Anime Orbit Seasonal Check-in: A Gunsmoke Twilight in the Last Days of LYCORIS RECOIL

Anime Orbit is an irregular column where I summarize a stop along my journey through anime, manga, and the related spheres of popular culture over the past week. Expect spoilers for covered material, where relevant.

Magic Planet Anime posts will be extremely irregular for the foreseeable future. See this post for details.

Since we last spoke about Lycoris Recoil, the series has undergone a radical shift in scale and focus. We saw the opening moves of this maneuver back in episode 7, but by now the show has mostly disregarded any direct “nitty gritty” political engagement. There are two things LycoReco cares about right now: mapping out the long arc of Chisato’s short life, and broad, philosophical questions of destiny and free will. Even though the show’s actual setting and characters have not changed much, we’re still a very long way from the montage of high schoolers capping people from the premiere.

We’ve known for a while that Chisato has an artificial heart, some future-tech thing that doesn’t actually beat, and which is essentially irreplaceable. So it wasn’t that surprising when, a few weeks ago, a minor villain posing as a nurse injected our protagonist with some knock-out serum or another and performed some impromptu surgery. The result was hardware lockout; no one can tinker with Chisato’s heart anymore, and that includes recharging it.

She has two months left to live.

Chisato’s life has the ring of true tragedy. Raised as a child soldier but addled with an incurable heart disease, she was singled out by the mysterious Shinji Yoshimatsu as a “genius” of killing, the primary skill of all Lycorii, and given her artificial heart with the understanding that she would use this gift to become an even deadlier assassin. Even with this in mind, we learn, it was doubtful she’d live past 18. Of course, for the purposes of being a deadly teenage supercop, that’s perfectly fine; Lycorii are discharged at 18 anyway.

The entire universe of Lycoris Recoil is aligned against Chisato; the “nurse” who’s pulled the plug on her heart is one of Yoshimatsu’s people, an obvious attempt to gain leverage on her to get her to return to her alleged true calling as an assassin, her former superior at the DA is not much better, giving her back a camera she’d confiscated some time ago to try to nudge her back into DA service. And of course, there’s her heart problems themselves, a natural ailment that the artificial heart has provided only a temporary reprieve from.

Chisato rarely shows any direct concern over any of this, and frankly she’s remarkably unflappable in the face of her imminent demise, but that’s precisely part of what makes her character arc so effective. Fearing death, at least a little bit, is normal. Staring unblinking into its face as you know it’s creeping ever closer, that’s another thing entirely. The ability to do that only comes from having spent the better part of your life in a seriously bad place. Even with all she very obviously cares for—Takina, the cafe’, Mika, etc.—she seems to have accepted this as inevitable from day one. It’s heartbreaking.

Yet, when, in episode 10 (the most recent), she finds out who exactly is responsible for all of that hardship, she holds no ill will toward him at all. She’s not really even mad at Mika for keeping this secret from her this entire time! Instead, she reiterates that she sees the two of them as her fathers, and when, in the episode’s final minutes, we learn that Shinji’s being held hostage by Majima and Robota, she doesn’t hesitate to spend a day of her rapidly-shrinking lifespan trying to rescue him. (The actual hostage rescue itself being territory for next week, we must assume.)

Chisato is, at the end of the day, an incredibly strong character. Not just strong in the usual anime sense, and not just strong as in “well-written,” but possessing of a vast moral strength, too. It’s hard to know whether to take her insistence that she hear all of the terrible things Shinji’s said about her in person as an incredible capacity for forgiveness, a denial that she’s been lied to at all, or both. But all signs point to her being very much aware of her own mortality, her ability to do all of this in spite of that awareness is both admirable and more than a little terrifying. Hers is a blitheness that hides a deep pain, something we really don’t get to actually see for ourselves directly.

While this is very much Chisato’s show, it’d be a mistake to not mention that the rest of Lycoris Recoil‘s cast has continued to be great, too. Mika’s deep and very much justified regret over his role in concealing the truth from Chisato rounds out his character in an excellent way.

