Content warning: gun violence, mentions of online harassment and stalking
What’s it about? The Lycoris are a team of specially trained teen hitmen, tasked with eradicating threats before they have a chance to disrupt the delicate peace of Tokyo. These gunslinging girls see to everything from bomb threats to dark web hackers. But when she messes up on a mission, Takina is transferred to her toughest job yet: working in a café and training under a bubbly, kind-hearted Lycoris named Chisato who wants nothing more than to protect ordinary people.
As fiction has told us for many years, no one makes a better assassin than a sixteen-year-old girl. Yes, the juxtaposition between her schoolgirl skirt and the submachine gun in her arms is part of the point. Them being young and vulnerable makes the bullets go farther! I dunno, take it up with head office!
The premiere of Lycoris Recoil is ultimately fun, though it sure does throw you in the deep end in its opening minutes. As the credits roll, we’re treated to a swift montage of Lycoris operatives discreetly shooting, or otherwise “disappearing”, criminals on the street… under a cheerful monologue from Chisato about how Japan is a peaceful place. The irony of this contrast is enough to make your eyes water, and I sure hope it was intentional on the part of the narrative.
It’s too early to say whether this is a “this so-called peacekeeping effort is terrifying and we should question our spymaster authority” series, or a “aren’t girls with guns cool?” series. Indeed, it could be both. And there’s not really anything wrong with it being the latter—as I mentioned above, it’s a genre staple, and it’s silly but fine—but it would certainly be interesting to see some of this stuff unpacked.
This opening episode does treat us to a hint of this. After opening fire on a hostage situation, Takina is transferred from her main unit to train under Chisato. Takina appears to be a cold, serious operative, always putting the mission first. When her teammates ask what she was thinking, endangering the life of the hostage like that, Takina calmly replies that she had it under control. So when she’s sent to Chisato and told this Lycoris is a role model, she’s not entirely sure what to expect. What she gets is a bubbly, compassionate girl one year older than her, who’s intent on teaching this not-so-old dog some new tricks.
That summary makes this sound like a buddy cop story, and it kind of is, albeit starring orphaned seventeen-year-olds raised to be covert assassins. Chisato and Takina’s methods clash in this episode, but I’m sure we can expect to see them bond and come to understand one another. Chisato, you see, wants to prioritize keeping the public safe and helping people on a more individual level, rather than Takina’s… well, literally firing a spray of bullets into a crowd of “bad guys” for the sake of the greater good.
Chisato is horrified when Takina uses the woman they’re meant to be protecting to lure in criminals, and then, I kid you not, stands in front of their car shooting into it repeatedly. Takina, in turn, is baffled when Chisato uses non-lethal force on the crooks, and even quickly helps one of them bandage an injury. Treating criminals like people? Downright bizarre.
Again, I would love to see this unpacked: is Takina’s ruthlessness the way Lycoris operatives are trained? Or has she become uniquely unhinged? And if this is the norm, where did Chisato pick up her “unorthodox” compassion and humanistic goals? How is the narrative going to explore this, and where will it end up placing the Lycoris organization?
Your patience for this kind of “covert super cop” action genre might determine your enjoyment of this show. Even if it ends up critiquing the government organization that turns kids into killing machines, you can bet there will be some cool action scenes along the way. At the very least, it’s taking the ethical stance that human lives should be protected and that treating crime as an obstacle you can push through with bullets is, uh, not good. Which is, you know, nice!
You might also have no patience for “ugh I’m a grown woman and I’m not married yet, my life is over!” jokes. Which we also get, embodied in one of the handlers who works in the café that serves as a Lycoris cover. Honestly, I had planned on talking about that more, but watching Takina destroy a van with a handgun distracted me. The café owner, and presumed higher-up in the organization, is also a cool, disabled Black guy—and I wanted to talk more about him, too, but the truth is he doesn’t have a lot of screentime in this one, and also, again, Takina destroying a car full of people with a handgun took up most of my brain-space and word-count.
So Lycoris Recoil is quite possibly a fun, silly shoot-em-up action show starring a bunch of teen girls, which may be enjoyable on its own. However, because it’s got Chisato as our emotional anchor and has, thus, suggested that shoot-em-up action is not the best course of action, I can’t help but hope there’s a deeper level of commentary or critique about state violence (real or sci-fi) in here somewhere. We’re just going to have to see where this one goes—I’m certainly in for three episodes, if only to see how this odd but intriguing dynamic unfolds.