The most razor-edged version of falling in love with who someone is on the inside, not what they look like.
The most impossible of loves, because one half can't even admit it to himself without possibly plunging into insanity.
The most doomed of loves, because the other half won't live long enough for that to change.
WARNING: this fandom combines the tragedy levels of William Shakespeare with the violence of Quentin Tarentino. Triggers for sexual abuse of and violence against children (including torture for profit and fights to the death), human trafficking, child soliders, psychological brainwashing and control, terrorist attacks, PTSD… the list grows even longer if you throw some of the other characters into the mix!
ANOTHER WARNING: spoilers for the whole of the series, including the epilogue. Includes character deaths.
ZIP file is here
Vermilion part 2 (acoustic) - slipknot
Check please - Cold
Saint Simon - The Shins
Elegy - Carina Round
Razorblade kiss - H.I.M.
Cuts both ways - Gloria Estefan
Cold (but I'm still here) - evans blue
Makes you happy - The Levellers
For everything a reason - Carina Round
Witness - Sarah McLachlan
Wherever you will go - The Calling
Gunslinger Girl is a manga by Yu Aida, completed in 15 volumes which are currently all available; English translation issues – including rights lapsing and being bought by another company – mean that the manga itself has been published in eight books. GG has also been adapted to anime, consisting of two 13-episode seasons (again, by two different companies) and an OVA, which are all available on DVD.
In ‘the near future’ (more or less) the government of Italy has founded the Social Welfare Agency as a cover for it’s most secretive, cutting-edge counter-terrorism agency. As a counter-measure to the Mafia tradition of training boys from childhood as hitman, the SWA finds young girls who have been catastrophically crippled, occasionally by accident or illness… but in the case of the principal cast, mostly through malice. Bleeding-edge medical treatment turns the girls into cyborgs, capable of super-human feats of strength, endurance and sensory reception – and through a paired processed called ‘conditioning’, brainwashes them to total obediance and love of their handlers. These girls become efficient machines for handling the government’s dirty work, used as assassins and spies. All the handlers are either military or law enforcement, highly-skilled and usually decorated, and many of them personally select the girls they are paired with.
If it sounds hinky – it is. But while this system seems ripe for abuse, the SWA is actually very, very careful about who it picks as handlers (with one tragic exception) so the majority of the ‘fratello’ (Italian for ‘silbing’) relationships are relatively healthy (‘relatively’ being the operative term), though the dynamics vary from parental/child, teacher-mentor/apprentice, gothic-novel-style guardian/ward, one that’s probably best described as hunting dog and obediance trainer, and a fraternal relationship that borders on (and eventually crosses the line to become) dangerously obessive adoration.
Another tragic catch is that the conditioning drugs are also essential to the ongoing surgical maintenance of the cyborg’s artificial parts - and it gradually destroys not only their memory centres, but eventually all brain function completely. The first generation of cyborgs have roughly 7 to 9 years of ‘active service’, depending on how often the conditioning drugs are used outside of direct medical treatment i.e. by their handlers for training and control purposes. In a silver-lining twist, Italy has become the world leader in all kinds of ‘replacement’ medical treatment, from artificial limbs to synthetic organs… because the parts are tested out on the cyborg girls, first.
In a cast which includes a girl all but sold to the Agency so her mountain of medical bills won't bankrupt her parents, a girl whose own parents tried to murder her so they could maintain their lifestyle with her life insurance, and a girl who, in the course of one horrific night, watched all her family murdered one by one while she was repeatedly raped... Triela might actually have the worst story of all.
Several years before the story begins, a young German detective named Victor Hartmann is working for Europol(Interpol in the fan translations). He all but begs to join the task force against human trafficking, only for the head of the team to tell him he's unsuitable because he'll crack under the assault of what the task force faces. In order for Hartmann to see the truth for himself, his superior hands him a DVD of a paedophilic snuff film - made by the Mafia-organised ring which is the current focus of the task force. Victor proves his superior was absolutely right (to be fair, he never denies it himself, afterwards) by going rogue. Teaming up with Rachelle Belleut, a French coroner who has been working with the corpses of the murdered children, they track down a member of the Mafia on the outskirts of the ring.
Mario Bossi has been thinking about leaving the Mafia for some time, and when Victor and Rachelle approach him, he seizes the chance to enter the Witness Protection Program and help shut down the kiddie-porn/snuff film ring. However, Victor and Rachelle's plan to raid a filming-in-progress goes wrong, and find only a single young girl, her body horribly mangled. Having taken a mortal gunshot wound, Rachelle uses the last of her strength to administer CPR to the girl and save her life.
From almost the moment he sees her, Victor Hartmann's life is completely devoted to this girl - for whom he will give up his career, his country, even his name... and eventually his life.
In the aftermath, Victor, already on suspension, contacts Mario Bossi again to help him smuggle the young girl he rescued from Amsterdam to Italy, even though doing so will badly damage the case against the pornographers. Victor has heard that Italy's Social Welfare Agency has been making remarkable medical breakthroughs, including erasure of traumatic memories - Victor believes that the girl who he has named 'Triela' (after a wine-growing region of Germany; probably also Victor's home) might recover more readily from her crippling injuries if she can't remember how she received them.