Takina, in the meantime, has had to deal with the impending loss of her best friend (or “best friend.” I leave that distinction up to you, shippers), perhaps the first person she’s ever truly connected to, while also, in a twist of dramatic irony, being given exactly what she initially wanted; a trip back to the DA. She and Chisato are apart for episode 10, which while sad, does give her a few moments to truly shine on her own, and her single-minded focus on trying to somehow help Chisato is very grounded and relatable, despite the fantastical stakes. (This could also be said of Mika, actually. I am sure there is at least one father watching this show who absolutely cried his eyes out this past episode.)

The only real weak spot is Majima, who’s taken the main villain role in this last arc of the show. As a cartoonish caricature of an anarchist in a world built on some already-iffy foundational principles, he is probably the only genuine weak link in Lycoris Recoil‘s character roster and embodies most of the show’s remaining shortcomings. Still, he’s at least entertaining at this point, with his utterly ludicrous plot of “hide a thousand guns all over Tokyo and let carnage ensue naturally from there” being, all at once, a decent piece of commentary, comically stupid on its face, and weirdly lazy, as far as big endgame villain schemes go. But at this point, that’s expected of LycoReco, a show that is built on contradictions top to bottom.

The plot itself has taken an all-action movie tropes twist—again—as we ride into the final few weeks. A dying Chisato prepares to rescue Shinji while Takina and the other DA Lycorii try to deal with Majima running circles around them. Much is up in the air, and it’s impossible to exactly call where it all will land.

For any flaws it could be said to have, there is absolutely no denying that, as Lycoris Recoil nears its end, it remains an absolutely fascinating show, forever pulling in all directions and only recently settling into a groove that seems to truly suit it. (No one would call the show’s early episodes bad, I don’t think, but things have definitely improved.) The last bullets are in the chamber; gun cocked, but not fired.

Like what you’re reading? Consider following Magic Planet Anime to get notified when new articles go live. If you’d like to talk to other Magic Planet Anime readers, consider joining my Discord server! Also consider following me on Twitter and supporting me on Ko-Fi or Patreon. If you want to read more of my work, consider heading over to the Directory to browse by category.

All views expressed on Magic Planet Anime are solely my own opinions and conclusions and should not be taken to reflect the opinions of any other persons, groups, or organizations. All text, excepting direct quotations, is owned by Magic Planet Anime. Do not duplicate without permission. All images are owned by their original copyright holders.

Let’s Watch LYCORIS RECOIL – Episodes 6 & 7

Let’s Watch is a weekly recap column where I follow an anime for the course of its entire runtime. Expect spoilers!

Well folks, I hope you like reading my opinions on Girls with Guns anime, because we have a full double-writeup this week.

Episode 6 is a weird one, although in the greater context of Lycoris Recoil it’s actually fairly typical, dealing as it does with a mix of action and wacky hijinks. Takina moves in with Chisato as an extra defense against the recent rash of Lycoris killings (we saw one of those in episode 5), mostly to comedic effect, despite the deadly serious situation, and there’s a running gag throughout the episode about Chisato’s preternatural skill at rock-paper-scissors, as well as plenty more gay subtext for those who are watching the series just for that.

But you wouldn’t assume such silliness from how the episode opens; it begins with the DA in crisis. The targeted killings have thrown the agency into disarray, and there’s not much indication that the commander really knows what to do. That’s actually all we see of her in this episode, but it sets the tone for that part of the episode pretty well.

Let’s briefly talk about Majima (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka). Majima is the weird terrorist who’s been behind these Lycoris killings. We learn in this episode that he’s probably working for Mr. Alan (whether he knows that is an open question at this point), and that he has a pretty short fuse, threatening his cohort, the hacker Roboto, if he can’t get him what he wants soon enough. What does he want? To smash the DA. To be honest, if that motive were welded to a more developed character, you could very easily make the case that Majima is actually the good guy. But Majima is not much more than a cartoonish killer with a grudge at this point, and frankly, he’s not a terribly interesting antagonist. (At least not in this episode, but we’ll get to that.) His being the bad guy is easy to chalk up to the show’s rather simple political principles. He is a functional counterforce for Chisato, though, which is enough for this episode specifically. He becomes interested in our hero when Roboto inadvertently shows him some footage of her roughing up some would-be assailants, and from then on it’s mostly ravings about “balance.” Although there is one interesting reveal snuck in here; that Chisato is, or at least Majima thinks she is, an “Alan Lycoris.” It really doesn’t seem like our protagonist is actually working for Alan, so what that means, beyond Alan’s brief allusion to her being a “genius of killing” back in episode 4, is fairly up in the air.

