Suicide Squad ISEKAI – Episodes 1-3

By: Vrai Kaiser June 27, 20240 Comments
Harley shrugging smugly; Deadshot makes finger guns and Peace Maker crosses his arms

Content Warnings: Gun violence, flashing lights (episode 2)

What’s it about? Hoping to change the world, or maybe just build a better one somewhere else, Amanda Waller has opened a portal to another dimension. She’s also leashed five of Gotham’s deadliest criminals to carry out her mission, controlling them with bombs implanted in the back of their necks. But things go quickly off the rails when the transport crashes on arrival in this brave new world.

I think most people who follow comic book adaptations have, at this point, a passing awareness of the Suicide Squad. Whether that’s the 2016 movie (condolences); the 2021 movie; the recent video game; or, if you are me, a still-held torch for its 2000s sister series Secret Six. If not, you’d still probably click if I called it, “the American Hell’s Paradise.” Barring that, you’re probably aware of the cultural ubiquity of Harley Quinn, at least in some form (put a pin in that). The latter is really all Suicide Squad ISEKAI is asking of you, and it sets the table with enough personality conflicts and Studio WIT visual flair to make it engaging popcorn.

It’s fortunate that the first three episodes dropped all at once, because the premiere itself kind of drags. The episode is bookended by two bombastic action sequences, one a car chase with Harley and the Joker and the other a big brawl that officially introduces the members of the Squad. Between that, though, things slow to an absolute crawl of exposition and beats that vaguely recall the opening of the David Ayer movie, sans on-the-nose licensed music. Even the mid-episode fight scene feels sedate, with some fun choreography that shows Harley’s improvisational thinking but a camera that has all the verve and interest of security footage.

Amanda Waller with her arms crossed
Yes she’s awful, but have you considered that she is also a delight

It’s all so much fodder to get the main cast into the transport together, and it feels like it. Fortunately, the pay off has enough hooks to catch, so long as the basic premise is of interest to you. The seeds of the central moral dilemma—planted with the same deftness Trotsky was acquainted with an ice pick, but there nonetheless—is a familiar one. Amanda Waller (a fascinating character with the right writer) is happy to wield the violence of the state and colonialist resource mining in the name of a nebulous greater good, so long as the cost is an acceptable Other; Deadshot, who’s the most humanized by way of a referenced daughter, quips about who the real villains are. There’s something interesting about playing this out between the show’s only Black cast members thus far (and maybe rather fraught, given tropes around Black women and the fact our other female characters have been Katana and a series of blonde, white women), but that’s outside my lane. I do hope someone pitches us about it as the show goes along.

The rest of the cast might come as something of a surprise if you’ve seen other versions of them—I was a little disappointed at King Shark being a “mental kindergartner” rather than an id-driven but grown meathead, but Clayface as a ham who spouts misfired meta and then gets his ass kicked (complete with That One Fukuyama Jun performance) is good fun—but their characterizations all hang together well for this particular standalone story. Which brings us around to Harley.

King Shark intro card. "metahuman in the form of a shark. has the IQ of a kindergartner"
Frankly this is a very rude way to talk about Constantine’s ex-boyfriend

I was slightly nervous coming into this series about how the show would decide to tackle her. Harley’s character comes with a lot of baggage. It’s very easy for writers who aren’t thinking very hard about the character (or suck at writing women) to reduce her to the Joker’s quirky, sexy sidekick. Anime past have written homages to the pair that lean into more of a Bonnie and Clyde characterization (like Jake and Kriem from Tiger & Bunny). But even though I love evil power couples, it’s hard to shake the long history of domestic abuse at the core of that relationship, all the way back to Harley’s origins.

Which is why it was so exciting to learn that not only is Suicide Squad ISEKAI headed by a female director—Osada Eri, stepping into the role after many years as an animation director—but that she made specific requests of the writers about portraying Harley.

“I watched a couple of movies that Harley Quinn was in. In some movies, Harley Quinn depended on the Joker. But in the other movies, she has fallen out with the Joker and fights with him. But it was hard to depict that kind of woman considering my personality. What I wanted was the next step of Harley being an independent woman. That’s the image I had. Although I wanted her to be an independent woman, I also wanted Harley to look cute in front of the Joker. So that’s the kind of vision of Harley Quinn I requested from Nagatsuki-san.”

Depending on how you read her comments—is the cuteness part of making the relationship something she comes back to, or just a fun aspect of the character to play with before she starts stepping out on her own?—Osada is asking the show to thread a pretty fine needle. I admit that I rolled my eyes somewhat at how much of Harley’s dialogue in the first episode revolved around whether the man she’s talking to is her type, but that thankfully falls off; there’s also no fan service, though I assume there will be extremely stupid comic book outfits before the day is out.

I’m not sure whether the show can live up to the themes it’s started laying out, especially given how aggressively one-note the characters are three episodes in. The duo behind the series composition last worked together on Vivy -Flourite Eye’s Song-, which was a good character drama but whiffed pretty hard trying to tie up its overarching plot. On the other hand, I kind of don’t expect DC to let this project get all that daring in the first place. Big Two cape comics become more finely ground into a marketable paste the higher-profile they are, so maybe I should just be pleased that Isekai has had the freedom to set up its threads of colonialism and class warfare as much as it has. I’d maybe recommend prioritizing Akudama Drive if you haven’t seen that masterpiece yet, but there’s some potential here and a well-executed character comedy if nothing else.  

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