REVIEW: Lycoris Recoil is Brilliant Despite and With its Imperfections

Season aired: Summer 2022

Number of episodes: 13

Watched on: Crunchyroll

Translated by: ?

Genres: Action, Drama

Thoughts: Original anime often climb a bigger hill when reaching popularity as many anime are boosted by the popularity of the original source material. Acclaimed directors and writers will push original anime forward, but Lycoris Recoil didn’t have that. The series director-writer is a first-timer, and with no source material adaptation and thus built-in fandom, you’d think it would struggle in making its mark. Except it didn’t. Lycoris Recoil debuted as the highest-ranked original anime of the season, it caught Hideo Kojima’s eye, and the rest is history. So how did Lycoris Recoil succeed, and does it warrant the praise?

Takina and Chisato are partners, but they could not be more different. Takina is a disgraced Lycoris, assassin girls raised by the government branch DA to kill anyone who breaks the rules before they actually happen. After getting kicked out, she wants nothing more than to return to her original line of work — killing and preserving Japan’s status quo. Chisato is a Lycoris who follows the beat of her own drum. She refuses to kill anyone that the DA orders her to but is simply too important for the government to discard. In a quaint coffee shop, the two girls are paired together, and through both good and bad, they develop an unbreakable relationship, despite almost everyone wanting to break them apart.

Lycoris Recoil is good. More specifically, its characters and relationships with each other are so tightly written, it’s easier to forgive its imperfections. The main story is about Chisato and Takina, and at first glance, they appear to be another opposites-attract-but-start-off-squabbling situation that anime loves to employ. However, they quickly prove to be more than that throughout the series.

Incredible characters

This is largely due to Chisato’s character. Genki girls who see the best in people is a trope as old as time, but genki girls who are self-aware, skilled, and clever are much rarer. Chisato makes use of the trope while adding a three-dimensional layer to explain her genki-ness. For once, the joy in which Chisato lives her life is not because of trauma that she’s using a smile to hide, but inspiration that urges her to move forward in the best way possible. She’s the standout character in the series, and she’s also a type of female character that’s hard to find in stories.

Takina is a little more standard in fitting with the emotionless girl trope, but her saving grace is her character development. She doesn’t do the typical 180-degree transformation into an emotional person. At the end of the day, she’s still a blunt and mission-oriented girl with a gun but in the midst of it all, she learns to better communicate her affection for others. This affection is best seen in her developing relationship with Chisato, which leads to some of the most subtly hilarious yet heartwarming scenes in the series.

They also don’t hold the torch to the series alone. Majima, one of the antagonists, brings a lot of fun to the table with his chaotic nature. One second, he’s sharing a drink with the protagonists and discussing life and ideals, and the next, he’s kicking them in the stomach and shooting at them. Best of all, his reasons for constantly defying the protagonists makes sense. The world this story is built on is morally wrong: the government is training children to kill people who haven’t yet committed a crime. Majima wants to expose the government for its unethical practices, and you cannot say that he is wrong to do so.

Yoshimatsu and Mika

I thought my biggest critique toward the cast would lie with Yoshimatsu, the second antagonist. However, the last episode nails the purpose and theme of his participation so well that I no longer find myself upset at his contribution to the story. Additionally, his relationship with Mika, a Black man and Chisato’s mentor and adoptive father, introduces an interracial gay relationship to the story — a relationship I have yet to see in any anime.

Where Lycoris Recoil stumbles is world-building. At times, the series can’t seem to decide whether it wants to portray Japan’s society in a positive or negative light. On one hand, Majima’s introduction angles the story to explicitly criticize the extent the government is willing to go to for the sake of peace, but on the other hand, the results of the conflicts always sides with the government and seem to absolve it from its transgressions. The troubling introduction of the Alan Institute, a mysterious organization headed by the super-rich who pick and train children with supernatural skills and abilities, also adds more questions to the society created and, once again, leaves the plot unresolved in its opinion of such a morally dubious group of people.

However, it’s easy to forget those questions when the action scenes kick in. The anime delights with dynamic gun fights that emulate live-action movie choreography, and the series heightens the feeling of adrenaline, excitement, and fear through these exciting shots. Its non-action scenes are just as dynamic through character expressions that change every second. One of my favorite scenes in the series is when Takina watches a bird fly and smiles. It’s a simple action, yet the lighting and detail of how her smile slowly forms portrays her joy so effectively that it made me happy as well.

Exhilarating action

Lycoris Recoil is ultimately fueled by the audience’s love for its characters, and the voice cast lends success to that. Chika Anzai shines as Chisato, and, despite being a veteran of the voice acting community, this is her best performance to date. Shion Wakayama, the voice behind Takina, is newer to the industry, but she doesn’t allow herself to lag behind. One of the most emotional scenes comes from Takina screaming angrily after the antagonist, and the weight of Takina’s desperation and fear hits hard. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka gets the final callout. Known for a variety of protagonist roles like Kirito from SAO and Yukihira from Food Wars, he’s proven repeatedly that he has more than enough skills to portray riveting villains, and I hope his success here as Majima will result in even more villain roles in the future.

Lycoris Recoil is an anomaly in today’s anime world. It skyrocketed to popularity despite its lack of built-in-fandom from source material and continued to hold its popularity throughout the season. Despite its imperfections, I understand why it gripped the hearts of many. Its characters and their relationships are treated with love and affection from the people who made it, portrayed through its animation, soundtrack, voice acting, and dialogue. It’s a story about love — love of life, people, and dreams. And for that reason, it’s stolen my heart like many others.

Rating

Plot: 7 (Multiplier 3.5)

Characters: 9 (Multiplier 3.5)

Voice acting: 8

Art/Animation: 8.5

Soundtrack: 8

FINAL SCORE: 80.5

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