The actual section of the episode where Majima and Chisato fight is strongly done, and LycoReco makes a much-needed comeback on the production front after the visually iffy episode 5, here. The fact that Majima’s favored method of attacking Lycorii starts with “run them over with a Lambo” is still deeply silly, but it at least looks suitably dramatic and menacing this time around. Most notably with this shot, where it does actually look like Chisato might be seriously injured or worse. (She is, of course, fine. No one can stop an anime high school girl with a firearm.)

Things do get dicey enough though that Takina has to intervene, although not before we get a pretty great “hero and villain fistfight while surrounded by chanting goons” scene. I’ve always loved that particular trope, it’s an easy way to inject some grit into a story. (And the between frames of a full-on slugfest are inevitably hilarious.)

There are some other interesting bits in here. For one, we get yet another piece of the puzzle as to the question of what exactly happened back in episode 1. Today we learn that the person who hacked the Radiata system—and thus, indirectly lead to Majima’s people getting their hands on the names and faces of the Lycorii he’s been hunting down—was in fact Walnut, AKA our very own Kurumi. This is basically treated like a serious but ultimately goofy mistake on her part by most of the cast, which is as odd as it sounds. The only resulting consequence being her offering Takina a tearful apology and promising to help them see the case through to the end. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse whenever I bring this up, but this show’s oddly undercooked ideological framework really just lends a weird air to developments like this, and a few other “gags” throughout the episode. It’s the show’s most serious writing-side weakness, but admittedly, Kurumi committing a serious crime being treated as an Uh-Oh Whoopsie is actually kind of funny.

This is also the presumable inspiration for episode 6’s midcards, which I will not otherwise get a chance to include here, and which really remind me of that “girl being homoerotically bullied” meme that used to go around tumblr.

Do you think someone on the staff just made this as fanart, originally? I do wonder.

We close with Takina finally beating Chisato at roshambo, with her residence at Chisato’s place on the line, although not before the latter gets her hopes up.

….And, elsewhere, with Majima swearing vengeance against this “interesting” Lycoris he’s met, thrilled that he’s found someone who can “strike a balance with him.”

Which brings us to episode 7.

Episode 7 is not only much stronger than the comparatively weak 5 and 6, it’s probably the best episode of Lycoris Recoil so far, despite forgoing one of the series’ usual strengths. (That is to say; there aren’t really any cool extended action scenes in it.)

Part of this is down to a simple shift in focus; I haven’t made a secret of the fact that I’m a bit down on Lycoris Recoil‘s worldbuilding and the assumptions that it uses as foundations. That’s still true, but this episode foregrounds a more interesting and more directly interpersonal series of conflicts that makes that a fair bit less relevant. You can think of this as the show “zooming in”, if you’d like.

Our plots here are twofold; one follows Majima and manages to make him a fair shake more interesting than he’s been since his introduction, and the other follows Chisato, who, via an unintentionally sneaked look at a phone, manages to learn more about herself and the operation that saved her life than she probably wanted to.

Majima’s plot is the more straightforward of the two, so we’ll knock that out first; he spends much of this episode running around on Roboto’s orders. All to advance some grandiose plan he has to encounter Chisato again, who he has quickly developed a dangerous obsession with. We also learn, somewhat surprisingly, that Majima was present at the much-discussed Radio Tower Incident, and in fact claims credit for “breaking” the tower in the first place. What this might mean is still unclear, but he did meet a certain deadly, familiar-looking Lycoris back then, which immediately adds a layer of the engagingly personal to his fixation on Chisato.

On the other hand, maybe this is just The Flatwoods Monster wearing a schoolgirl uniform.

His half of the episode ends with him and his band of thugs shooting up a police station, and attaching a bugged USB stick from Roboto to one of their computers. (Which is presumably somehow connected to the Radiata, to be honest this is the episode’s only plot point that I’m still a little unclear on.)

Chisato, meanwhile, happens to glance at her boss Mika’s phone one day at the cafe’. One can see why the message would catch her interest.

