Cute, ideally innocent, young girls juxtaposed against the deadly purity and brutal efficiency of modern weaponry. It's not exactly a new concept in anime, I even considered having a genre heading just for it. However this title proved to be more than I expected... it's quite interesting.
Henrietta is, to all intents and purposes, a rather cute and innocent young girl. She does have a couple of minor differences from your average young teen though. The first is that her past has been erased, she no longer remembers who she was before she awoke at the "Social Welfare Public Corporation". She also has a crush on a much older man, but then this is precisely how she's been re-programmed (a process they call conditioning in the anime) to think. Because this man, Jose, is her supervisor and she has been reconstructed into a weapon sufficiently deadly that she cannot be allowed her own free will.
It seems the government has invested serious money, time and political risk to create her and a small number of others. They have been trained by some of the very best in the art of killing people. And they earn their keep by doing the dirty and dangerous work of exterminating those who would challenge the government. And they are good at it, killing casually and efficiently and being able to survive encounters against vastly superior odds. The really interesting question though is what kind of minds, personalities and relationships such an unusual environment creates.
The first requirement of this anime is that you must accept the core premise. Cute little girls re-modeled as cyber-enhanced assassins. It's not particularly logical despite the show offering the explanation that young bodies and minds respond best to the reconstruction. It's easiest to skip over this and just accept it as a requirement for the type of drama this show wants to present.
This show differs from the typical "girls with guns" material is some fairly major ways. And in ways which some people might find not to their liking. In general this sort of anime is about the girls in question having power, and the freedom their power gives them. This show is far more about control. It asserts that if the government really had invested so much in creating living weapons it is going to make very sure that they act solely and purely at the command of their creators. Thus they must be secret, separated from the real world, a requirement which applies almost as much to their "supervisors" (each girl has a single older male as trainer and director) as to them. They are assigned jobs, expected to carry them out without flaw, kill without compunction, and then return to being passive and peaceful when they are brought back to their dorms. They have no past and no future (nor do they have long lives, the process shortens their life-spans). And it is for this reason that their actions are constantly monitored and their minds shaped, sometimes subtly but also directly through mental conditioning (which one assumes is high tech brainwashing). And this is also something their supervisors, who are after all human beings, have to rationalize to themselves.
One might assume the show would go the other way, reach a point where the control is so "evil" that the girls must eventually rise up against it. This would create a much simpler drama, and thus the show avoids that. The supervisors are very different people, but none of them are "evil"... and Henrietta's supervisor Jose has to balance the fact she is a weapon, and an artificially structured mind, against his honest concern for her. At the same time the girls do not have the foundation from which to revolt. They don't think of their lives as hard, they don't have pasts to return to and they have a variety of relationships with their supervisors that none of them can break, or is even sure they want to. We also know, and the girls realize to various extents, that their life before their current one had reached some sort of end (which of course also shapes their characters).
The charm of this series is the delicate balance that has been achieved. The supervisors know they are using the girls, but also that the girls situation would not improve in their absence, and that "good" results can come out of the girls abilities. Meanwhile the girls have created lives that allow them to exist in this environment, even though each of them does so very differently. They know they are being used, but they can't imagine anything else for themselves, or leaving their supervisors. There are even moments of happiness to be had. It really is a character driven drama, about interesting people in a very unusual environment, interspersed with some quite effective action.
And this is why some people might not find it what they wanted. There is lots of quite believably bloody action. However it tends to be realistically short, with many combats decided by who hits first... and the girls rarely miss. The girls cheat, they can survive bullet wounds much better than a normal human, but they're not particularly super-powered or invulnerable. Thus in some ways the action is relatively mundane. Much of the running time is devoted to the overhead that such an organization requires, investigation, endless training, lots of support people to keep everything running smoothly. This does add a certain depth to it though, and the writing does a very believable job of representing the specialist knowledge and mindset of these professionals. Which of course becomes another point of comparison between the girls and their trainers.
Ultimately it's all about exploring the characters, getting small insights into these interesting people we have been introduced too. The story progression matches this well. We follow a number of episodic stories each of which tends to focus on one character and one element of their lives. Thus the stories ultimately aren't that important, and while the final story has impressive dramatic power it doesn't represent a conclusion to the series as such. The drama is also reasonably subdued, you are encouraged to derive information from subtle hints, which thankfully the strong writing does support. The reason for this is that there is a subtle tension throughout the show. Everyone has to watch their emotions fairly carefully, be careful in what they say or do, especially in their mixing of professional and personal. The girls even more so because no one is truly certain of their inner minds, and they're in no hurry to reveal too much since it might lead to more conditioning. That's partly the reason we follow Henrietta, despite her appearance she's probably the most honest and direct of the cast. Thus she also makes a good "center" for the other characters.
I really rather liked this show, it had a pleasant depth and novelty. However at the same time I realize I am pretty patient and prize character. I can easily imagine others being somewhat disappointed at the lack of energy. Everything is so carefully paced, so subdued, both the action and the displays of character.
The production quality on this series is excellent. The characters have depth and manage to express themselves well, and look good on screen. The creators also seem to have done their research with the training and equipment being well depicted. Even the guns each girl uses interacts with their personality, for example Henrietta seems the cutest and most innocent but her FN-P90 is a gun designed for close assault, which actually matches her well. The setting is good too, the politics and environment (the show is set in Italy) adding depth and interest. The voices are excellent, each of them fitting the cast member well and the writing is strong allowing each word to suggest more than the literal meaning. Sound is also used very well, with believable (but not necessarily dramatic) sounds for firearms and excellent ambient music (often with classical roots) that really accentuates the scene. It really is very stylish production that really fits the story being told, not particularly flashy though.
There are a couple of other reviews out there, but a lot of them seemed either early or slightly dodgy. It did confirm my suspicion that quite a few people were disappointed they didn't get what they expected.