Reviewed by: Eeeper
Released by: Crunchyroll
Age Rating: 14
Region: 1 - North America
Length: 325 minutes
English 2.0 Stereo
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
In the future, the peace of the Japanese nation is the envy of the world. There's no crime, no unrest. But its peace is a carefully crafted lie: Lycoris are young schoolgirls who keep the peace of Japan by eliminating threats before they start. Trained by a military force called Direct Attack, these girls kill anyone who threatens to commit a crime or carry out a threat to someone. Following a disastrous mission, Takina Inoue, a Lycoris working at Direct Attack (DA) in Tokyo, is reassigned to the backwater café LycoReco to work alongside the best Lycoris ever, Chisato Nishikigi. But as Takina arrives, she finds that Chisato doesn't do things the way the DA would like and that someone is now gunning for Chisato and will try to tear down DA to get to her.
Girls with Guns is not a new thing in anime, having stretched back in time to the 1980s and Dirty Pair, Gunsmith Cats, and Bubblegum Crisis to name a few. The genre itself also came into being in Hong Kong cinema with Cythina Rothrock, Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Khan, and others pioneering the genre there. But young girls with guns is a genre entirely made in Japan. Kiddy Grade, Burst Angel, Gunslinger Girl, Mezzo Forte, and more litter the category. Something about the juxtaposition of having an innocent-looking girl about to kill you or someone else with a ridiculous amount of heat is something that speaks to the readers and viewers in Japan (and abroad for that matter). In Lycoris Recoil, we're back with another shadowy government agency, another group of girls, and yet another psycho running around determined to take down one or two specific girls in the story.
Chisato is not a typical main hero of a Girls with Guns title. Normally, the chirpy, peppy one is the junior, being assigned to the badass senior girl who promptly shows her she can kill an entire squad of mercs with a flick of her hair and weaponry that James Cameron would be proud to film. You get the idea. But here, the preppy one is Chisato, taking in Takina after she screws up her position at DA, and bouncing into every mission they get with such a Joie de vivre that Takina takes very little time to fall into a more relaxed vibe with Chisato.
The murkiness of their jobs is probably why Chisato is so happy to help people. They are working at a café that serves as a front for jobs that DA would never touch (if it doesn't involve killing someone, they won't touch it). Helping people escape stalkers, protecting people who are under threat of assassination, and other minor tasks are all inside their remit. But DA themselves are an extension of a level of state violence that few anime have touched. Normally, we see the organs of the state not being aware of the secret organisation as it goes about its business. But here, the entirety of Japanese society exists as a result of Lycoris and DA killing anyone who even thinks about committing a violent act. This takes the idea of precrime from the film version of Minority Report to its logical extreme: if the public don't know about violence, how could they prove it's happening? As a new threat emerges, one who is determined to expose the existence of DA and the Lycoris to the public by any means necessary, the show asks us to stand up for the DA who wilfully sacrifice the Lycoris, again and again, to stop threats and also cover up the existence of the DA and its soldiers. It's one of those stories where you have to ask, while you're rooting for Chisato and Takina, just how far will you go to prop up a system that claims to protect you but at the same time, robs you of your perceived free will? When a new threat gets their hands on guns (which are banned outright in Japan now), they decide that if everyone has one, how can the DA stop everyone without revealing themselves?
As the show progresses, we see that the strands of why Chisato left the DA are also connected to why the big bad of the show is trying to tear down the DA and the Lycoris. The two main forces in the show represent the dilemma of most people in the world: they know there are good people out there and that they deserve respect and help. But at the same time, most of the decisions are made by people who will never care about them and who'll never cry over their loss. As a society, we long for someone to punish the evildoers but as well as that, protect us from those who would use the system of governance that most countries have for their own selfish needs. Chisato represents the good of society, a person who will do what's right but also respect the rule of law. The forces against Chisato, specifically, represent the side of society that wishes it could take its own back on those who do not allow us to make informed decisions. Of course, there's an argument that the public is too dangerous to make decisions on the fly as passions govern us more than our heads ever could. The show presents that argument too but doesn't do it as effectively because the guns that fall into the public's hands are quickly used to kill a couple of people but not nearly as many Lycoris who die at their bosses' hands in their pursuit of threats that they alone decide must be eliminated.
I think I like how the show presents the vicious circle of virtue as a trap. Chisato leaves the DA to help people like she was helped. But the reason she was helped was so she could continue being a monster in the state's employ. The very thing that saved her also doomed her in the eyes of the state that used her up. On top of that, the show makes amazing use of that phrase: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Mika, a man who once acted as Chisato's trainer in DA follows her when she leaves to set up LycoReco, slowly is revealed to be carrying the worse kind of guilt about how Chisato came to be saved and the show is to be commended for showing Mika to be a monster who stopped liking his reflection and is horrified when he realises that the person he once loved is the cause of Chisato's pain. The show offers no easy answers as to where you can stop blaming yourself for the evil you saw and the evil you did. It cares more about the people being ground up by the state's need to control than the state itself. I feel that if it did, then Lycoris Recoil would not be the show it ended up being.
For all the doom and gloom, the show revels in the joy of Chisato's life and the people she touches and interacts with. Takina is infected with her joy and slowly becomes less of a machine of DA and more Takina Inoue. They act like teenage girls, hanging out, having fun, and trying to explore the boundaries of their world. They drag their clients, friends, and protectors into their world, making them human, flawed, and vulnerable. They tease each other because the jobs they do are so serious, they need the relief. Some of the best moments of comedy in the show come from the barriers between the girls and their crew falling down. Chisato lets Takina breathe for the first time and she sees that being the best killing machine ultimately means she's taking someone's life, whether they turned out to be a threat or not. The state directed it, therefore she did it. There's a moment where Takina disobeys a direct order from the commander of DA and goes to help her friend. The Takina who started the show could never do that but as we learn about her, we see that she could always have done it, she just needed to see the world away from the echo chamber at DA. I find their friendship (even as the show hints that they have a relationship deeper than friends but not lovers) sustains itself because the two girls see the strength they need in each other. As the season concludes, they come away stronger because they risk it all to help those who'll never know. Just as Chisato asked her to do the first day they met.
The show's animation is top notch for the segment it's in and A-1 Pictures continue its thing of crafting perfectly good-looking anime. For once, I found myself listening to the English dub from Crunchyroll with Lizzie Freeman as Chisato, Xanthe Huynh as Takina, Sean Chiplock as Majima, and D.C. Douglas as Mr. Yoshimatsu more than the Japanese dub. Chika Anzai and Shion Wakayama as Chisato and Takina are excellent too and both tracks capture their budding friendship perfectly. As an original animation not based on a light novel or manga, LycoReco's course is not certain after this season. It'll probably be back but it'll be a totally different beast from its opening shot.
I don't know how to feel about the questions that show comes up with the nature of its place in the universe. On the one hand, it firmly says that people have a right to exist, and that they matter all the way down to a fundamental level. But the way that DA sweeps everything under the carpet and goes back to neutralising people with no one sounding the alarm feels less like something the writers want to address in the future (even though they set that exact thing up in the final episode) and more like they have no actual reason to argue that kind of overreach into people's lives is that important. In many ways, the producers feel like DA: happy that people go about their business. Just don't question the authority they've made you aware of.
Lycoris Recoil is currently streaming on Crunchyroll