The Summer 2022 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Lycoris Recoil ?
Community score: 4.4
What is this?
The story depicts the "absurd daily life" in "Lyco-Reco" (Riko-Riko) a Japanese-style café in the old downtown area of Tokyo. The cafe takes in orders for anything from delicious coffee to sugary sweets... and perhaps a little something extra like dealing with kids, business negotiations, love advice, one-on-ones about zombies and giant monsters, and more. "No matter what you order, we'll serve it up...!"
How was the first episode?
Lycoris Recoil presents us with a Japan at peace—or rather a surveillance state where violent, would-be criminals are dispatched quickly and quietly by schoolgirl assassins while the public remains unaware of the massive body count their humdrum lives are built on. It's not the most original dystopia, but it works as a setting thanks to one thing: our heroine Chisato.
Chisato is introduced to us as the organization's “problem child.” We're first led to believe that she is an expert killer whose bubbly, airheaded personality gets in the way of her work, but the reveal is quite the opposite. While she is no doubt skilled at her job, the "problem", as it turns out, is that she has her own sense of right and wrong—and isn't afraid to act accordingly.
Chisato is therefore in a kind of stalemate with the organization she works for. She is the best that the organization has, so they are willing to look the other way when it comes to how she handles things (at least to a point). That said, they have removed her from interacting with the other assassin girls—and put her in a place with like-minded people. That way, she won't corrupt any others and they'll always know where their potential enemies are—which brings us to Takina.
Takina is on the edge of being the next Chisato—which is something both the organization and Chisato realize even if Takina herself does not. While Takina wants to be recognized by the organization and be the next big-shot assassin, she still trusts her own judgment over their directives. Moreover, like Chisato, she cares for people. While she has no issues killing her enemies, she also places her allies' lives above her orders. The organization simply can't risk having her around the other girls in her current state. Meanwhile, Chisato can see that all she has to do is slowly but surely get Takina to expand her definition of “allies” to include everyone—and she'll have a true partner.
What's great about this premiere is that almost everything I wrote above is subtext; practically none of it is explicitly stated in the episode. There is a ton of show-not-tell going on here, and the characters are already multifaceted despite this being only the first episode. With such a complex setup, I'm excited to see where this show goes. This one goes into my “will watch” column.
Rating: 2.5 stars if you believe ACAB, 4.5 stars if you don't
I've spent a solid ten minutes staring at my screen, trying to decide what to rate Lycoris Recoil. Heck, as I write this sentence, I still haven't been able to decide on a numerical rating.
The thing is, it's a really, really solid premiere. Based on the description, I figured this would be yet another cute girls doing cute and occasionally violent things, emptyheaded entertainment for people who want to kick back and watch a teenage girl going about her life and occasionally brutally dispatching enemies. (Which, by the way, is not a knock against people seeking that – we all need emptyheaded entertainment every so often, myself included.) Instead, the episode is a well-paced and well-directed 25 minutes, with bright, fluid animation that balances action, character work, and foreshadowing the show's larger plot.
But then again, it's about child soldiers who love their job of secretly enforcing a police state to keep up an illusion of peace among the citizenry.
But then again, the shadowy government organization that trained them seems kind of shady, so maybe the plot will go in a direction that's actually critical of state violence.
But then again, maybe it won't?
There's so much happening, all with the potential to go either so very, very wrong or so very, very right. I genuinely enjoyed the dialogue between Chisato and Takina as they discussed what caused Takina to get transferred to LycoReco and her hopes of being able to return. Chisato's philosophy of valuing life struck me as an interesting shift away from my expectations for what is, essentially, an old-fashioned girls with guns series, even if the idea of nonlethal ammunition that can punch through a car door stretches the suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. It's good – I'm just a bleeding heart lefty who views pretty much all media that portrays the police and other forms of state violence in a sympathetic light suspiciously. But I know probably most of y'all disagree with me there, so you know what? Go ahead and watch Lycoris Recoil. You'll have a good time.
…But it still loses half a point for having an adult woman character who drinks too much and obsesses over marriage. Boo, annoying trope.
While this may be Shingo Adachi's first go in the director's chair, the man has no shortage of bona fides when it comes to character design work, and Lycoris Recoil is nothing if not eye-catching. A-1 Pictures is doing a lot of good work here, turning out polished and dynamic animation that is appealing whether the show is in slice-of-life mode or teen-girls-demolishing-shit-with-machine-guns mode. On the surface, this looks and feels like a top-tier anime, but the problem is that it is woefully lacking in substance, at least here in this first episode. It is, as the saying goes, “all sizzle, and no steak”.
For starters, while the premise itself has all sorts of room to develop neat hooks and interesting directions, we don't get any evidence of where they might be. A shady government organization that recruits and probably brainwashes teenagers into becoming efficient instruments of lethal extrajudicial punishment? That's usually the kind of dystopian turn that warrants some interrogation, but Lycoris Recoil takes a shockingly low-key approach to its world-building. If it wasn't for the hilariously un-subtle execution montage at the top of the episode, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was some kind of slice-of-life comedy about a delinquent high schooler that got sent to a local café to learn the value of helping others…at least, until she busts out the weapons again to thwart a kidnapping.
