Content considerations: Fantastical depictions of climate apocalypses and pandemics; violence; mild sexual content.
What’s it about? After a strange explosion turns Tokyo into a crater, Japan becomes a nation of rust and deserts. In Imihama Prefecture, the young doctor Nekoyanagi Milo works to develop a cure to the Rusting disease afflicting much of the populace, including his older sister. However, his life takes an unexpected turn when the infamous “rust-eater” Akaboshi Bisco appears in the city—and, more alarmingly, in Milo’s own home.
Okay, post-apocalyptic dystopian action series featuring giant mushrooms and rust plague. You have my attention.
The first episode of Sabikui Bisco bounces between characters, scenes, and plot points with a confident energy that’s a little disorienting but also never boring. This isn’t a series that feels the need to hold its audience’s hand through every note of world-building, preferring instead to drop details through dialogue as we’re introduced to the people who populate this lush, decaying world. And I appreciate that about it, but it does make it difficult to get a grasp on it after just one episode.
Here’s what I can tell you: the Japan of Sabikui Bisco is not in great shape. Tokyo is a crater, deserts have taken over the countryside, a skin disease called the Rusting runs rampant, and our central prefecture of Imihama is run by a glorified mob boss. The SF dystopian premise is rife with potential for social commentary, though at this point there’s not much depth to it beyond a general distrust of the government and a severe wealth gap.
But if the idea of an illness-and-corruption-riddled nation struggling with apocalyptic climate change sounds a little too real to you, fear not: Bisco is also soaked in fantastical ain’t-it-cool aesthetic and world-building weirdness to keep it from getting too weighty. Somewhere between the governor’s bodyguards all wearing cartoon bunny masks and the titular character shooting arrows that grow giant mushrooms (which are Bad, except maybe they’re Actually Good?), I stopped fretting too much about the Big Ideas and started enjoying the gleeful creativity on display.
Character-wise, while Bisco has his name in the title card, the actual heart of this episode is Milo, a mild-mannered doctor who uses his talents to help the poorest of Imihama’s residents. His relentless kindness in a callous world grants him an endearing emotional strength, but his sense of morality is more flexible than the usual “saintly” character: he also cuts shady deals with the governor for medical equipment and buys up mushrooms on the black market to help further his research. He’s a nice guy but not a bland one, and I’m curious to see more of him.
Milo is motivated by a desire to save his big sister Pawoo from the Rusting, but in a refreshing twist, his sister is not a sweet little helpless waif, but rather the no-nonsense Captain of the Imihama Watch. She’s presented like a badass dedicated to her job, butting heads with her brother because she’s determined to help protect the city, illness be damned.
Now, is her cleavage-heavy, waist-constricting catsuit both impractical for her job and unrealistic for her character? It sure is! But the camera doesn’t leer beyond a quick shot of her zipping the outfit, so if they write her personality well then I’m willing to roll my eyes and move past it. The bigger question will be if Milo’s role as a warrior will actually have meaning or if she’ll be quickly defeated by Bisco and sidelined due to her illness. It’s too early to say, but let me have a whole week to hope at least.
While Pawoo is the only named female character who gets significant screen time or character-building in this premiere, I am cautiously optimistic for Sabikui Bisco’s handling of its female cast. An early scene in a brothel was presented neutrally, without fanservice or sex worker-shaming, and the one sex joke was uninspired but harmless. Basically there were a lot of opportunities for ogling or moralizing in this premiere and it didn’t happen, so, huzzah! Low bar cleared! Congrats, Bisco. Have a cookie.
Beyond my usual general concerns about how a male-targeted action series will handle its female cast, I don’t have a ton to critique about this premiere. It’s imaginative, attention-grabbing, well-paced, and while the animation isn’t jaw-dropping it’s still quite good, with the mushroom-exploding scenes having a real weight to them. There are ways this could break bad, of course, from the simple (Bisco winds up being an insufferable protagonist) to the more complex (the series whiffs on its anti-capitalist themes). But with a premiere this confident and engaging, I’m willing to give it three episodes to see where it goes.