The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
Assault Lily Bouquet
How would you rate episode 1 of
Assault Lily Bouquet ?
What is this?
On Earth in the near future, mankind was on the verge of destruction from an attack by a mysterious life form called the Huge. The whole world united together against this threat, using magic and science to create weapons called Charms. Around the world institutions known as Gardens raise girls called Lilies to wield these weapons. Riri Hitotsuyanagi managed to pass the exam to enter the prestigious Garden known as Yurigaoka Girls' School. She entered in an attempt to find Yuyu Shirai, a girl who rescued her in her past.
How was the first episode?
I'm normally not a fan of criticizing something for being “all style, no substance”, especially when it comes to the visual arts, because plenty of masterpieces have proven that style is substance, in the right hands. As I finished up the premiere of Assault Lily Bouquet, though, I couldn't think of a better way to describe my take on the show. Director Shōji Saeki and the crew at SHAFT have clearly devoted a whole lot of labor and love into putting together Assault Lily Bouquet's stylish visuals and exciting action scenes, but the completely unoriginal story and characters left me feeling totally apathetic. Then again, I wonder how much I can accuse a creative team of plagiarism when they are chiefly ripping-off themselves.
Shoji Saeki will direct another SHAFT project next year, Luminous Witches, and his other credits include work on the original Strike Witches anime that Luminous is spinning off from. It goes without saying that one of SHAFT's best-known series is Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and I don't think I'll be rocking any boats by suggesting that Assault Lily Bouquet seems to be little more than an obvious blending of Strike Witches and PMMM, except with none of PMMM's dark personality and aesthetic playfulness, and none of Strike Witches'…okay, I'll be honest, I only know Strike Witches for the tiny dog-jet-girl-things that fight WWII battles in booty shorts. Still, that's something to set itself apart from the usual fare. What does ALB have going for it? Girls dressed like maids wielding comically-oversized swords, I guess? Oh, and thighs. So many thighs.
Though they aren't magical girls, Riri, Yuyu, and Kaede would be dead ringers for any number of the Madoka-lite girls you might have found in Magia Record; Riri and Yuyu even share Madoka and Homura's basic looks and personality traits. The weak worldbuilding does the story no favors either; we don't really get any sense of why or how the nation chooses these young girls to become the titular Lilies, and all I need to say about the painfully boring enemies they defend humanity from is that they're called the “Huge”, and the most detailed description we get of them is that they are “super scary monsters”. Don't even get me started on the deluge of other Lilies that the episode spends 10 minutes parading across the screen, despite none of them doing anything at all after they're introduced.
The powers, the battles, the constant stream of jargon and proper nouns — it all makes Assault Lily Bouquet feel like it was based on the vague idea of an anime cobbled together by an AI that was forced to watch every single generic Madoka Magica imitator since 2011 on repeat. Still, the battles are a blast to behold, and the show isn't being shy about its homoerotic focus. Even if the absurd amount of lily imagery somehow slipped past you, Kaede's quivering declaration of love for Riri is at least a good sign for fans who are tired of their anime lesbians being doomed to the Wasteland of Subtext. There are worse ways to kill twenty minutes, I suppose.
Teenage girls who weapon up and join organizations aimed at fighting extraterrestrial or extradimensional invaders is such a staple gimmick of anime that this isn't the only title this season with that approach. Hence a new entry into the genre has to either have an unusual twist or else do something exceptionally well in order to stick out. This series looks like it's going to take the latter approach, and it does that well enough to get me excited about watching more.
The first episode introduces a standard array of girls, which includes most of the common personality archetypes and looks one might expect from a “cute girls fight monsters” series, though the production does a better-than-average job with the specific character designs. The school outfit comes across as a little fetishy, but if this is going to be more than a very mild fanservice series then the first episode does not show it. A distinct yuri tease is already in the works, with the one slight surprise being that the rich girl is the one glomming onto others rather than being idolized. And naturally there's no explanation for why “Lillies” can only be teenaged girls, even though Riri does narrate to explain some other aspects of the basic premise.
But all of that is fine, because the action elements in the first episode absolutely sizzle. Two battles – one at the beginning which helps form the backstory for genki girl Riri and dark-haired ice queen Yuyu and a later one where, now both as students, they team up with the rich girl to fight a Huge – show off the animation and battle choreography chops of the series in exquisite fashion. The Huge is impressively threatening, and the moves by the girls are staged well. Riri's almost prescient sense of danger is also an interesting gimmick and plays well into the dynamics of the latter scene. Honestly, I could recommend this series based on the action component alone.
Whether or not the series will have any other strong points beyond the action, character designs, and yuri-baiting remains to be seen, and the series being based on figures rather than anything with a narrative does not reveal anything on the matter. Still, the first episode is off to an attention-catching start.
No one could accuse Assault Lily Bouquet of not leaning hard into its title: not only is our main protagonist's name Riri, which everyone including the girl herself notes sounds like “lily,” but she's attending Yurigaoka (yuri meaning lily) to become a Lily, which in this case is a girl who fights against huge monsters called, well, Huges. And if that isn't enough, there's enough yuri bait in this episode to catch an entire school of yuri fans – not only is the ending theme positively drenched in it, but there's more than enough scenes of girls hugging or holding hands or leaning against each other to merit the school name's double entendre.
Unfortunately, if you're not into yuri (baited or otherwise), there's not a whole lot here that feels particularly interesting, unless you're really keen on teen girl thighs shown in a variety of ways. The set up feels, if not strictly bog-standard then something awfully close to that: monsters that can only be taken down by a group of single-sex teenagers who must be trained at a special school, a main protagonist who barely made it into said school despite clearly having hidden talents, and quite a bit of jargon. It isn't that these things can't all add up to an engaging story, but rather that in this episode they aren't making a good case for themselves; Riri's wide-eyed hero worship of the Lilies and her gung-ho attitude feel more tropey than they ought to in order to really pull us in, and the two girls likely to be competing for her affections – Kaede and Yuyu – don't do much to stand out as characters in their own right.
