The Summer 2022 Preview Guide
Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer
How would you rate episode 1 of
Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer ?
Community score: 3.1
What is this?
The War of the Rings has begun and it's up to the Princess and the Beast Knights to stop Animus the Mage from destroying the world with his ultimate weapon: The Biscuit Hammer, a giant mallet that floats in space. Yuuhi Amamiya, the Lizard Knight, and Samidare Asahina, the Princess Anima, fight against the Mage and his golems to save the world - but only so that they can destroy it themselves.
How was the first episode?
When Farewell, My Dear Cramer premiered with positively disastrous animation, I was forced to admit something to myself: while I pride myself on valuing strong storytelling and character writing over animation production quality, a series I've been looking forward to can in fact be ruined by sufficiently subpar visuals. For months, I've suspected Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer would be another victim. I love Satoshi Mizukami's work on Planet With and Spirit Circle, but the trailer looked awful. Plus, since I can't watch anime until I finish my workday, my social media feed has been full of gifs showing just how ugly it was, and by the time I could sit down and turn on the episode, I was fearing the worst.
Well, maybe it's because I was bracing myself, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected. Don't get me wrong, it's bad. Really bad. It's the easy frontrunner for “ugliest show of the season,” with limited animation plagued with obvious shortcuts. The hand-drawn cuts are stiff, and the CG is amateurish. The animators tried to disguise the poor compositing with animation filters that are fooling no one. There's a strange brownish cast to everything even during daytime scenes, but the climax takes place during sunset (presumably because the main character's name is Yuuhi, which means “sunset”), so everything is colored in an especially hideous shade of orange.
But then, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer reminded me of something else: I'm a sucker for a charismatic female lead. The sight of Samidare, declaring her intent to save the world so she can destroy it herself, stopped me in my tracks, even though she was colored with the same ugly orange cast as everything else. Up until that moment, she felt a bit too much like a quirky foil to Yuuhi's self-centered nihilism, but then she became a character in her own right, wrapped up in Mizukami's distinctive brand of science fiction weirdness used as a vehicle to explore the deep pain in people's souls.
I don't know how Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer will turn out. Studio Naz is famous for its production collapses more than anything else, and it seems likely the animation will get worse, not better. However, until that hammer falls, I'll be there.
When going into an anime like this, I always ask myself one question: “What's the twist?” What is it that sets this anime apart from so many others with a similar premise? And sadly, in the case of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer's first episode, the answer to that question seems to be “not much.”
What we have here is a textbook case of the start of the hero's journey. Our hero, Yuuhi, wakes up to discover a literal call to adventure in the form of a talking lizard in his apartment. He then spends a good half of the episode refusing the call (mainly by throwing the lizard away over and over).
However, when a monster appears to kill him, he receives supernatural aid in the form of his true guide on the coming adventure, Samidare. The episode ends with him vowing to serve her, crossing the first threshold into an unknown world of danger. Or to put it another way, there is nothing in the first 22 minutes of this episode that we haven't seen done a million times before in countless works of fiction. Moreover, the humor is almost entirely predictable, doing nothing to set the series apart.
However, it's right at the end of the episode that we get the twist. Sure, Samidare and Yuuhi are working together to defeat the bad guy and save the world, but they're not doing so to receive some nebulous magic wish. They're doing so because Samidare wants to destroy the world herself. Why? How? These questions are not answered. However, they do make for a pretty good hook to make viewers come back next week. Sadly, I'm not impressed enough with the rest of the episode to be one of them.
For an episode that begins with a guy waking up to find a talking lizard in his room and soon discovers that he must use his newfound magical powers to save the world from a giant hammer that's floating up in space, the premiere of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer sure was boring. I get that back when the manga first premiered nearly twenty years ago, that level of “OMG SO RANDOM" humor might have done the job in piquing its readers' interest, but we live in the era of Chainsaw Man and Dandadan now. You can't just waste the entire half of an episode on a talking lizard yelling at a lazy dude about saving the world anymore.
Especially not when the production values that you're working with are so bad. While the aesthetic of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer isn't exactly “hideous", per se, nearly everything about how it has been directed and animated is flawed on a fundamental level. Character movement is stiff and unnatural; there are a handful too many frames in between each cut; shots are framed in a completely nonsensical and disorienting way. I'd wager that at least half of this episode consists of tight close-ups on character faces and endless shot-reverse-shot cuts, which doesn't make for interesting storytelling at all. If you took a shot every time the camera needlessly panned up to reveal a totally underwhelming object, you'd be blackout drunk before the credits rolled. At one point, the episode uses what I can only describe as a Jello crossfade for no discernable reason whatsoever. It all adds up to give you the impression that this show had been produced by a gang of completely overwhelmed interns who got suckered into putting a whole anime together while the paid employees took a vacation.