It's only when Triela is well advanced in the 'treatments' that Victor learns the truth; she is being remade into a cyborg, and brainwashed into a killing machine. Jean Croce, second in command of the Agency, more or less blackmails Victor into becoming Triela's handler, and changes Victor's surname to 'Hilshire' to cover his tracks.
Triela is not only highly intelligent but strong willed and a clever tactician (it's generally agreed that of all the G1 cyborgs, she's probably the only one who both would and could join the SWA's adult staff if she grew up). The second-oldest of the generation one cyborgs, she is not only one of the best operatives of the unusual sisterhood, but their unspoken alpha and leader. Calmly fatalistic about her fate as a cyborg, her relationship with Hilshire is often fractious in the early chapters, because he really doesn't know anything about kids; adding to it is that Hilshire flatly refuses to use anything but the absolute bare minimum of conditioning with Triela, meaning she's also the most independent thinker of all of them (except for Claes, who lost her handler before she was field-ready).
One of the most appealing things about Hilshire and Triela is that their relationship is, at it's core, a partnership - even though Triela is very much the junior partner.
One of the major turning points of the Gunslinger Girl overall story is the Pinocchio arc; it's the first major full-blown sub-arc, taking place over a full year in-universe (and was the major storyline of the second anime season, Il Treatino) and Triela is one of the main players - and proves herself the Ensemble Darkhorse of not only the cyborgs, but almost the whole cast. Triela's character growth during her pursuit of the young assassin code-named 'Pino' (the first person to defeat her in combat, and who steals the gun Hilshire gave her - to match his!), not only as a girl but as a warrior, is fascinating to watch, and deepens her relationship with Hilshire to the point where their mutal love is undeniable - at least, to the reader/watcher.
How many times have you heard someone say, 'I want to be loved for who I am on the inside, not for what I look like'? Triela and Hilshire have the most razor-edged manifestation of this I've ever seen. Physically, Triela never ages beyond 15 (at most), and while she realizes has pushed past her brainwashing to truly fall in love with the man who is the centre of her world, Hilshire can never actually admit to himself the full depth of his feelings for Triela - any element of romantic love would, to his mind, make him as much a monster as those he saved her from.
Roughly seven years after she 'came into service' (I think 18 months or so have passed in-universe, since the manga began) Triela begins to fall prey to the inevitable degrading of her brain functions; in an effort to protect her, Hilshire takes her place to carry out a kill mission, getting shot in the process. Triela treats his wound, and sneakily gives him a sedative in the process. While he is unconscious, Triela steals her first and last kiss from Hilshire, and vows "I will live desperately together and then die with this person."
It's a sacred promise that she dies keeping - as does Hilshire.
During this arc, Triela also learns the full truth about how Hilshire found her from Mario Bossi (who appears several times in the story, as does his daughter Maria - Triela's first friend outside the SWA), while she is part of his security detail as he testifies in a Mafia-related court case. The prosecutor, Roberta Guellfi, meets and soon starts dating Hilshire, with Triela's blessing (mostly because Roberta genuinely is a very likeable character, and well-suited to Hilshire).
In the closing story arc, the Italian government decides that the SWA has out-lived it's usefulness, and moves to shut down the Agency base during their biggest and most desperate battle with the terrorist group Pandania (introduced as Pinocchio's progenitors in a Dark Mirror of sorts to the SWA), at the New Turin Power Plant. Hilshire chooses to join the SWA's frontline assault team, knowing it is almost certainly a suicide mission. After being notified of his and Triela's probable fates, Roberta is given a letter Hilshire has left for her. As she reads the lines 'I thought about a life with you. I thought about it very hard. But in the end, this is the man I am', the manga shows that Hilshire and Triela have been found dead in each other's arms.
The letter also reveals that Hilshire has had several of Triela's eggs surgically removed from her ovaries, and stored for later use - and in this letter, Hilshire has bequeathed them to Roberta, entrusting her with all that is left of his Triela in this world. The final chapters of the manga are about Speranza (Italian for 'hope') Guellfi, the daughter Roberta conceived with Triela's eggs. It's never specifically mentioned who Speranza's father is; but I will always be convinced that Hilshire left a deposit of his own at the storage facility, and Speranza is his daughter too.
Double-edged Blade – Triela and Victor Hilshire
(Could also refer to the bayonet Triela likes to carry on her M1897 trench shotgun!)
Vermilion pt 2 (acoustic) - Slipknot
(their first meeting in Amsterdam, and subsequent recruitment into section 2)
She seemed dressed in all of me
Stretched across my shame.
All the torment and the pain
Leaked through and covered me
I'd do anything to have her to myself
Just to have her for myself
Now I don't know what to do
I don't know what to do when she makes me sane.
