Against all odds in the face of recent events, the anime series about surreptitious gun-toting assassins for the Japanese government has continued airing apace this season. It’s absolutely appreciated; This isn’t what anyone would accuse of being a ‘strong’ anime season, so Lycoris Recoil has been kind of a bright spot by comparison, a standout in technical aspects and effective storytelling. It definitely feels like there was a sense of surprise powering the way the show impresses; Being an original ‘mixed-media’ project whose own previews underplayed a lot of its more exciting aspects let it come out of the gate swinging. That also leaves it as one of those shows where, this early on, there’s the question of how long it can keep up its winning energy, as well as concerns as to where the story is headed, thematically, in the long-term. But in the now, right at the ol’ three-episode threshold, Lycoris Recoil is absolutely working.
‘Girls With Guns’ is a classically-successful anime formula, and one it feels like it’s been a minute since we had a go at (Okay, there was the proper Girls’ Frontline adaptations, but the less said about that the better). So Lycoris Recoil drops us into following an agency of orphan schoolgirls tasked with carrying out bullet-based disappearings of ‘undesirables’ from Japanese society, in what’s already a pretty loaded criticism of the idea of ’peace’ and the maintenance therein that civilians among that census might prefer to avert their eyes from. That’s all conceptual dressing so far though, and actually the heaviest the show gets. Counter to the melancholic tragedy surrounding something like Gunslinger Girlthe specially-conditioned underage assassins of Lycoris Recoil seem downright chipper with their lot in life, turning the whole exercise into more of an upbeat buddy-cop workplace action-comedy.
As with so much else about Lycoris Recoil, that’s rather refreshing so far. Leads Chisato and Takina have a natural chemistry budding already. The show is of course using the contrast between their attitudes to define and illustrate their personalities and approaches to their odd job, but that writing is honestly gravy as far as selling that goes. The characters’ styles are relevant just from their acting in the animation and how we see them, physically, go about the work. So sure, we get that Takina’s the all-business mopey one because she mopes around and always talks about business, but that’s apparent just from her first scene when we see her make a decision to mow down a bunch of bad guys and calculated not hit her comrade she’s saving in doing so. Meanwhile, we understand Chisato’s outside-the-lines way of working just from her running non-gun-based errands, so it completely fits when we find out she has a commitment to something as nonsensical as a non-lethal approach to assassination. The show is making no bones about how the pair are already gelling and rubbing off on each other, just check that amazingly adorable animation of their playful little kicks at the end of the OP.
The production’s ability to depict everything from goofy cafe antics to escalated action setpieces has a consistency that makes it all easily enjoyable to watch. Maybe that’s why they’ve gone for broke and kept airing it, they clearly put way too much work into this thing to shelve it now. And yes, these are the first three episodes, almost always intended as a spectacular showcase before some productions level off for a bit. But that can hardly dampen the thrills of watching Takina lean out the window of a barrel-rolling car to noscope a drone at the exact right moment, fulfilling the kind of classic-OVA excess we expect from something inheriting the ‘Girls With Guns’ title. But that depictive talent even extends to the lighter side of the storytelling, with the third episode early on featuring a delightful string of jokes boarded around Chisato and Mika having a conversation while Takina changes in a room next to them. It flows, setting up story beats and information alongside delivering amusing character bits in sequence.
The whole third episode is like that, actually. I love how after two episodes of her being a simply sweet supportive senpai to Takina, this one shows that Chisato can reserve some cattiness and snark with some real edge to it for the folks back at the DA It reveals more proper layers of characterization to her , reactions to other characters driving development for both her and Takina. And as the show already has precedent for, that carries through to the sick-ass combat animation of the mock-battle at the end of that episode. The way it plays out communicates both how much Chisato’s talents are allowing her to utterly toy with their opponents, and delivers the cathartic impact of Takina socking her jerkish former partner. So I can confirm that the show at least had me invested enough to go “Hell yeah!” at that moment.
Still, the overall insistence on cheekiness might expose a potential long-term weakness for Lycoris Recoil. There’s a sense that the show really wants to pull off its marrying of covert-agent combat and violence with a mildly-cloying ‘Cute Girls Doing Cute Things’ veneer of presentation, and I don’t know that it’s actually there. It’s a neat idea, if only as a gimmicky contrast, but in comparison to how well the show pulls off its action just being spiced up with the girls’ personalities, all the aside errand runs and after-hours cafe game-nights come off like mere distractions. As well, leaning too hard on that element could distract from the serious parts of the story that could actually work, well, seriously. In regards to that, there’s also a concern that we don’t yet know enough about the writing’s leanings to get an idea of where its criticism of societal peacekeeping assassins might go. Shunting the leads off to their more independent, ancillary odd-job focus as opposed to the directly government-controlled force definitely seems like a way for the show to sidestep the more unsavory implications of the direct-action efforts shown in the opener, but time will tell if they actually confront that structural element or just leave it as a distracting background detail.
It all means that Lycoris Recoil is simply extremely ‘fun’ so far, which is all it really needs to be at this point. It’s clearly not shooting for gritty realism, as any series where one of our chipper schoolgirl-gunner leads can just casually walk out of the way of bullets shouldn’t be. That’s probably the strongest indication of how well this works, that even with the potential misgivings about the societal-commentary angle or how far we’ll be delving into the deeper, darker sides of characters’ stories, the moment-to-moment thrills are still there. We’ll see how this show’s ambitions play out in the long run, but here at the beginning, the show’s presentation of its action and character work is akin to Chisato’s fighting ability in the field: They make this look easy.
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.