Content warning: gun violence, mild fan service
What’s it about? During World War III, androids called Tactical Dolls (or T-Dolls for short) were developed to fight in place of humans. After the war, however, the T-Dolls of Sangvis Ferri rebel and become a new threat in their own right. By 2062 the world is a war-torn wasteland where gun-toting androids run amok, with T-Dolls from the military company Griffin & Kryuger—our heroes, Team AR—out on tactical missions to take the evil AI down.
Gun girls: girls who are guns but also have guns. For a potentially large portion of our audience, I imagine this show simply won’t be for you, based on the somewhat dicey ideological dance at the heart of the series’ premise. This is an adaptation of a mobile game in which real-life firearms—from the AR-15 to the Tommy Gun to the Springfield Rifle—are personified in the form of androids, all conveniently shaped like pretty young women. There’s something to be said for the fetishization of the military industrial complex in a series that turns weapons of war into cool and sexy anime girls for you to collect into a team.
That’s not a dig wholly at Girls’ Frontline, because this franchise is certainly not the only one doing this: personifying war machines (or just putting cute girls in them) is a trope by this point, and I want to say it’s not inherently harmful in and of itself. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that the very premise of this show relies on detaching killing machines from their historical (or current!) context. Yes, these girls represent assault rifles and are shooting assault rifles, but don’t worry about it, they’re only using them to shoot evil robots. And don’t they look cool?
The bullet-hole-riddled houses and churches that make up the backdrop of this premiere are exactly that, backdrop: set dressing, not the former homes of innocent civilians who have been traumatically displaced or killed. Even if the cute girls get hurt, don’t worry. They’re androids, so they break into parts rather than bleeding, and we can always rebuild or make more of them. It removes the human element that makes guns horrifying and invites you to switch your brain off and just enjoy the action instead. Pew pew pew!
So, I would not blame anyone for being yucked out by this setup and not engaging with this one on principle. I would also not blame anyone for enjoying it as a dumb, fun, sci-fi action series. You, personally, are not perpetuating the military industrial complex if you happen to like the show or think the girls are cute, I promise (the game has some fun character designs! I have also fallen victim to the handsome aesthetics of a woman in old-timey military uniform from time to time). It’s just important to keep this line of critique in the back of our minds as we engage with this kind of media. What is being erased or waved away in order to create a narrative where war is Really Cool and guns are (literally) desirable?
All that being said, what kind of story is Girls Frontline telling with all this baggage in tow? Well, it’s okay. Like I said, as a braindead, fun, sci-fi action series you could do worse. It does have that problem that a lot of live-action action shows have where most of the episode takes place in this murky darkness, but thankfully the sun rises towards the end and we get to appreciate these character designs in their full glory. One of the villains is a maid with a long skirt who lifts up her skirt to reveal thigh-high stockings and four machine guns and it’s the silliest, coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
As is to be expected from a gacha adaptation, it looks like there’s going to be a big cast, though this premiere anchors itself nicely in a small squad of main characters: Team AR as our heroes, and the aforementioned gun-skirt-maid as the central villain. Team AR (four personified assault rifles) have tropey but distinct personalities and the writing does a pretty solid job setting up the group dynamic, mostly using this first mission to highlight the protective sisterly relationship between unsteady team leader M4A1 and cocky yet cool-headed M16A1. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it does the basic groundwork of getting you to care whether or not these characters get shot.
The same can’t be said for the swathe of background characters—support units—who each get a few moments screentime before getting heroically and/or tragically blown into robot pieces. M4A1 is initially torn up about this loss of personnel and how it happened under her command, but the rest of her team assures her that they died following orders and that… makes it okay…? You lost me there, Frontline, but it seems to reassure M4.
So: fan servicey character designs (though no leery camera; everyone’s just wandering around nonchalantly with their thighs out), tropey but passable characterization, okay action scenes of the rat-a-tat-tat pew pew variety, and the abject horrors of war taken for granted. That is what Girls’ Frontline episode one brings to the table, and whether or not you dig in will be entirely up to you. I’d be interested to check out another episode just to see where it goes, but I imagine the dissonant imagery of fresh-faced anime girls throwing grenades will make me weary soon enough.