(Pinocchio arc, leading to THAT hug outside the villa)
She is everything to me
The unrequited dream
A song that no one sings
She’s a myth that I have to believe in
All I need to make it real is one more reason
I don't know what to do
I don't know what to do when she makes me sad.
Check please - Cold
(Triela tries to work out how much of her feelings for Hillshire really are ‘just the conditioning’, and reflects on the fact that no cyborg can have a happy ending)
How am I supposed to love you?
Why am I too young to die?
How does fever burn inside you
Must I have a will to fight?
Do these questions have an answer?
Where’s the truth and what’s the cost?
All my problems form a puzzle
All my pieces have been lost
[ ….. ]
I’m dead, I see things clearly
I confess, I feel this pain
This hunger eats all my insides
Why must things be this way?
Saint Simon – The Shins
(Nothing and no one will ever mean more to him than his Triela. No matter how hard he denies it, his junior partner just keeps growing further into becoming everything he’s ever needed.)
Mercy's eyes are blue
When she places them in front of you
Nothing holds a roman candle to
The solemn warmth you feel inside
There's no measuring of it
As nothing else is love
Elegy – Carina Round
(Triela’s lament for a heart that loves where it shouldn’t, for a heart that ticks off the remaining days of her life like a countdown.
“I will live desperately together, and then die with this person.”
It’s the closest thing to a marriage vow she will ever be able to make)
Something ripped me open
From my little death woken
Fading rhythm of lifeline
Is music for a dead child
I'm skirting the rim,
Skirting the rim of reality
Skirting the rim
Love don't pull me in
Somehow everything is broken
Hours past and never replayed
I see the sickness of a love that
Though it breathes, can never be made
Razorblade kiss – H.I.M.
(and her vow is sealed with a kiss, even if Hillshire never knows about it.)
Your love is a razorblade kiss
Sweetest is the taste from your lips
Your love is a razorblade kiss
Sweetest is the taste from your lips
Oh the taste from your lips, my Darling
Taste from your lips, oh my Love
You've got to let me dream
I'm not afraid to feel
I want you to love me
Cause you are the one
Cuts both ways – Gloria Estefan
(One purposely refuses to understand or realise; the other cannot say anything without forcing her partner to admit something that would destroy him. But somewhere deep inside, they both know. They love and are loved in return – no matter how impossible or forbidden, that will not change. And in their world of child assassins and ruthless enemies who target, use, and destroy the innocent, is what they feel really so wrong?)
It cuts both ways
Our love is like a knife
That cuts both ways
It's driven deep into my heart each time
That I realize
How it cuts both ways
Can't be together
Cannot live apart
We're heading straight into a broken heart
But I can't stop
'Cause I feel too much to let you go
I'm hurting you and it's hard I know
To stay and fight for what we've got
Knowing it'll never be good enough
Cold (But I’m still here) – Evans Blue
Cold, now we're so cold,
Mine, and you're not mine,
We’re far from obvious this time
You’re so endearing, you’re so beautiful,
Well I don’t look like they do,
And I don’t love like they do
But I don’t hate like they do
Am I ever on your mind?
COLD, you broke me from the very first night
I'll love you ‘til the day that I die
I'm far too comfortable this time
COLD, I loved you from the very first night
You broke me ‘til the day that I die
I'm far too obvious this time
Make you happy – The Levellers
Triela’s POV as Hilshire meets and begins dating Roberta Guellfi. She wants him to be happy, even if it’s not - it can’t be - with her.
Well, I would love to make you happy
But I'm busy with my mind
'Cause I would love to make your world right
I need your help and you need mine
For everything a reason – Carina Round
Hilshire’s goodbye letter to Roberta… and when she reads it, Roberta understands, proving beyond all doubt that Hilshire had excellent taste in women!
“I thought about a life with you. I thought about it very hard. But in the end, this is the man I am.”
And so they say Lord, for everything a reason
For every ending a new beginning
Oh so they say baby, for everything a reason
And so they baby, for everything a reason
And those who loved before will be brought back together
Yeah, those who loved before will be brought back together
I saw you leaving, I saw the light go out
I saw you leaving
I saw you leaving
Don’t call me back, I had everything I needed
For every lie, honey, the truth lay underneath it
Witness – Sarah McLachlan
She wants nothing more than to die at his side. He knows his place is beside her, always. They will be together at the end - even if it is only to die together. Triela’s vow is fulfilled.
As we carried the weight and died for the cause
Is misery made beautiful right before our eyes?
Will mercy be revealed or blind us where we stand?
Will we burn in heaven like we do down here?
Wherever you will go – The Calling
Hilshire’s foresight and Roberta’s generosity and love – for both of them, because loving one means loving the other - enables Victor and Triela to leave behind a legacy without price. Science has made what the world wouldn’t let them create – a child of their own.
The final lines of the manga are uttered by their daughter, Speranza
“First, to my mother who carried and raised me, and second, my mother in heaven and the man most special to her… I am certain that there will always be hope in the world!”
Run away with my heart
Run away with my hope
Run away with my love
I know now, just quite how
My life and love might still go on
In your heart, in your mind
I'll stay with you for all of time