[Review] Lycoris Recoil is the Joy that Keeps on Giving (and never changing)

As busy as the summer anime season was this year, there was a whole lot of mediocrity on that list. Only a handful of shows rose above the masses, with Lycoris Recoil taking one of the highest spots with charm and gusto. So much of the story might have faltered in other, lesser experienced hands, but each week the series defied the weaker elements of its framework with strong characters and writing. I’d be pressed to consider this show the best of the season, if not for the less-than-satisfying ending which lacks a much needed change for true resolution.

The world of Lycoris Recoil is one of a deceptive utopia. The residents of this Japan enjoy lives relatively free of conflict or concern thanks to the seemingly peaceful populace and those who govern them: “Peace is upheld by the very nature of us Japanese people” (“Easy Does It”). What they don’t know is that this peace is paid for by the blood of trained orphans who intercept and eliminate any and all threats to the status quo. With cute girls in school outfits wielding guns and smiles, it’s ridiculously easy to believe their counterterrorism spiel. Main character Chisato Nishikigi shines as a model of the Lycoris girls program, and lives her life out of LycoReco, a charming cafe covering as an independent unit.

After only a couple weeks with Chisato, I was appalled at the lack of Cafe LycoReco art, specifically the cafe vibes complete with stained glass and wood, hot beverages, and Insta-worthy desserts. If this anime had been a slice-of-life comedy with episodic stories on the various customers, I would probably have loved it all the same. Instead, most of the art centered on Chisato and Takina, understandable given their dynamic. Their opposing priorities and ideals put them at odds with one another at the start, but quickly evolve into a partnership where one makes up for the other’s weaknesses, and a friendship that transcends their workplace responsibilities.

Trust the nice lady in the box

Unfortunately, the world in which they live is not supposed to be carefree; they’re here for one purpose: to apprehend and, very often, eliminate threats. Chisato’s self-imposed restrictions involving non-lethal rubber bullets and de-escalation stand at odds with Lycoris, hence her semi-independent privileges. She’s just too good of an agent to cut loose. Takina, despite her expulsion from headquarters and seeming demotion to LycoReco, embodies much of Lycoris’ ideal: a soldier who follows instructions without question and has no qualms about killing. While we meet a handful of other Lycoris over the course of the season, these two are our primary windows into the Lycoris mindset. Chisato stands unique among her peers as the only one who treasures the sanctity of life. This resistance to authority is what sets her up as a sympathetic ear to one of the main antagonists of the series, Majima, a terrorist who strikes repeatedly in increasingly violent and unmanageable ways.

His handful of one-on-one discussions with Chisato reveal a valid concern for the iron-clad hold Defense Attack (DA) has on Japan’s approach to security. Their mission of upholding a lie about their country’s natural peace might very well be as much if not more damaging. The DA’s approach to national security is just as high handed and narrow minded as the Alan Institute’s beliefs about the natural order of things. At the start due to our time with Chisato and her introduction of the institute, the organization seems benevolent. Not only did they save her life, but they gave her a reason to pay the kindness forward—they’re the reason why she refuses to kill. Once Majima appears with his own institute experience, a different intention is revealed. The Alan Institute isn’t some charity out to save lives and promote peace; they find gifted individuals and encourage growth to the fullest potential with little regard for good or evil. Chisato’s unparalleled sight and reaction time make her the ultimate assassin, but those skills could have instead been used in a profession far less violent, like in sports. She isn’t given that option, and her pacifist leanings eventually put her at odds with her benefactors.

Chisato’s strong sense of self drives this show forward and shapes the interactions around her. While she is hands down my favorite character, I ended up falling in love with most of the other cast members as well, including all of the LycoReco staff, some of the DA Lycoris, and even some of the villains like Majima and Robota. Take for example, Takina. Unlike Chisato, she has no qualms about killing and does so in the most direct and thorough manner. Yet through her constant exposure to Chisato’s worldview she begins to accommodate different tactics and question expectations. Then there’s Majima, the villain for much of the series. His disdain for order could be mistaken for a disregard for life, but his discussions with Chisato argue otherwise. Of everyone, he’s actually the most outspoken about people’s need for balance and the truth. The casual tone he takes with Chisato almost seems sympathetic, and in different circumstances I think they’d actually make close friends.

While Lycoris Recoil easily made the top of my list for most anticipated weekly shows, I still found myself somewhat disappointed by its ending. Chisato and Majima both fight for their own ideas of peace through the entirety of the series, yet real change remains elusive. I almost believed Majima’s public broadcast would result in the fall of the DA, or at the very least a shift in their organization: stop training child soldiers, stop squashing any opposition to the controlling powers, stop pretending everything is peaceful all the time. Instead, not only do they regain their place in Japan’s security, but there’s no visible change to their practices. Our Lycoris continuing their jobs as before acts like a happy ending, and the main cast don’t seem bothered since they’re elsewhere resuming operations. I still love all the characters, but the takeaway joy feels hollow with the knowledge that everything they did over this season resulted in almost zero change for the better…but at least the Takina x Chisato ship will continue on!

Rating: 2 dango

LycoReco food truck is definitely on my want-to-go list

*Rating system:

  • 0 dango – average and forgettable.
  • 1 dango – very good in its category.
  • 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
  • 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.

3 thoughts on “[Review] Lycoris Recoil is the Joy that Keeps on Giving (and never changing)

  1. You nailed the core of Lycoris Recoil! All the characters were so well done, you would almost think you were watching an SoL but with super Buddy-cop action. Weakest character for me was Majima, the Joker wanna-be green hair and all. I loved the Joker in Batman because he was always interesting, and he created very elaborate plots and traps to catch the bat. Majima was just a poor imitation whose only goal was to be an ideological terrorist and his plans were so dull and boring. He was just your typical psychopathic killer with not a shred of creativity. Mika on the other hand stepped forward into the foreground of this story big time, and it ended with wishing there had been more of him. I really enjoyed the LycoReco gang. But the heart and soul of Lycoris was obviously Chisato and Takina, one of the best buddy-couple ever. One could literally watch them ep to ep becoming good friends. I am currently rewatching the series one ep a night, and I think the anime is even better the second time through. Their world building left a lot on the table and failed to really tell a story about what was going on behind the scenes. Was Shinji going rogue following his own conception and desires or was he a full-on agent of the Alan Institute? The DA was presented as being all powerful but then we learn there is another agency above the DA using the boy Lycoris which can make the decision to exterminate the DA in total and then just as suddenly back off. What? Chisato’s rubber bullets blow big holes in a car door, but do not kill? Come again? RPG goes off next to Majima’s head, and the next day he is fine. OK, I get it, suspend the laws of physics, this is anime magic. But all in all, a very enjoyable buddy-cop romp. (Want more LycoReco and especially Chisato and Takina, my new superheroes!)

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s a lot of plot armor to go around for many of the main characters, like you say, with Chisato, Majima, and Takina all surviving what should be lethal damage. It’s part of their charm, as unbelievable as surviving is! And if a superhero show featuring just Chisato, Takina, and LycoReco truck gang were to release, I’d 100% be there.

      Liked by 2 people

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