Gunslinger Girl is the type of anime where little girls are used to fulfill the desired of men. What do the men want? The men who "condition" them (i.e., brainwash) are assassins. That's right people. Little girls brainwashed into becoming assassins. What a way to train those females! Train them while they're young so they won't rebel; that way, they'll do exactly what they're told.
The girls are, for the most part, completely loyal to their "brothers". The girls and their brothers are called a fratelo. In Italian, fratelo means siblings. Siblings are the furthest things from the truth. The truth of the story is that these girls are being exploited by men.
The girls are exploited, but they are also epitomized as heroines. They display courageous acts of loyalty to their fratelos and their fellow cyborg sisters. In this regard, the cyborg-girl-assassins are revered if they are loyal. Triela is the only cyborg who shows emotional rebellion among the other cyborgs. According to the storyline, Triela was the least brainwashed of the girls. The girls who were brainwashed the most are the most loyal.
Paternalism is a recurring theme in this show. Paternalism is the policy or practice on the part of the people in positions of authority of restricting the freedom and responsibilities of those subordinate to them in the subordinates' supposed best interests. On several occasions the girl-cyborg-assassins were expected to believe that their brothers knew what was best for them even if it meant death. In that regard, the particular paternalism that goes into play here is in the form of a sexist one in which males vied for gender supremacy through the manipulation of girls to prevent death on their part. Their primary competition are terrorists in Italy and the mafia. Section 2 (the group of mostly men who control the girls) are supposedly more advanced than the competitors because they have the girls to work for them.
Physical power is not something the girls are lacking, but emotional control is. They must constantly not allow their emotions to dictate orders from their brothers. If they let their emotions dictate their actions, then they are easily replaceable.
The only factor where an empowered sisterhood took place was when the cyborg-girls met together for tea and cake. They supported one another's emotions and accepted one another for who they were -- mistakes and all.
How could this anime be feminist friendly and still maintain it’s pop appeal?
1. The writers could have developed their characters in a more empowering way. The power was in the hands of male assassins. The idea that some males have control of a bunch of little girls only perpetuates the notion in Japanese culture that it is normal to exploit little girls. The idea is not very unique and is used frequently in anime. Most of the time little boys are rebellious and earn their power as opposed to it being bestowed upon them. As mentioned in previous critiques, whenever a female's power is bestowed, it is viewed as less powerful than the type of power that is fought for. In many instances in pop media, men are only bestowed power through family legacy. The men who are bestowed power through legacy are never as heroic as those who earn it by fighting for it. Some men are even stereotyped as weak if they don't fight for their power. After all, bestowing power is reserved for females, right?
2. The female characters could have fought their way out of being exploited. Instead of fighting their way out, they were written as complacent and loyal to the very end of all 13 episodes. The second season comes out spring 2008. Perhaps the writers will develop their characters and have them rebel so they reflect an empowered stance.
3. Many aspects of shame were enforced. Some of the girls rather die than disappoint their brothers. The females were not given their own sense of autonomy. The writers should have given these girls, at least one of them, the will be challenge authoriy. Triela was the only character who somewhat challenged authority, but not at any substantial level. Like most shonen anime, where the boys are the heroes, the girls of Gunslinger Girl should also be written in a way where they are free to express their emotions and actions.