre: Drama, action, girls with guns
The bulk of the second half of the volume 2 omnibus introduced us to the first second generation cyborg, a Russian ballerina whose career ending disease (I want to say it was a bone disease) made her a prime candidate for the Social Welfare Agency cyborg project, Petrushka. Petrushka is older and more mature looking than the young children used for the first generation cyborgs, though part of that is due to her reconstructive surgery and the attributes requested by her handler, Alessandro. As a cyborg developed off of the research from the first generation, Petrushka has benefited from those that came before her; she is stronger, appears to contain more of her original personality, and she will live longer. She is officially introduced to the other girls at the dorm in this volume, and is given a tour by the solitary Claes. The cheerful Petrushka is rather confused by the subdued nature of the other girls, particularly their awkward relationships with their equally as awkward handlers, or in Claes’s case, her function in the agency without a handler. Petrushka also doesn’t understand some of the quirks that we’ve come to find as normal, since she’s a new comer and unused to the foreboding aura that hangs around the other girls who are very aware of their fates. What Petrushka sees as normal, the other girls find exciting, and what our normal cast of girl assassins finds normal, Petrushka finds odd and sometimes uncomfortable (like Claes’s glasses that she always wears, when it’s obvious she doesn’t need them to see). Though Petrushka is definitely the center of this book, we do get some nice time with Claes, who is taken out to a lake for the agency psychiatrist to observe her reactions. Although their memories were erased, and Claes herself has forgotten much since her handler died (some of which was also likely erased), there are latent traces of them within the girls’ subconscious minds. Petrushka and Alessandro go along to observe, but while they’re there, Alessandro spots some Padania operatives aboard a boat. While Jean goes off after the man dropping off what appears to be a case of explosives, Claes and Petrushka are sent onto the ship in the guise of two rich girls running away from home. Claes is uncomfortable with the job assigned to her, especially when Jean gives her a gun, and protests, showing us (for the first time, maybe? I can’t recall this happening before) what happens to the cyborgs when they disobey orders. Claes locks up and appears to stop breathing for a moment, her conditioning at odds with her own will. The two girls barely manage to avoid a disaster, thanks to Claes’s unwillingness to break a promise she can barely remember, but she gets a supportive speech from Petrushka…although Petrushka’s ignorance of how the agency works may cause her kind words to backfire later on. The story shifts a little bit, and we return to the Croce incident, when Jean and Jose’s father was murdered by Padania terrorists. With her big heart, Petrushka fails to understand why they simply can’t help everyone and take care of the world’s problems themselves, but Alessandro informs her that it’s best to just do their individual role to the best of their ability, and trust to others to do the same. Petrushka gets her chance when they are assigned as bodyguards to the prosecuting attorney in a Croce incident related case. Roberta Guellfi is a young idealist who believes that justice will eventually prevail, and has full faith in the justice system to end the vicious cycle of vengeance and put an end to the war with Padania. Unfortunate, Padania has threatened to kill any prosecutor involved in the case, and Section 2 (branch that includes the SWA) has every reason to believe an attempt will be made on Roberta’s life. However, because of the delicate situation of this case, the law office as well as Roberta herself don’t have any plans to hide her away, and in fact Roberta intends to do her job properly, despite being a bit of a sacrificial lamb (if she dies, public support for the prosecution will rise, and support of Padania will continue to fall, and the likelihood of some protection bill to be passed will also rise). Hilshire and Triela also join in to protect Roberta, and Hilshire sees glimpses of an old partner in Roberta’s passionate and optimistic nature. It’s during this part of the story that we start to see Petrushka falling in love with Alessandro. It seems much more than the way the other cyborgs love their handlers, which is partly due to the more familiar way Alessandro treats her. As a former spy, things like making out with his partner in order to distract or fool a target come easily to him, but mostly confuse poor Petrushka. As they spend more time going undercover together, Petrushka starts getting more curious about her handler, wanting to know his likes and dislikes, wanting to see his apartment, and wanting to know about his past. His past, as we soon see, is quite interesting. When he was twenty, he was scouted by a government spy named Rossana. Rosssana was perfect at her job, a genius even, and taught Alessandro everything she knows. He became a covert operative under Rossana’s guidance, and became fairly good at his job, which often required seducing important women (or women with important connections), and carrying on relationships with several of them at once, using a different cultivated identity with each of them. He tried to get closer to Rossana, finding the woman captivating, but soon learned the toll that such a complex job can take on a person. Rossana had no individual personality, changing herself constantly for each target, a blank and boring person with so many identities she has no sense of self any longer. Alessandro saw something else in her, her humanity, but by the time he said the words that she needed to hear, it was too late; Rossana vanished, taking years of secrets with her. This past catches up to him quickly. After Petrushka reveals her feelings of true love for her handler during a psych evaluation test, and then confuses the other cyborgs who were conditioned (ie: forced to) from the beginning to love their handlers, she and Alessandro are approached by Alessandro’s former boss from Section 1. They have found Rossana, living the exact opposite lifestyle she lived years before, tending a small farm with her daughter. Due to the father’s identity, Rossana and her child are in danger, and Alessandro has been called in to help safely relocate her. During a dangerous car chase, Alessando realizes just how much Rossana has really changed, and once again finds himself feeling alone in the world. Petrushka, however, is not willing to let him sink into such a depression, and in a physically painful outburst, finally reveals her feelings to him.
