There are great anime, there are bad anime, and then there are okay anime. A show like Guilty Crown edges more toward the negative side, while a show like Karneval edges more toward the okay side. One great – no, fantastic anime, is Attack on Titan. The studio behind that show is Wit Studio. In fact, it was because of the Attack on Titan anime adaption that made the Attack on Titan name one of the biggest of the modern era. Wit Studio should be commended for such incredible work. Today’s anime review is on The Rolling Girls. As you can probably guess, Wit Studio is the producer behind the show. Unlike Attack on Titan, The Rolling Girls is an original piece. (In fact, it was the studio’s first anime not based on a manga.) The plot is certainly interesting. A “Great Tokyo War” has divided the country of Japan, with different groups throughout the region. Each of the main groups are led by a “Best,” a being with special power seemingly thanks to a heart-shaped object called a Moonlight Stone.
The main, heroic Best we’re introduced to is Maccha Green. The more villainous Kuniko Shigyou is her rival. As the two duke it out over the course of two episodes, the battle eventually culminates in the two being seriously injured and sent to the hospital. Maccha Green’s apprentice, Nozomi, decides to travel around Japan with her friends on motorcycles in Maccha’s Green’s place. Hence the title, “The Rolling Girls.”
There are elements of greatness in The Rolling Girls. Indeed, there are often times of genuine emotion where we want to see the girls succeed in their endeavor. But, the show doesn’t rise to true greatness, settling at being more of an okay anime missing the title of great.
The first two episodes are the best of the show. The story backdrop is interesting, as we’re introduced to two factions, the one led by Maccha Green (real name Masami Utoku) and the other group led by Kuniko. In such a short amount of time, these two characters are established as very likable and engaging. Kuniko comes off as charming – and unhinged, such as when she’s threatening to drop all of Masami’s friends from a roller coaster. Meanwhile, Masami is heroic, whose Maccha Green suit appears to homage tokusatsu characters like Kamen Rider. However, Masami is portrayed not as perfect like the original Ultraman. Rather, she deals with internal human conflict. This is evidenced when she monologues about the difficulty of being put in a position to reveal her secret identity, in order to save her friends from the roller coaster.
By the end of the second episode, both Masami and Kuniko are hospitalized. Nozomi becomes the main character, alongside Yukina, Ai, and Chiaya. Nozomi is a likable focus, because the writing shows her genuine wanting to be like her mentor and help people. Ai is probably the most interesting of the Rolling Girls, having a spunky personality. Although the running gag of her running into conflict only to be blasted away was annoying, one has to like her determined persona. She and Nozomi get into an argument late in the story, which leads to Ai breaking from the group. This was handled well and hit the viewer emotionally because of how close the group had become by that point.
Chiaya takes more of a center focus toward the climax of the show. Her character is very similar to Nai from Karneval. Unlike Nai, who came off at times as annoyingly naive, Chiaya comes off as sweet, having a genuine longing for friends. Her relationship dynamic with her mother was interesting. Perhaps the most emotionally well done part of the show was when Chiaya tells Nozomi in the final episode, “You were my Maccha Green.” Some of the visuals in this show are unique. I was taken aback by how beautiful and surreal the backgrounds of Always Comima were. The soundtrack is solid. I particularly liked the song that played during Maccha Green’s fight with Kuniko in episode two; it gave the battle an even more stylistic flare. Speaking of the action, when fight scenes do occur, they are a lot of fun. Besides Maccha’s encounters with Kuniko, one of the biggest highlights in the action department was the battle between Haru Fujiwara and Ura Kukino later in the story.
Nozomi’s group is a likable focus. Nozomi is engaging, Ai is fun, and Chiaya is sweet. Notice how I left Yukina out of that sentence? She wasn’t bad, but lacked personality. She came off as shy, and that’s it. Unlike the other characters, it was hard to gauge the type of person she is, aside from being more on the shy side. She isn’t the major problem here, however.
The problem is that Maccha Green and Kuniko are too great to sit on the sidelines.
Nozomi is fine, but there’s a reason why the show never got as good as its first two episodes. The relationship between Maccha Green and Kuniko is fascinating. Near the end of episode two, there is rushed exposition that the two actually knew each other. This didn’t have to be rushed if the show had chosen to focus on these two. Instead, the writing benches the two most interesting characters until near the end of the show. When they do come back, they’re teaming up and it’s good stuff. Nozomi’s group just weren’t capable of being as engaging in comparison.
Another big problem is the under-utilization of quality antagonists. There is no real main antagonist until near the end. She, Shima Ishizukuri, was great, but terribly under-utilized. Why did she give up in the end? The whole resolution came off as rushed. Another great character was Shutendōji, whose “Life is about killing time” shtick was interesting. But, in the end, it appeared as if he was helping the characters, thus making his character supremely confusing.
There is often too much of a comedic tone coming from the episodes. The writing could have used the fascinating background of the Great Tokyo War to deliver an engaging story in the modern day. What we do get is still okay, but it rarely rises to excellence past its first two episodes.
If the show had opted to keep Maccha Green and Kuniko as the primary focus, we could have had something truly great. If the writing really wanted Nozomi’s group to be a center focus, all it had to do was have Maccha and Kuniko fail a mission late in the show, and have Nozomi’s group continue where the two characters left off. It would be serious, but could still offer comedy in the form of the character interactions. Make no mistake though: The Rolling Girls isn’t bad. There are some notable characters that appear, like Ura. But, The Rolling Girls is also a missed opportunity for something special.