When watching a new anime there are a few expectations because of the source material it’s from. You more or less know the tropes, plot twists, and narrative beats it’ll follow from reading the manga, especially also considering what category it falls under.
I personally like knowing these things because I like being in an infinite loop of ignoring what I know of the story, being emotionally affected again as the panels unravel on my screen in 1080p, and then again when I reread the manga.
For the storytellers, what having a source material means is they can slowly build a solid following for their work. People who have organically chosen to read the manga, follow its weekly release, and who don’t need to see a trailer to get hyped if or when an anime comes out.
They’re basically a ready made fandom.
Lycoris Recoil, like all original animes, didn’t have that leverage. And I believe it also didn’t have the advantage of having a huge name behind the production to push it to the spotlight.
Despite that, it’s become one of the biggest and best animes to get released in 2022 — even getting Hideo Kojima’s attention.
So how did Lycoris Recoil achieve this?
Through freshly brewed coffee and an order of matcha dango.
Familiar Tropes Dancing on a Few New Beats
The dynamic between Takina and Chisato is a classic. In fact there’s a fic tag referencing it that’s also equally popular — the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one. Of course their relationship didn’t start that way (also a characteristic of the trope).
Takina is the hard-edged disgraced Lycoris assassin who was kicked out after a botched mission in which she disobeyed orders and potentially endangered her teammates. As the doors closed on her, she wanted nothing more than to get back in the DA’s good graces and continue her work. She was sent to a quaint café in Tokyo where she meets Chisato — a bubbly, hyper-skilled Lycoris agent who does what she wants and refuses to take part in the killing, but is too talented for the DA to discharge. Together, they form a relationship that slowly becomes an unrelenting bond that will be tested in the events to come.
One of the appeals of this dynamic doesn't so much lie in their stark differences but in how they're able to build a relationship without seeing the need to change the other. To make do with their differently coloured threads and weave a connection that's as beautiful as it is unbreakable.
The writers fully leaned on this trope and took it one step further by adding a little uniqueness but without removing the elements that make it so interesting.
For instance, Chisato is your typical happy-go-lucky anime character at face value. A much rarer treatment to this type of attitude is when the reason behind that positive energy isn't something dark or traumatic, and Chisato is definitely surrounded by all of that. However, and without giving much away, what gives her this much spirit is the drive to pay it forward. Granted, she still goes on missions taking down anyone who poses a threat, but Chisato does it in a way that bestows them with a new life rather than taking it from them.
On the other hand, you have Takina who is more the typical stoic anime character. What I appreciate about how she was written is her realisations didn't result in a total transformation. I love that she stays uncompromisingly candid with her goals still clear in her mind, but she does it with affection and is communicated in a way that doesn't offend. While Chisato is at the centre of the narrative, the story is filtered through her eyes. And so as the viewer, we grow with her. We see first-hand how she slowly allowed people in, evolving her relationship with Chisato and the others, and how everyone became better people because of each other.
And for these two, there's sapphic undertones to their arc which I find refreshing to see in a popular anime. I appreciate that it was part of how their relationship grew organically, and that it wasn't some sort of gimmick.
Surrounding them is a solid cast of characters.
Majima is such a fun, theatrical villain who you can't help but watch perform. He's chaos personified — in one moment he could be breaking into your home and proceed to talk about films and personal ideologies, the next he's trying to threaten you and/or shoot you. Obviously what he's doing is wrong, but one can't really say why he's doing it is, especially after knowing that the government is training orphaned children to assassinate people they've (or an AI) suspected will commit a crime.
Balance is his belief, however muddy and questionable his definition of balance is, and his obsession is to expose this immoral practice and the institution that enables it. Then he meets Chisato, who's like him, a person with uncanny abilities that pitches them a little above normal people.
What forms is an antagonistic relationship but also mutual respect, not just for their individual skills, but also in their efforts to remain true to their personal beliefs and causes.
But another conspiracy is at play, one that involves people responsible for Chisato's life, quite literally.
One may consider the former a secondary antagonist here because his philosophy about delivering genius into the world regardless of whether their methods are deemed evil evidently clashes with the former's convictions over how Chisato should be using her gift.
I admit, at first I thought Yoshimatsu's contribution to the story to be a little flimsy. Is he just another villain? Maybe not. But his purpose and mindset slowly became clear and fell into place with the narrative, especially towards the end, that I more or less understood why he didn't waver.
Mika on the other hand has an air of penance with each interaction with Chisato, I feel. There are moments when he seemed like he was carrying something heavier than his body. The revelation is more like a wave than a ripple, but how heartwarming it is to see both Chisato and him dive under it and come up smiling.
I wouldn't lie when I say I find Mika and Yoshimatsu's relationship important to see. Theirs is an interracial gay relationship that isn't a throwaway statement, a punchline, or something added just for flavour. There is love there, and I appreciate that it was shown.
Lycoris Recoil is equal parts action thriller and charming domesticity. While the worldbuilding leaves more questions than answers, it's the characters that embed the story to your core. It happily plays with a box of tropes and familiar narrative beats, and isn't scared of putting the arc shaped peg into the square hole.
Each one of characters and the connections they've made with each other were written with care, and it evidently has finding value in and loving life and people at the core of its message.
In a way, watching the anime felt like getting your usual order of coffee, maybe try new treats, at your local café. And then seeing how you and the other patrons start to get to know each other, and feel comfortable enough to kick them in the ass in boardgames. It would be a poor fellow who doesn't catch on to their surroundings.