I would best describe Lycoris Recoil as a modern and light-hearted take on the girls with guns genre. Basically: it’s like if you took Gunslinger Girl, and made it not morbidly depressing. Quite the opposite, really. It even has a healthy dose of yuri in it. There’s a reason why almost everyone has been singing its praises as one of the best anime series of 2022.

Lycoris Recoil: Details

'Lycoris Recoil' NA key art 2.
For those Gunslinger Girl fans who wished for a happy ending and lighter tone.

Lycoris Recoil is an original action thriller slice-of-life anime that’s also in the girls with guns genre. A-1 Pictures (Valkyria Chronicles, Sword Art Online, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic) is the animation studio behind this anime. Shingo Adachi (Sword Art Online character designer) is the director of this anime, with Asaura writing for the same. Shūhei Mutsuki composed the music you hear in the anime. “Alive” by ClariS is the opening theme music, while “Hana no Tō” is the ending theme music. Lastly, Aniplex of America licensed it for its NA release.

Lycoris Recoil stars the voices of Chika Anzai (Lizzie Freeman in the English dub) as Chisato Nishikigi and Shion Wakayama (Xanthe Huynh in the English dub) as Takina Inoue. Other notable roles include Kosuke Sakaki (Bob Carter in the English dub) as Mika, Ami Koshimizu (Jennifer Losi in the English dub) as Mizuki Nakahara, and Misaki Kuno (Lisa Reimold in the English dub) as Kurumi.

Lycoris Recoil premiered on July 2, 2022 and ran until September 24, 2022 for a total of 13 episodes. You can watch all episodes only on Crunchyroll.

Warning: spoilers for Lycoris Recoil below. If you want to watch this light-hearted version of Gunslinger Girl for yourself, then stop here, and come back once the firefight is over and you’ve emerged from cover.

Lycoris Recoil: Plot Summary

One of the most misleading trailers in the history of anime.

Lycoris Recoil starts us off with a seemingly peaceful modern-day Japan. All is not as it seems, though. There’s a collapsed radio tower dominating the cityscape, and the peace is actually enforced by child assassins working for the Japanese government who are called the Lycoris (also. Anyone planning to commit terrorist attacks or sufficiently violent crimes gets a summary execution by said Lycoris, making this incarnation of Japan basically a police state.

Our main protagonist Takina Inoue is one of those Lycoris agents and is one of the best. At shooting, specifically. People skills…not so much, as evidenced by her saving a teammate’s life by shooting all of the arms dealers holding her hostage with a long burst from a captured PK machine gun. This results in Takina getting what’s more or less administrative leave, with her getting assigned to a small, out of the way café called “LycoReco”. The cafe, however, turns out to be an undercover waystation for Lycoris, taking on odd missions that Lycoris either doesn’t have time for, doesn’t care about, or won’t touch.

The one taking care of all these odd jobs is actually Lycroris’s top agent: Chisato Nishikigi. Armed with less-than-lethal “rubber” bullets and an almost supernatural ability to dodge bullets just by reading the body cues of her foes, she can tackle almost any mission you can think of. Takina is at first enamored by Chisato, before actually meeting Chisato and finding out about her pacifistic attitudes towards life. This goes against Takina’s Lycoris training to the extreme. As a result, she tries to get back into Lycoris as soon as possible.

The Melancholy of Takina Inoue

'Lycoris Recoil' anime screenshot showing Takina with an annoyed frown.
There’s a reason why Takina here looks so annoyed.

When Takina does try to get back into Lycoris though, she discovers that Lycoris has effectively dismissed her from the organization. Apparently, the head of Lycoris has turned Takina into a scapegoat for failing to actually arrest any of the arms dealers due to Takina killing them all, thus rendering them unable to recover any intel about where the arms they were selling actually were. Thus, Takina is effectively no longer a Lycoris agent, even though she still is one in name.

Realizing that she’s no longer part of the organization she’s been in all her life, Takina is despairing. Fortunately, Chisato reminds her of all the fun times they had together at LycoReco. The happiness Takina shared with Chisato allows her to get back up, and move on from Lycoris. It also starts Takina on realizing that what she feels about Chisato may be a lot more than just friendship.

The Additional Melancholy of Chisato Nishikigi

'Lycoris Recoil' anime screenshot showing Chisato with an impish look and a confident finger gun.
Taking it in stride like usual, I see.

Speaking of Chisato, though, she and Takina after that, become embroiled in a life-or-death struggle against 2 people. The first is a man named Majima. Majima is the terrorist responsible for the arms deal earlier and plans to use those arms in an act of terrorism against Japan. His target? The Enkuboku tower that is to replace the old radio tower (which Majima blew up in a previous act of terrorism).

Chisato and Takina’s second enemy turns out to be a guy named Shinji Yoshimitsu. He’s initially just a patron of LycoReco who knows Chisato. Eventually, though, it’s revealed that he works for a mysterious organization called the Alan Institute, which provides “geniuses” around the world with the money and means to get by in life in exchange for being able to use their talents. Chisato turns out to be a genius at killing, which caused the Alan Institute to give her an artificial heart so that she can use that talent. Unfortunately for them, Chisato had been so moved by the kindness of an apparently random stranger for saving her life that she vowed never to again take another life, and instead devote herself to a pacifistic ideal.