Following Petrushka and Alessandro around gives us a really good look into the sort of work Section 2 does, as we step away a bit from the darker stories of previous volumes and really get into the roles the cyborgs and their handlers play in the agency’s operations. There’s a very different vibe around Alessandro and Petrushka than there is around all the previous cyborgs. Petrushka has still been strongly conditioned, but her constraints are not as strong, which is part of the agency’s forward steps in cyborg productions. Due to this, she has a much stronger personality and ability to act on her own, though certainly Alessandro goes about her training rather differently than other handlers. He’s just as new to this world as Petrushka is, and it shows. More than the others, Alessandro sees Petrushka as his work partner, rather than a tool or a burden. Still, he’s an excellent representation of how the agency works. Alessandro has a really good speech about being a “bad guy.” Obviously he’s on the side of justice, but he sees himself as a bad guy, because he’s willing and able to use methods that good people would refuse to use (like refusing to harm someone even if they pose a great threat). This explanation he gives to Petrushka very well embodies the Social Welfare Agency and the lengths these people have to go to in order to fight against the Padania terrorists. I mean, they brain wash young girls and train them to become political assassins. It’s hardly a saintly profession. Fortunately these guys are all about justice and protecting the innocent (well, except maybe Jean, who is unnaturally callous), because if they ever went rogue, it would be a disaster. Just imagine these guys being on the other side, even just one of the fratelli, with the knowledge, experience, and skills they have; the balance of power in the country would undoubtedly shift. Past memories play a big role in this volume, more so than in others. There have always been hints that the cyborgs remember bits and pieces of their pasts, or at least the feelings associated with the memories. However, such things seem to be becoming more of a serious issue now, and are causing a little concern among the doctors that work on them. Well, I say concern, but really they’re just fascinated and eager to study the phenomenon. Even when Petrushka blurts out her startling love confession during her examination, the main doctor’s reaction is not one of concern, but of curiosity, wondering where such feelings might lead. He’s especially interested in Petrushka, as the first generation cyborgs are nearing the end of their lifespans. It’s a clear reminder that these girls are, after all, merely tools to be used. Only one of the doctors really laments the fact that a cyborg is genuinely in love with her handler, and comments on the tragedy such a thing will cause. One hearkens back to Elsa, whose warped feelings caused her to murder her handler and then kill herself. It’s clear that he only cares about what a disaster that would be, rather than the cyborg or even the handler. As readers, we get to see what really goes on in these girls’ minds, and we are able to understand their complicated feelings; it’s painful to watch. But what’s even more painful is how no one around them seems to really care (with some exceptions among the handlers), and the harsh rush of reality that scenes like that bring. As always, this volume of Gunslinger Girl brings an emotional punch along with its political machinations and bits of cyborgs kicking ass. Having Petrushka at the center, however, with her cheerfulness and a more easy going handler at her side, is a breath of fresh air, though no less poignant than previous volumes. As usual, I must again lament the lack of color pages in Seven Seas’ presentation of these volumes. With such beautiful covers, I am disappointed not to have them in color, especially when they are included; it’s like they’re taunting me. In this particular volume, I also want to make note that there seems to have been some trouble with the translation notes at the back of the volume. One of the sections has been cut off at the beginning, making the final bit a little confusing since it leaves out what the already truncated description is even supposed to be describing. Not sure if that’s a printing error or what, but it is definitely disappointing, as I usually find such notes quite useful.