As much as what follows is about Chisato, it’s also about Mika. I haven’t really talked a lot about Mika in these columns, but he’s actually probably my favorite member of the adult cast. For one thing, cast diversity has badly backslid in anime over the past 20 years, so it is just nice to have a Black character who is a normal part of the narrative instead of some weird stereotype. But more than that, he’s an interesting mentor figure in his own right, past episodes have alluded to a checked past with the DA, gesturing toward the notion that Mika is not entirely the kindly man he seems.

This episode does not pull any kind of secret villain reveal, but it does confirm that, yeah, the guy used to work in the truly unpleasant part of the already-unpleasant secret government agency. Namely, because one of his buddies was Shinji Yoshimatsu. The mysterious head of the Alan Institute who I’ve accidentally previously only been referring to by his pseudonyms, I think. Anyway! That is the guy that he meets up with at Bar Forbidden, the amusingly named members-only lounge mentioned in the text message.

Initially, some of the cast (especially Takina) think that it’s possible that he might be meeting up with the commander, assuming it’s a strictly business affair. They find out the actual truth of things once they infiltrate Forbidden in, I’ll say, a very Chisato way.

Where in the world is Chisato Sandiego?

As they find out, Yoshimatsu and Mika go way back. On the one hand, we get pretty explicit confirmation that they used to be more than just friends. (Quoth Chisato, who sounds like she’s speaking from experience; “love comes in many forms.”) And Yoshimatsu attempts to psych-out Mika in an elevator on his way out. Both by acting all domineering and then by pulling back and explaining the reasons for his actions.

He, as we already more or less knew, was the one who funded her operation after the Radio Tower Incident, and did so because of Chisato’s natural talents. Those talents go unnamed here, but it doesn’t take a genius to infer that he’s referring to her skill as an assassin. Skill she hasn’t really put to use since returning to work as a Lycoris and switching only to non-lethal arms.

Here again we do kind of run smack into LycoReco’s fundamental writing issues. Lycoris Recoil seems to think switching to non-lethal ammo is a much bigger deal than it actually is. Yes, it’s great that the child soldier isn’t wantonly killing people (anymore), but she’s still a child soldier. An unsolved problem remains.

Or does it?

The series has not been shy about portraying Yoshimatsu as a villain. This is the first episode we get that really humanizes him at all, and what we learn is hardly flattering. Chisato confronts Mika and Yoshimatsu, although unfailingly politely. She learns about why she was saved, and even though she does not show it in any way but the most subtle, it’s very clear that this bothers her on a deep level. And I imagine that with Majima setting plans in motion to cause full-on disasters to attract the attention of his favorite Lycoris, her commitment to the bare minimum baseline even of just not killing will be tested in the episodes to come.

While that is not the comprehensive breakdown of the toxic structures that put all this in place that many were hoping for from Lycoris, it is meaningful. In the episode’s closing moments, she hangs up her Alan Institute pendant inside her closet, implicitly locking that part of her identity away. She is clearly bothered by what she’s been told here, even if it’s not in her nature to make that obvious. Hopefully, the next time we see the pendant, she throws it out for good. (And Mika, certainly, feels like he’s failed Chisato in some way by letting her find out about this. I really do think the two have an endearing surrogate father / daughter sort of thing going on, and you really feel for him here.)

Making things worse is that Yoshimatsu tosses this comment toward Takina, possibly hinting at a future wedge between the two. (Even if not, Yoshimatsu is clearly trying to make one.)

The episode ends on a brilliant little match cut; Chisato hanging up her pendant with Majima idly dangling his in the air as he plots his next move. This is the most alive Lycoris Recoil has felt for a few weeks, and whatever happens next, it’s sure to be explosive.

Like what you’re reading? Consider following Magic Planet Anime to get notified when new articles go live. If you’d like to talk to other Magic Planet Anime readers, consider joining my Discord server! Also consider following me on Twitter and supporting me on Ko-Fi or Patreon. If you want to read more of my work, consider heading over to the Directory to browse by category.

All views expressed on Magic Planet Anime are solely my own opinions and conclusions and should not be taken to reflect the opinions of any other persons, groups, or organizations. All text, excepting direct quotations, is owned by Magic Planet Anime. Do not duplicate without permission. All images are owned by their original copyright holders.