Thus, the Alan Institute and Yoshimitsu are not happy with her. He successfully sabotages Chisato’s artificial heart in an attack, and gives her a sadistic choice. Either she lets her heart’s batteries run out and die, or she kills for them to get a new artificial heart (by ripping it out of Yoshimitsu). Fortunately, Chisato doesn’t have to fight these battles on her own. After all, she has Takina by her side.

The Romance of Chisato and Takina?

'Lycoris Recoil' anime screenshot showing Chisato holding up Takina against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset in the colors of the lesbian flag.
You can’t look at that and tell me that there’s nothing going on between them.

As it turns out, Majima’s endgame isn’t just to blow up the new Enkuboku tower. He uses hidden cameras placed all over the tower to record the Lycoris agents engaging in a gun battle with his men, and then broadcasts the footage all over Japan. The result is that Lycoris’s cover is basically blown. Not only do random citizens panic and shoot at any girl they suspect to be a Lycoris agent (using guns Majima littered through the city as arms caches anyone can access), but another organization called LilyBell (made up of boy assassins as opposed to the girl assassins Lycoris is composed of) is deployed to liquidate Lycoris and dispose of all of their agents to prevent the dirty secret of their existence from getting out.

Fortunately, Chisato and Takina work together to neutralize Majima. LycoReco also works with them to cover up Lycoris’s secret (by claiming that the footage is a highly realistic PV for an upcoming film, no less) and thus call off LilyBell’s kill orders. Mike also shows up when Chisato and Takina aren’t looking. He takes out Yoshimitsu’s assistant/bodyguard, and then Yoshimitsu himself (who is heavily implied to be Mika’s ex-boyfriend). All to get that artificial heart to save Mika’s adoptive daughter: Chisato.

Chisato later wakes up with a new and working artificial heart. However, she runs off to Hawaii, likely because she realizes that Yoshimitsu must’ve died to her to have her new heart. Fortunately, Takina finds her again, and they share a beautiful reunion against a just-as-beautiful sunset. With said sunset colored in the same colors as the lesbian flag, no less. The rest of LycoReco eventually join them. Together, they make a mobile LycoReco in Hawaii, and thus ends Lycoris Recoil. At least, for now.

Lycoris Recoil: The Good

'Lycoris Recoil' anime screenshot showing the first time Chisato picked up and spun Takina around in a very yuri gesture.
If you’re a homophobe, this is not the anime you’re looking for.

The best part of Lycoris Recoil is definitely the story. It’s one of the best examples of a girls with guns story in fiction, let alone anime. The plot is more than twisted and complex enough for all you drama and thriller fans. And yet, despite that, the story never gets anywhere near grimdark territory. It manages to strike the perfect balance between dark and light themes. I’ve never seen a more perfect mix of those themes here in any other work of fiction. To put it as a metaphor: this anime is like the best dark chocolate. It’s just dark enough for the cacao fans, while having just enough sweetness in it that milk chocolate fans will love it too.

Of course, I can’t talk about the story of Lycoris Recoil without discussing the LGBTQ themes. In particular: the budding relationship between Chisato and Takina. There’s something amusing and deeply satisfying to see their hilariously mismatched personalities develop into friendship, and then to see that friendship blossom into implicit romance. The yuri between them is real. There’s even implied yaoi in the form of Mika’s relationship with Shinji Yoshimitsu. True, Mika is implied to have killed him. However, it doesn’t erase the fact that Mike is gay to begin with. Not only that, but Mika’s homosexuality is never at any point used to characterize him as a villain or even a hero. It’s just simply who he is. To me, this makes this anime one of the best LGBTQ anime series in existence.

One last thing I want to praise is the accurate depiction of guns in Lycoris Recoil. It’s not just the variety, which is a hallmark of the girls with guns genre. It’s also the ballistics. For example: the anime depicts rubber bullets as having horrible accuracy, just like in real life. Thus, Takina eschews them because they throw her aim off and wastes her good accuracy. Chisato neutralizes the poor accuracy of her rubber bullets by shooting them at contact ranges, but it’s a tactic that only works for her due to her bullet dodging. When you have accurate gun depictions being used for characterization, you know someone really did their research for this anime.

Lycoris Recoil: The Bad

'Lycoris Recoil' anime screenshot showing Majima pointing his Chiappa Rhino at the screen.
Come on. Don’t be like Majima here and hate everything.

I’m giving Lycoris Recoil a perfect score. That should already tell you how much I love this anime. Thus, there’s basically nothing I can criticize about it.

The most I’ll say is that the ending leaves a few loose ends hanging. You definitely think about it long after the anime is over. However, we just recently got news that A-1 Pictures are making a season 2. Thus, I can safely say that they’ll very likely tie up those loose ends in season 2. And who knows? Maybe we’ll even see Chisato and Takina finally kiss? It’d be a nice high point for their relationship, at the very least.

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