Episode 5 – Lycoris Recoil [2022-07-31]

The spy games of secret schoolgirls necessitate a certain amount of fakery. Pretty much nothing in Lycoris Recoil can be taken to be as it initially appears, no matter how earnestly it fits with the forward-facing tone of the series. In this way, the show’s affectation of a moe-style atmosphere isn’t just a presentational gimmick—it’s one more layer of subterfuge in its storytelling. This week’s episode is all about showing off those layers, starting with a setup that is evidently more than it seems, but peeling away to more successive reveals than even our practiced anticipation may be able to predict.

After last week’s episode which was mostly about showcasing contextual characterization, this one provides us with more concrete story-building details to its overall plot. We learn that Abe knows that something is going on with some sort of shadowy government cover-up, even if he’s not aware of the DA specifically or that those cafe-tending schoolgirls he’s friendly with are actually black ops agents. Even more pertinently, Chisato rather casually drops the lore nugget that she’s rocking an advanced artificial heart. This provides more context for her connection to the Alan Institute as an overall story element, but more importantly for this episode, it ties into the broader theme of the fake, the artificial. What’s most interesting about this conceptual presentation, to me, is how it’s not necessarily a thematic debate of ‘Fake versus Real’ but instead ‘Fake (Bad) versus Fake (Good)’.

Chisato’s earnest, genuine approach to her unconventional job and the otherwise incompatible principles she insists on applying to it has been an elevating element of Lycoris Recoil‘s narrative so far. She continues to be a bundle of infectious energy from the beginning of this episode, taking on the supposed setup role of tour guide for a terminally-ill guest with gusto. That part of her job is pointedly seriously a cover story for her and Takina needing to serve as bodyguards, but she still approaches it, wanting to provide a positive experience for this Mr. Matsushita even as the audience can suss out that he’s probably got more going on than he claims. And it works, turning the first half of this episode into a chipper Tokyo travelog that fits fine with the cute, chill atmosphere that this series is so strong at selling. We can believe—thanks to Chisato’s brushed-up tourism trivia—that she saw this as an opportunity to do something for someone that she really cared about, and we can see that rub off on Takina as her personality continues to defrost. It embodies the true ‘heart’ of Chisato’s distinct actions from the artificial one powering her super-strong schoolgirl-spy body.

The tour guide bit might be a cover story, but the entertainment value, at least for the audience, is real, one of those examples of ‘positive’ fakery. And it contrasts against the other masked moving parts in the margins of the girls’ mission. More lore nuggets are dropped as the action elements of the story converge on the crew, like Mika’s past connection to Jin, the assassin confronted in the latter half of this episode. But far from being a backstory-expositing connection, that revelation is a clue, an indication that this guy Jin might not be the mere murderous motivation device he’s initially presented as. It adds even more nuance to what at first seems like a rather simple conceptual conundrum: Chisato being confronted with a customer’s request to kill someone even as it goes against her distinguishing principles. Doing right by a client, “The customer is always right” but for freelance assassins is interesting enough as a base concept, but Lycoris Recoil doesn’t want to leave it to something so simplistic. It would be easy to get the audience to think it was okay for our heroes to off a killer who murdered someone’s whole family, so they instead spin that sob story itself into a case of artificial manipulation.

It lets the story play with some strong irony, in the way ‘Silent Jin’, a stereotypical stoic assassin whose standby rule of not questioning personal details of his clients nearly led to him being set up to be assassinated himself. Comparatively, Chisato’s insistence on that investment and care, even for a personage who turned out to be a ruse, and her dedication to preserving life, which all might be presented as naive in simpler writing, is illustrated as a unilateral good that allows our heroes to come out the correct side of the whole manipulated messy situation. It’s a manifold illustration of Lycoris Recoil‘s thesis that earnestness, even towards something that is a mere cover for something else, is most valuable. Chisato’s tour-guide trade was at the behest of someone trying to exploit her, but she still earns compliments for it in the end from Takina. Macro-symbolically, Chisato’s heart may be a fake, but Takina thinks it’s cool anyway.

This is Lycoris Recoil, so alongside its signature strong cutesy antics and the kinds of big meaty ideas I love to chew on, we’re capped off with some more great action this week as well. I appreciate the anime’s ability to shift the whole tone of the setting once the assassin element kicks off, framing things with ramped-up tension, making building interiors come off just that much more claustrophobic when they’re being used for gunfights rather than walking tours . And that’s before we escalate to things like the high-flying parkour battle between Takina and Jin or Chisato’s deployment of an absurd gun-punch maneuver And Lycoris Recoil excels at smaller elements as well—I love how effectively they illustrate Mizuki’s out-of-shape exhaustion as she runs to join the others, that’s a fun little character detail to work in there. This is an episode that showcases all the strengths that have made this anime successful so far, while revealing a few new ones which, like a cool artificial heart, make it even better at what it’s doing.

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Lycoris Recoil is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Chris is a freewheeling Fresno-based freelancer with a love for anime and a shelf full of too many Transformers. He can be found spending way too much time on his Twitterand irregularly updating his blog.

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