Toy commercials. An integral enterprise of anime almost as old as the medium itself. And the increasing breadth of audiences means it's not just kids in the Sunday-morning toy tie-in set that get plastic gewgaws hawked at them, no. Nerds across all ages and demographics can find some sort of collectible line wanting for context to glom onto. Such is the station of Assault Lily Bouquet, showing off the line of dolls – excuse me, action figures – for a TV anime audience. It's a format that works great for other action-oriented merchandising properties, so the already long-running line of cute girls with interchangeable outfits and weapons could make for a plenty entertaining production in capable hands. And thus far I feel like there are signs that these hands are capable, but they perhaps aren't giving it their all yet.
Assault Lily starts off strong but simple with its first episode. We meet our main character Riri and get a basic idea of what a ‘Lily’ is, what they do, and why she wants to be one, followed by the the rest of the toyline blowing past us in a barrage of various hair colors, and there's a cool monster fight in the latter half of the episode. There's not much to it, but there really doesn't need to be, the show just needs to get our attention. Apart from showing off the designs of the characters and transforming weapons, the episode also throws in just enough visual quirks to remind us that this shameless corporate cash-in is indeed the work of oftentimes arthouse studio SHAFT, as well as the kind of strong combat choreography you would hope for from a series like this. Like I said, it gets our attention.
It perhaps overestimates the goodwill that it expects from us once we get to episode 2. Probably the most remarkable thing about that episode is just how little actually happens in it. I'm used to anime episodes coming off the premiere to slow down and get to explaining things, but while I don't mind the general lack of action (save for one short, oddly-choreographed sequence) in Assault Lily's second episode, I do take issue with them explaining almost as little as in the first, which breezed past everything to get to the swordfights. There's no expansion on what the enemies (hilariously named ‘The Huge’) actually are or where Lilies arose from or even how they actually work in fighting them. Remarks are made reiterating the point that their weapons have magic Magie, but there's little demonstration of what that means beyond Riri looking through gun barrels to squint at runes. Heck, we're three episodes into this show now and we still haven't met a teacher or seen any of the girls attend a class at this school.
The one piece of newly-established built-up information that Episode 2 actually revolves around is the Schutzengel system, a pledge of sisterhood between schoolgirls whose subtext will be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with Maria Watches Over Us or Strawberry Panic!. In fact, while there were whiffs of it in the first episode, by its second Assault Lily has gone all-in on presenting itself as one of those Class-S Yuri-shipping schoolgirl shows, but also with swordfights. Hey, it makes sense from a marketing perspective: Why let someone stop at buying one figure when they could be motivated to buy additional ones to make them kiss? It means that the second episode's attempts at more detailed character introductions include Riri finding out that some of them take the title ‘Assault Lily’ just a bit too literally for the poor pink-haired girl.
Since it did not elaborate all that much on its storytelling concepts or worldbuilding by this point, those built-in character relationship mechanics seem to be Assault Lily's primary storytelling goal for now. Riri manages to score a Schutzengel pledge with Yuyu by the end of the second episode, and the third focuses on a trial by fire resulting in them both turning a corner. The briskness with which the show tackles that storyline underlines some of the storytelling issues that has been present from the beginning. Yuyu's trauma over her dead pledge-sister has been an obvious component of her character since her introduction in the premiere, but the actual situation around it is only properly brought up and detailed in this third episode – minutes before much of it is tidily resolved by Riri genuinely winning her over. Moreover, the mechanical aspect of the tragic backstory, that Yuyu features Huge-Hackin' Lunatic Trancer action, is barely brought up in that same episode as part of an infodump regarding ‘Rare Skills’ that all these girls have apparently had this whole time (three episodes in and they're still slinging new Proper Nouns at us; this is going to be one of those shows, isn't it?).In other words, the tone and placement make it feel like the climax here was supposed to be the culmination of the opening three episodes leading up to it, but instead comes off like a rushed wrapping of story elements that were just barely dropped in our lap.
And that leads to my biggest overall issue with Assault Lily so far: how disconnected the episodes feel from each other week to week. I already mentioned how the second just kind of reiterates on the first's worldbuilding details with little further explanation, but it also features disjunctures like Yuyu insisting she works alone even though she was totally fine taking newbies Riri and Kaede along on her mission in the first episode. Similarly, Moyu makes a big deal in the second episode about how it wouldn't be right for her to detail Yuyu's trauma to Riri and friends, only to spill the beans with little fanfare an episode later. I can understand the desire for an anime like this to go for the feel of an action-figure play session, but I'd still hope it would come off less slapdash than this.
But that's what we've got with Assault Lily so far. It's a scattershot collection of amusing, nice-looking moments, furiously hoping to polish over and buff out the myriad bumps in a story so thin, it's no wonder we can see them easily. Don't get me wrong, it does look very nice so far, and it's hard not to be entertained by some of the characterization to the point that you identify your own favorite or two (Side note: Azone, I think Kaede's pretty funny, so how come there's no new toy of her for you to tempt me to buy? That is the whole point of this show!). But despite its efforts, it hasn't managed to get past that ‘not much to it’ feeling that was there since the first episode.
Assault Lily Bouquet is currently streaming on Funimation.