Lycoris Recoil: Season 1 Review
Lycoris Recoil is now streaming on Crunchyroll.
An old showbiz saying goes that “all you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.” Though maybe a little outdated in general, it holds true for the entertainment value found in Lycoris Recoil, a lovingly cinephilic, girls-with-guns action anime from directorShingo Adachi and writer Asaura, who came up with its original story. But there’s plenty more to love the show for, like its aforementioned movie obsession, from its opening credits Stand By Me homage to the George Méliès reference in its closing, to later discussions of the joys of the silver screen, even in the middle of a fight. That’s not to mention its warmer, more mundane moments and not least of all its playfulness with romance tropes in the coupling of various characters: there’s at least one “kabedon” wall slam. An atypical premise alongside engaging action make Lycoris Recoil a standout amidst the spring season (and one with loud support from Hideo Kojima).
With the premise set up in its first episode, Lycoris Recoil could have gotten away with a simple case-of-the-week format, as it establishes the routine of its main characters – the gunslinging teenage mercenaries known as Lycoris (after the spider-lily that also acts as their emblem). The girls, Chisato and Takina, run the LycoReco cafe and carry out fairly mundane favors for the clientele, alongside more violent contract work, running anti-terrorist ops with support of their mentor Mika and former intelligence officer Mizuki. Even as it pays deference to blockbuster classics (like the ‘80s and ‘90s action classics strewn across Chisato’s cluttered safehouse apartment), it would be inadequate to reduce Lycoris Recoil to any pair of references. It takes a sideways approach, making a nod to The Terminator as one of the more ludicrous moments of comedy of the season. It’s also evident in the action itself, of course, which takes immense satisfaction in brutal gunplay that stands in delightful contrast to the cozy slice-of-life vibe of the rest of the show, an element which it holds in almost equal interest.
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The build-up of the first episode toward this premise is immensely satisfying, seen partially from the perspective of Takina as she is excommunicated from DA (“Direct Attack”), a secret organization of female assassins secretly eliminating criminals in service of maintaining Japan’s prosperous outward image. Ousted for taking some drastic measures in an operation gone wrong, Takina falls in with Chisato who, as a bubbly extrovert, is diametrically opposed in disposition to Takina’s aloof and perhaps robotic nature. Both are a couple of the most preternaturally gifted killers of all time. Only, after a moment of enlightenment, Chisato has given up killing, though she’s no pacifist: now she just favors non-lethal ammo and utilizes an uncanny, ludicrous, and very entertaining ability to actually dodge bullets.
Chisato’s fighting stretches suspension of disbelief, apparent from the very first time we see her in action, but the brawling is given believable weight through camera movement, swinging to emphasize her kicking a car door into an unsuspecting goon, as an emphatic slap bass soundtrack comes to life. The action direction is giddily entertaining, a mix of John Wick-esque grappling and gun-fu that its main characters enact with hilarious, almost trivial ease in its opening stages as they brutally but non-lethally dispatch their opponents. (This eventually comes back around as she admits that her non-lethal bullets probably hurt more than regular ones.) But Lycoris Recoil maintains the illusion of “realism” through a sense of tactility, even as laws of physics are flagrantly, gleefully broken. That’s in the impact of the aforementioned camerawork, as well as its intoxicating switch-ups between gunplay and close-quarters combat, impactful even when it’s only a training exercise as in the third episode’s engagement with the atmosphere of Takina’s former employers at DA, finding both amusing and disturbing surreality that high school-like cliques still exist in organizations of assassins. As impossible as it is for Chisato to duck gunfire like she’s playing dodgeball, it never feels inauthentic, only the more exciting to see it destabilize unwitting foes.
This, understandably, might make it seem like Lycoris Recoil has no tension underlying its action, and that much is true for much of the first few episodes; it’s mainly the safety of the clients at stake as Chisato remains entertainingly untouchable as well as unflappable. But a slippery foe in the form of an anarchist named Majima throws a compelling wrench in the works, proving just as tricky an opponent as Chisato as he sets out on an obsessive mission to unveil the facade of peace that DA has built atop piles of corpses, that then dovetails with an interest in Chisato’s uncanny abilities. The two work their way toward a compelling form of antagonism and mutual respect, their various duels reminding of John Woo’s heroic bloodshed clashes of ideology, questioning honor amongst thieves and upholders of the law while even finding common ground.
Even with its love of gunplay and the various action references, Lycoris Recoil also delights in the girls’ downtime, just as enjoyable to see their extended aquarium visits as it is to watch Chisato empty a clip into a goon that underestimated her. After being made to leave DA, Takina wrestles to find a sense of belonging outside of the job that she has always known, and one of the chief joys of the series is seeing the rest of the world being opened up to her by Chisato. The growing loyalty and affection between the two feels just as propulsive as the gunfights, and is just as beautifully rendered through detailed acting, gorgeous drawings, and gentle lighting.
Lycoris Recoil thrills with action as often as it charms with low-key character drama.“
Less convincing is the deeper conspiracy at play throughout the season, tying in Chisato and Takina’s former masters at DA, their new mentor Mika, and mysterious benefactors at the vaguely defined Alan Institute. Some episodes feel revelatory, but the early reveal that a certain character is in line with a bad crowd undermines the tension, and some subsequent elaboration on their role in the conspiracy ends up feeling bereft of dramatic tension. That said, such plotting never obscures the sincere characterisation, and even improves it as it lands upon a more compelling complication to that conspiracy – that being Mika’s personal ties to Shinji, a former romance complicated by mutual cynicism despite their desire to be fathers to Chisato. Similarly, the pieces of the grander plot start to fall into place when it ties each organization’s movements into more personal stories, which begin to revolve around Chisato’s decision to never again take a life, and the stakes begin to feel a lot more real.
A midseason turn excitingly destabilizes the safety and security of Chisato’s practically superhuman skill as well as the destruction of the house of cards that DA has built. Lycoris Recoil handles so many different tones, often matching Chisato’s bubbly optimism and its cozy slice-of-life segments with bloodier, moodier material that it never feels unnatural when it funnels toward a practically apocalyptic showdown. For all its surreality, from the beginning DA is presented as an ominous surveillance state, a beacon of moral compromise that the LycoReco cafe seek to leave behind so to truly help people, rather than simply cull the bad ones. Chisato’s refusal of this compromise eventually comes to a head, and the show finds real heartache in her refusal to budge on this point. It’s an endgame that does well to weave its various story threads together, even if some felt a little slack in the show’s early stages.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Kambole Campbell