Title: Gunslinger Girl
Author: Yu Aida
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment (gomanga.com)
Volume: Volume 4 (contains volumes 9-10, ongoing), $16.99
Vintage: 2007 and 2008 by ASCII Media Works, March 2012 by Seven Seas
Genre: Drama, science fiction
Things aren’t going well for Angelica. Her short-term memory is growing worse, even as she seems to be remembering things from further back, including elements of her previous life that should have been wiped from her memory entirely. She’s beginning to dream of her previous life, in particular of her dog, Pero. And, strangely enough, the one thing she continually remembers, flawlessly, is the tale of the Prince of Pasta that her handler Marco and other members of Section 2 wrote for her. Her mind is clearly deteriorating, however, a sure sign that her lifespan is nearing its end. A degradation compounded when she jumps in front of a bomb’s blast to protect Marco. While Marco is nearly unscathed, Angelica receives serious injuries, and the strain of her repairs nearly destroys her, leaving her in a deep coma. Marco, who has been continuously cold toward Angelica, believing that it’s a waste to deal with her when she’ll only forget everything, finally goes to see her. To everyone’s surprise, Angelica reacts to his presence, but her subsequent delusions shatter even Marco to his core. Driven by his desire to do one decent thing for her before she dies, Marco decides to track down Pero and bring him to see Angelica. Meanwhile, the other handlers (specifically Jose, Alessandro, and Hilshire, begin to wonder how long their girls have left to live, and what they can do to prolong their lives and make that time worthwhile. the girls are starting to notice, too. Henrietta cries over not being able to remember spending Christmas with Jose the previous year, while Triela tests her memory by going over each gift she’s been given. She recites the name of each teddy bear, when she received it, and does the same for her weapons. But not everything is clear as it once was. Still, she recognizes that she is a tool, meant to do the dirty work for and protect Hilshire. It’s Hilshire who can’t stand that, who hates making her do all the work, who hates when she so carelessly states she’d give her life for him. He even goes so far as to leave her behind on a mission, to get his own hands dirty, to take the guilt on himself for taking life. Things Triela doesn’t even worry about in the slightest as a cyborg. And when he comes back injured, she can’t understand. Perhaps is incapable of understanding due to her conditioning. When he tells her that her purpose is not just to fight, but to live as long as possible, she mentally breaks down and runs away. Luckily she is found by an old friend – the lawyer Roberta Guellfi whom she once protected – who takes her to a safe place, to Mario Bossi’s house. Triela begs Mario to tell her of Hilshire’s past, so he reveals what he knows of the events that led to Hilshire finding her as a child and rescuing her from the mafia. How he protected her, even stole her from the government hospital so she could receive the special care she needed elsewhere. How she ended up in the hands of the Social Welfare Agency. He leaves the rest of the story to Hilshire, and he tells her as she treats his wound. About how furious he was when he found out she’d been turned into a combat cyborg, how he was forced to join the agency as her handler, only went willingly so he could continue to protect her. He reveals his guilt over what she has become, and Triela nearly leaves for good this time, realizing that her very presence is causing him pain. But, even though she doesn’t know if the feelings are real or programmed into her, she loves him too much to leave. The story shifts into its next arc, as Jose and Jean finally find a lead for the Croce Case, one that could lead them to Padania’s leaders. One that will almost certainly lead them to whoever was behind the death of their parents and sister.
Some of the first real evidence of what these cyborg assassins are doing as experiments for the medical field is presented in this volume. When Jose and Marco go looking for Angelica’s dog, they meet a young boy with a prosthetic leg, which was designed using the technology refined in the Social Welfare Agency. It’s nice to see something truly positive come out of these girls’ sacrifices, but their fates are no less unfortunate. Angelica’s final moments are both heartbreaking and chilling. She expresses happiness over being at Marco’s side, she lovingly remembers and recounts every bit of the Prince of Pasta story. She was happy during her time in the Social Welfare Agency. But how much of that was due to her conditioning? How much of that was programmed into her, and how much of it is her true self? This is something the girls continually ponder, Triela particularly, and it’s also one of the more unsettling things their handlers must deal with. Elsa’s handler utterly failed, and that ended quite badly. Marco wasn’t much better, but he came to terms with everything before the end, even going so far as to express interest in becoming a handler for another cyborg. Jean still uses Rico as his tool, and she’s perfectly happy to be so. For Jose, Henrietta is somewhat of a replacement for his deceased little sister. For Hilshire, his guilt and a former promise drive him to protect Triela and make sure she lives a good life. Alessandro…he’s completely weirded out Petrushka’s conditioned devotion, and keeps trying to instill a sense of independence in her. Trying to see her as a real, normal woman may backfire on him, though. In the end, however, despite what their handlers wish, the girls are tools for the government, and that’s it. Once they’ve fulfilled their purpose, once Padania is eliminated, there will be no more need for them. They’ll be discarded like out of date electronics. This is an emotion-packed volume, light on action, and focused heavily on Triela (which doesn’t bother me, as she’s my favorite of the girls). If you’re the sort to be moved by things of this nature, have a few tissues on standby. This one packs a wallop. Though I am afraid I must lament, again, that Seven Seas has decided not to publish the extra cover pages in color. I would pay the extra couple bucks for that, no problem. This series has some beautiful, understated covers, and it’s a shame we don’t get to see them all properly.