Granted, the episode does pick up a bit once Samidare enters the picture and they start fighting that fish monster thing. Yuuhi does not seem capable at all of carrying the show on his own, and there's only so much that the script can get out of the screaming lizard, so giving our hero literally anyone else to interact with is a godsend. I'm admittedly interested in the how and why of Samidare's plan to save the world from destruction so that she herself can have the chance to destroy it, but that tiny bit of curiosity is not enough to get me excited about watching any more of this anime. I hear tell that Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is a fan-favorite series, and the manga may very well be excellent, but I don't think anyone is going to walk away from this anime adaptation with anything other than severely tempered expectations.
I remember quite liking the first omnibus edition of the manga this show is based on. So why did the anime version leave me so cold? I'm forced to assume that the pacing is off, or that the story has been dumbed down in some way I can't quite recall, or maybe simply that the addition of colors in a scheme I can only think of as “baby poop” and Hisame's voice may be to blame, possibly all of them in varying amounts. But whatever the reason, this first episode of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer felt like it was being as deliberately weird as possible while also not giving us any characters to root for. In a show where the nominal goal for most of the episode is to save the world, that feels like a problem.
It certainly doesn't help that Yuuhi, our presumptive protagonist, gives in to his first impulse when he finds a talking lizard in his room and chucks it off the balcony. I can understand being surprised and scared, but is that any reason to kill a talking animal, even if it has creepily human hands? Fortunately Sir Crescent does not die, but it's hardly an introduction to Yuuhi that's endearing, and his sarcasm very quickly grows stale on top of his attempted sauricide. But don't worry, he's substantially less annoying than his professor, Hisame, who starts out relatively okay (though why you'd tell someone a band-aid on their face makes them look manlier is beyond me) but by the end of the episode is a shrieking harpy who hits him with her motor scooter because he's in the vicinity of her younger sister. She, quite impressively, gets more and more irritating as the episode goes on, which perhaps doesn't bode well for her as a recurring character.
But really the heart of the matter is that it's hard to drum up any interest in seeing two (possibly three) jerks decide to destroy the world rather than saving it. There might be something in watching jerks being forced to save the world, and I'm not discounting the possibility that that is, in fact, what the story will turn out to be, but this is so generally unappealing that it's difficult to want to give it another episode. It's not offensive, but it also isn't something that I'm interested in pursuing – though I may go back and re-read that volume of manga to see why this didn't work for me when that did.
Alright, let's get the big, ugly, poorly animated elephant in the room out of the way. This show looks like piss. I don't know what forces conspired take a long-wished-for adaptation of a cult classic manga and whack it with the ugly stick, but by god they forged that stick out of titanium and beat on this IP until it was indented into the dirt. The show barely moves, and half the time when it does it's an obvious digital effect meant to mask how they didn't actually have time to draw anything. There are Newgrounds projects from 2008 with more fundamentally solid animation than this production. What meager attempts at motivated storyboarding or interesting direction that exist are hamstrung by a foundation made of tissue paper taped over the bottomless pit that is the modern anime production bubble. Any personality or humor derived from the imagery is the result of just not totally messing up the original art and posing from the manga, and even that's not always recreated well. It sucks. It's not going to get better. No project deserves this, but especially not one as beloved as this one.
With all that said, if you can get over the ugly concrete wall that is the animation, there's a lot to like about Biscuit Hammer that manages to fight its way to the surface nonetheless. Even as somebody who feels the opening chapters of the series are the weakest part of Satoshi Mizukami's oeuvre I've read, there's a lot of little seeds in just this first episode that promise interesting fruit. Yuuhi is a misanthropic jerk, but rather than being portrayed as a genius in his jaded attitude, it's made clear that his worldview is the result of something much darker in his past that has taught him it's safer to reject the world than make himself vulnerable. He is in many ways purposefully unlikeable, and while that might chafe viewers, it's clear that he is a more rounded person than he wants people to think.
And it's genuinely funny seeing just how hard he rejects the typical shonen hero call to action – made all the more charming by Mizukami's penchant for weird iterations on classic tropes. The familiar sent to recruit Yuuhi is neither a divine being nor a cute mascot, but a plain old lizard that just won't get out of his house. The doomsday device threatening the world is a giant cartoon hammer hovering in the sky, just waiting for a Galactus-sized Bugs Bunny to pick it up and crack the planet like an egg. Samidare, the supposed princess Yuuhi is destined to fight for, isn't a fair damsel in need of guarding, but an initiative-taking daredevil who gains his loyalty by promising it will be her fist, not the Biscuit Hammer, that will destroy the world he seems so loathe to protect. These subversions certainly don't seem as fresh as they did 15 years prior, but they still offer a lot of flavor and personality to a story that would feel much more rote without that.
Like Mizukami's later Planet With, it treads a delicate line between familiar genre tropes in a mix that raises a lot of exciting questions about where the story will go from here. What, exactly does Samidare mean when she says she wants to destroy the world, and why is that what convinces Yuuhi to team up with her? What's the real story behind these magic rings, knights, and golems? I'm genuinely curious to find out, to learn more about who these characters are, and I really wish I could give the show a full-throated recommendation. Or that I could at least recommend the manga – but it's years out of print and prohibitively expensive on the secondary market. So for now I have to give a half-hearted thumbs up to a decidedly sub-optimal way of experiencing this story.
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