Volume 4 of Gunslinger Girl begins with a focus on perhaps the saddest member of the cast of girl assassins: Claes. Her handler had begun to doubt the ethics of what he was doing and had thought about exposing the whole operation. To prevent this, he was liquidated by the SWF. The problem is that once a girl bonds to her handler, there is no going back and it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to give her a new partner. So Claes is pretty much excess baggage and is only kept alive for the sake of study and experimentation. Since her memory was wiped clean, she walks around with a sense of something missing from her life. A sadness she can't quite put her finger on. Triela, too, is having some life issues, as she grapples with her first major defeat by the killer Pinocchio. She would have gotten killed by him, but he had a flashback to something in his past and spared her life. She doesn't have a lot of time to dwell on it though, as she and Hillshire are assigned to protect a mob boss daughter because her father has decided to turn state's evidence against his former friends.
The aspect of this series that Aida handles so well is that there isn't a lot of exploitation of the "cute" factor that drawing and portraying such young girls could easily slip into. Instead the writer shows how the spirit of each girl finds a way to fight its way up through all the brainwashing and conditioning to desperately grasp at something of a normal life. While the story sometimes flirts with the idea that the girls are in love with their partners, again, this is never taken to moe otaku extremes and is explained by saying it is a result of their conditioning. Aida also handles flashbacks well, using them just enough to explain her character motivations and giving them depth, without causing jarring interruptions in the flow of the current storyline. This is a great series. It's too bad that ADV Manga sucks and a new volume hasn't been published in 6 months. At one time, the release schedule averaged one volume per YEAR. For example, Volume 3 was published in June 2005 while this fourth volume did not come out till July 2007! And now it seems like there has been another interruption. They should really just give up the license, along with Cromartie and Yotsuba and get out of the manga business