Episodes 1-2 – Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer

For the preview guide, I gave the Biscuit Hammer premiere a split rating: one star for the visuals, four for the writing. While I did that mostly to make a point – that despite this adaptation’s embarrassing production values, there was a lot of good and interesting material here that was able to make itself known. For as much as gifs of the worst parts of the episode were making rounds on social media, this wasn’t an EX-ARM situation where the visuals had totally subsumed any merit the story might or might not have. I stand by that decision for the premiere, but it’s not something I want to make a habit of.

Mostly that’s because modal analysis like that just isn’t how most people watch anime – or any entertainment. Anime is a visual medium, and animation is just as key to telling its story as the script, voice acting, or scoring, so treating it as some separate category from the rest of the show is silly and tedious. So while I don’t plan to harp on every time a fight looks like ass or the monsters look like re-fried roadkill with a filter slapped over them, I am going to be talking about the animation, and how the lack of polish all around does effect the story’s ability to connect with the audience. Because yep, that’s very much the case.

Part of that is a consequence of the actual contents of Biscuit Hammer’s plot. Satoshi Mizukami is known for being pretty loose and silly with his worldbuilding, and while characters treat the stakes of any fight with the proper gravitas of a serious shonen action series, the details of his stories are often purposefully ridiculous. That’s fine in my book, as it adds a lot of charm to the story and setting, but without proper delivery it can be a hard sell to have our hero get his call to adventure via a talking lizard that operates on Droopy Dog proximity rules, or an enormous cartoon mallet looming over the Earth as a doomsday device. If the presentation isn’t in sync with that self-aware, goofy energy, it makes the setting feel slapdash and random in a way that’s alienating rather than endearing. And that’s definitely the case here – while it’s not impossible to vibe with Mizukami’s sillier ideas, it takes a lot more leg work on the part of the audience. It’s possible to make it work, but it’s never a great sign when understanding the tone of a series feels like homework.

All that said, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in these first two episodes that intrigues me, even as I had to work to get there. Yuuhi is an all-around strange pick for a shonen battle protagonist, both now and at the time the manga started, mostly in the fact that he’s just not good at it. He’s a sour-faced mope who throws his spirit familiar out the window because saving the world sounds like way too much trouble. He doesn’t just chafe at the idea of ​​working with some hypothetical group of allies, but has a seeming PTSD response to the mere mention of it. While he’s not actively nasty towards anyone (Noi notwithstanding), he’s far from the friendly bundle of earnestness typical of a shonen hero. Yet at the same time, he joins Samidare because destroying the world sounds a lot more appealing than risking his life to save it, and he devotes himself wholeheartedly to serving her.

We get some context into that contradiction in episode two, learning that his seemingly instinctual aversion to forming connections is thanks to his grandfather’s bizarre abuse, drilling into his brain to live alone without love, not he be betrayed. We’re still missing what feels like a lot of context for that, but it creates a fascinating conflict for out central hero, rather than bluntly symbolized by straining against his grandfather’s chains. He doesn’t want to be the greatest there ever was. He doesn’t want to be the hero who saves the world. In place of a grand aspiration pushing him to be better is simply a fear of what will happen to him if he doesn’t change. If that means handing the reigns over to a new ruler, well, he’s more than happy to serve his devilish princess.

Speaking of, Samidare is far closer to the type of protagonist you’d expect from a shonen battle series. She’s got the loud personality, indomitable confidence, and supernatural strength to send cars flying across riverbeds without breaking a sweat. Yes, there’s the small detail that her ultimate goal is to usurp the mysterious villain’s doomsday plan and destroy the planet on her own terms, but outside of that you could stick her in the lineup of Shonen Jump or Shonen Sunday without anyone blinking. Her exact motivations are a mystery – it’s pretty clear there’s more to her world destruction plan than the explanation she gives – but she’s nonetheless a compelling heroine and a strong foil to Yuuhi.

On that note, I actually really love these two together. They could easily have slotted into the roles of a spunky love interest and the morose shut-in she drags out of his shell, but Yuuhi is much more active in their dynamic than that. He starts exercising without complaining, and by all appearances deeply wants to get stronger to better serve Samidare. Meanwhile Sami channels all her shonen hero energy into both fights and friendships – her line about crushing anything that hurts Yuuhi into dust is just fantastic, and one of the moments where the spirit behind the show really shines through. And I like that when Yuuhi lets down his guard and is vulnerable with his fears, Sami eschews their princess/knight monikers and just gives him support as a friend. I’m still, let’s say, iffy on the prospect of a romance between these two considering their ages, but purely on personality they’re great together.

And that’s really important, because while there’s a lot to dig into with the characters already, the plot itself is…well threadbare may be too generous. While Mizukami is playingful with his worldbuilding, that doesn’t make up for just how little the whole evil wizard plot has actually been fleshed out so far. The golems have spent a combined two minutes on screen and have both gotten flattened the moment Sami showed up – probably for the best, since this anime can animate a fight about as well as a sea slug can choreograph a dance number – and any details Noi gives almost feel like he’s making them up on the spot. We have no real clue who this wizard is, what he’s trying to accomplish, who any of the other knights are or what they’re doing, and it’s not even clear how Sami is connected to all this despite being the central figure of the fight . That may just be stuff the story is waiting to explain when the time is right, but you could argue the right time is here, when you’re trying to engage the audience in the story and give them a concrete idea of ​​where we’re going. For now, the character work is enough to compensate for all that, but the golem fights are gonna need to start feeling consequential soon if they’re going to be anything but minor plot contrivances.

But really the biggest issues is that, while I was able to dig into all that after the fact and make the hamster wheel inside my brain spin real good, in the moment a lot of those elements – good or bad – weren’t particularly well communicated. And it comes back to not just the visuals, but the editing and pacing of individual scenes. I can intellectually understand all of the interesting or unique aspects of these characters, or relate to their emotions, but it’s all undercut by often harsh cuts between scenes that stymie the energy from one moment to the next. There’s rarely time for a poignant line or moment to breathe before we jump to the next location. And again, this is partly an aspect of Mizukami’s writing style – Planet With packed an entire 50 episode super robot show into a single cour – but that again is a style you need to nail with proper execution for it to work.

More than the fights, or the weird color filters, or the barer-than-bones OP, that’s the aspect of this adaptation that worries me the most. Even if I hadn’t read the manga, I’d know that this is a work that’s managed to stay with people over a decade since it wrapped up, and that tells me there’s something valuable in here that’s worth checking out. While its original creator is handling the scripts, if the final product isn’t able to communicate his intent, that’s only worth so much. Maybe things will even out – even fans of the manga admit the early chapters are the messiest and weakest – but for now we’re stepping into an uncertain future.

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Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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