Yuyu is definitely the more interesting of the two, not just because she's the person who drew Riri towards becoming a Lily in a concrete way, but because she's had some sort of traumatic experience that caused her to undergo a change in personality but without giving up the fight. This implication that Yuyu is stronger emotionally than she at first appears is right now the major draw in terms of plot and character. She's nice to Riri, takes her at her word when she says that she wants to help, and when it turns out that she hasn't activated her CHARM (i.e. oversized weapon), she simply helps Riri to make her CHARM work instead of berating her for it. While I'm not feeling a lot of chemistry between the two at this point, manufactured or otherwise, this relationship does feel like it could make or break the show.
Right now, though, most of what this episode offers is rushed world-building reliant on info dumps, lots of girls in thigh-highs and short skirts, and some truly unbalanced character designs. It may be worth another episode to see if things start to shape up, but with so many other more intriguing shows set to premiere, that comes with a large caveat.
The most immediate impression Assault Lily Bouquet leaves on a viewer is that it really, really likes anime girls' thighs. As if the high waist, outward poofing skirts and onmipresent thigh-highs of the characters weren't enough, a good 20% of any chosen shot in the episode's early minutes is a close-up of some dimpled leg meat. With this, ALB makes a statement: it is not merely visiting the Absolute Territory, it is founding a homestead in the dead center and starting a bustling frontier community within it, and all who enter its streets should be ready for lingering shots of anime girl flesh being slightly pinched in by a pair of ribbon-adorned hosiery.
Jokes athighd – er, aside – I do mean it when I say the aesthetics of ALB are the most memorable part of it. Not surprising considering the franchise started life as a series of posable action figures; its particular mix of Girls' Love boarding school imagery with pseudo-magical girl mechanics and RPG-style transforming weapons makes for a pretty distinct visual package. If you ever wanted the girls from Strawberry Panic! to start killing monsters with God Eater weapons, this is the show for you, and if nothing else I certainly admire the show for being true to itself. There's about a dozen too many girls for my taste, though. The series takes great pains to fit in seemingly every released figure or design into this first episode somewhere, and the resulting deluge of characters all wearing the same uniform, differentiated only by hair and their choice of legwear, had my eyes glazing over before any of the action started.
That action, though, has a more serious problem. While technically solid – the show adds some CG models of the girls into the mix well and does a good job obscuring it to where you might believe it was traditionally animated – something in the editing and especially the music makes this episode's central battle feel almost soporific to watch. The characters whip out multiple surprise attacks, blast the hilariously-named Huge monster, do team attacks, and it all feels like sleepwalking as the music and pacing of each scene just fades in and out without impact or direction. The viewing experience is a bit like reading a well-written paragraph where all the punctuation has been removed; what's here is theoretically solid, but the connective tissue to make it all work is missing, and it turns what should be a serviceable action show into something unusually alienating.
That would be a big enough drawback, but it comes stapled to what I have to believe is the most bare-bones premise of the season. Monsters called Huge attack, girls called Lillies fight them, insert magic warrior school here, salt with germanic-themed yuri baiting to taste. None of the cast have any real discernible personalities or interesting motivations, and what little we see of their fighting styles seems equally generic. The result feels, fittingly enough, like the creators just making up an excuse to smash their action figures together and occasionally make it look like they're going to kiss, and that's just not enough to build a show out of. Doubtlessly there will be more narrative at some point, but all signs point to marketing as many character designs as possible before all else. I'm not above making time for a 20-minute toy commercial, but it needs to be better than this.
It may be risky to take a controversial stance so early in my tenure at Anime News Network, but the world needs to hear this truth: anime girls with thick thighs AND a thigh gap is the most cowardly possible character design choice. You can have thick thighs, or you can have a thigh gap. To try to force both is a sin against nature greater even than leaving nipples off shirtless anime boys.
Plus, it just looks weird, like they have short-but-wide butts and super wide-set vaginas, or like their hip sockets are set on the side like a reptile.
Okay, I'm starting to get a little too off-track/family-unfriendly, but as preoccupied with anime girls' thighs as I may be right now, I'm nowhere near Assault Lily Bouquet's obsession. The bell-shaped skirts on their uniforms, thigh-high stockings, jump-heavy battle style, and pretty much every single aesthetic choice are tailor-made to show off these teenage girls' thighs constantly. Well, except for their tops, which are designed to draw attention to their breasts.
I seriously doubt subtlety was remotely considered in the planning meetings for Assault Lily Bouquet; if it was, it was probably in the context of something to avoid. The monsters are called Huge, for crying out loud. The school where they learn to fight the Biglarge McHuges is plastered with lily imagery, while the girls plaster themselves all over each other. Every time a new character speaks, the camera zooms into her and she or someone else announces her name, presumably so the people who are already into the dolls can elbow their friends and whisper, “That's my wife!”
Storywise, Assault Lily Bouquet is pretty much a mishmash of action yuri cliches. You've got the pink-haired heroine who seems ordinary but is actually full of potential and by the end of the first episode unlocks some sort of super special ability. She's inspired by a cool veteran fighter with long, purple-black hair who was probably traumatized at some point. They fight stylized battles that involve lots of jumping and swooshy effects, then feel sad about it afterward. She has a clingy best friend who seems to be into her, but she only has eyes for the cool dark-haired girl.
Maybe Assault Lily Bouquet will have more to offer than letting existing fans of the franchise see their plastic wives in motion but honestly, the other series it draws its tropes from are much more interesting. Maybe I'll finally get around to watching Granbelm instead.
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