Plenty of anime have bent and blurred the lines between genres before though, right? So, if Lycoris Recoil is going to attempt to blend its futuristic action/espionage trappings with a “cute teen cops doing cute, mostly non-murderous things” approach, surely it must have a killer cast of awesome characters for us to spend all of that time with. Again, Lycoris Recoil makes the baffling decision to center its story around two tropes that are somehow cliches for both cop dramas and cheesy anime about preposterously talented high school girls: Takina is the loner who would rather alienate everyone around her if it means doing things her way, and Chisato is the oppressively cheerful friend-to-all-people who rejects society's expectations in favor of helping out the unfortunate. The only interesting thing about either of these girls is that both of them are apparently really good at killing people on behalf of the government, but if Lycoris Recoil is even remotely interested in exploring those aspects of its characters, it isn't showing it.
Again, Lycoris Recoil's premiere isn't poorly made or boring. It's perfectly watchable, and occasionally entertaining. There's just no hook to it, no dimension to its story or characters to keep it from falling out of your head as soon as the episode is over. Maybe that will change in future episodes, which may warrant giving it the old three episode treatment at the very least, but I'll definitely be keeping my expectations in check going forward.
Well, this one's kind of a mess. An interesting mess, at least in the context of seeing what – if anything – it's trying to do with this world of high school hitgirls having shootouts with the criminal underground, but a mess nonetheless. Going by the marketing I was actually expecting the show to lean a little more into the whole Cute Girl with a Gun contrast, maybe pretend the characters' cover as cafe workers was the whole premise for a few minutes. But nope, 30 seconds in and you've got high schoolers pulling silenced pistols out of school bags and painting the sidewalk red. And while I appreciate the show not wasting its time and getting straight to its real premise, that approach leaves this first episode in some serious need of a grounding element.
A big part of that is our main duo. Chisato and Takina are that classic anime girl duo of the flighty, cheerful girl and her deadpan, serious foil. That's a fine foundation to build a dynamic around, and there are some funny flourishes when these stock personalities start talking about assassinations and government cover-ups in the same cadence that a regular schoolgirl would talk about some hot gossip at school. But the rest of the premiere is so busy dropping cryptic hints about this vaguely dystopian world that the two never really get a chance to be fleshed out. There are some seeds of interesting personality – despite her stoic demeanor, Takina is the risk-taker while Chisato is deceptively calculating – but without seeing more of that in action there's only some raw potential to grasp onto.
Similarly, there's a lot up in the air about the show's overall plot and setting. While there's enough info doled out to paint a broad picture – anonymous billionaire benefactors manipulating things from the shadows, infamous hackers who can infiltrate the government's systems, an entire boarding school for teenage assassins run by the Defense department – the exact nature of this world is still very much a mystery. Similarly, the show's outlook on its characters' suppressive violence (and y'know, being seemingly raised to be super-soldier assassins) isn't clear yet. Is the whole teenage assassin thing meant to be tragic, or just a marketing move that we're not supposed to think about too much because lookit the anime girl's firing a machine gun? Is that spiel about the Lycoris being so wonderful because they embody the “inherently Japanese” ideals of politeness meant in earnest, or as an ironic look at how civility can be its own form of accepted violence? How those questions are answered is going to greatly decide how this show shakes out, but at the very least it has me curious about seeing those answers.
It certainly helps that the show looks good. The character designs are sharp and eye-catching, especially with the asymmetrical jackets on their school uniforms. The animation is polished, effortlessly capturing Chisato's almost casual movements during a firefight, while also showcasing her exuberant demeanor during the actually casual moments of the episode. The direction manages to easily transition between the lighthearted antics and gun fights without ever feeling uncanny – except when it wants to be. Moe Anime Girl with Gun is an aesthetic that's been driven into the ground for decades at this point, but so far Lycoris manages to make it feel fresh by not really dwelling on the aesthetic dichotomy. It's matter of fact about its cutesy killing machines, and that serves its tone well.
Safe to say I'm still a bit skeptical about this one, but in a season that's looking like a parade of nonstarters, I'm fine sticking around for something that sports enough ambition that it could actually disappoint me.
I just couldn't quite stomach Lycoris Recoil. That's almost certainly on me, and if the sight of schoolgirls with guns – one of whom fires with what appears to be wild abandon into crowds (she's actually got super amazing aim, apparently) – doesn't bother you in the slightest, then feel free to add a star to this rating. Because aspects of this are really quite slick, and its off-the-wall premise is one that I could see being very appealing: the idea that the Japanese government is training orphan girls to be secret hitmen specifically for criminals in order to fool the Japanese people that they're living in a peaceful paradise isn't lacking in insanity or governmental chutzpah. The ludicrous factor is also entertainingly high – I love that no one notices literal sweaty criminals about to plant bombs or stab people OR the teenage girls with silenced guns taking them out.
But that premise is still dependent upon a set of very stock characters, and that brings things down a notch. Chisato, the best Lycoris in Tokyo, if not Japan, is perky, uses nonlethal bullets when she can, and believes wholeheartedly in the good of her mission. Takina is expressionless, cold, and willing to argue that the ends justify the means every time, so of course they're paired up when the latter is fired from the main Lycoris agency so that she can learn from Chisato's cheery ways. Throw in an older agent who enjoys drinking to excess while lamenting about how she can't get a man and a large, stoic boss who brews perfect coffee, and we're very firmly in familiar territory without many real innovations of plot or character in sight.
Those aren't required for a good show, of course, but I feel like they would have helped here. I do like the character designs (although not necessarily those school uniforms) and the plot point about the arms deal going down in the background of an Instagrammable photo was pretty good, especially since it's so ridiculously far in the background that it's almost laughable that both Chisato and the bad guys could spot it. It didn't work for me as a whole, but I could see it really appealing to other people, so if girls with guns sounds like your idea of a good time, maybe give it a chance.
discuss this in the forum (216 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history