"Rambling, Failing, Scrounging Girls. For others. For themselves. Even if they're destined to be a 'mess'"
What a fucking waste of time this was.
No… really. That’s how I felt once I finished the final episode. It’s always the promising ones that getcha feeling like this. They have an interesting concept, a number of factors of high quality and promise, but then they squander it in ways that surprise. Initially you’re perturbed and all: “Huh, I’m not sure about this, but maybe something will come from it.” Then those shows end their runs and you’re left in a state of confusion about what happened and how to think/feel about it. When you finally come to your conclusion, you are left in a state of anger and disappointment that the show you just watched could’ve been SO much more. Such is the case with Rolling Girls.
So in the near future, Japan went through a particularly nasty little war, splitting the country into a diverse set of city-states. To keep the peace and resolve any and all disputes, super powered city-state representatives known as the Best take charge against any and all matters, especially between one another given an also ever-present tension between various gangs, sects, classes, etc. However, Rolling Girls is not about the Best, but the Rest, who keep the peace (or attempt to at the very least) in their city-states while the Best do their job. When a particular Best named Maccha Green is seriously injured, a Rest (and childhood friend) named Nozomi discovers how the tokusatsu heroine travels the former Japan taking requests to resolve any and all conflicts. Inspired by this, Nozomi rides off on her motorcycle to take up what Maccha Green is not able to do, joined by three others: the quiet Yukina, the brusque Ai, and the mysterious Chiaya.
By the time the plot gets rolling (hur hur), the series had everything going for it. Wit Studio did an incredible job building such a vibrant, anarchic, world. To see each city-state, their eccentric cultures and larger-than-life characters come to life was a sight to behold. When bolstered by a vibrant visual and audio style, it becomes even moreso, especially when the Best unleash their powers in battles awash with frenetic radiance. While boilerplate, the main cast had their own unique charm and were filled with possibilities. Nozomi, Yukina, Ai, and Chiaya all clashed and complemented one another in their own unique ways and seeing them work together helped to augur the chance that this rag-tag Rest would eventually become the Best.
Unfortunately, Rolling Girls emphasized the part of the word ‘bildungsroman’ that smells like a whole lot of shit. What stank? The entire execution of the series from episode 2 onwards, and the main quartet became bit parts in their own story. The anime was so in love with its own world that whenever the girls roll (again hur-hur) into the next city-state, the focus would instead be on the local characters and whatever daddy issues/broken friendships/etc they had. The girls are then moved to a mostly redundant status once they’ve confronted the parties about their problems. When the stakes are raised, they become even more useless, as the larger-than-life Bests undergo markedly well-animated climaxes that provide the denouement for their region’s problems.
Our heroine Rest however? Apart from growing together as friends they remained markedly stagnant in moving up a tier and coming into their own. They were frozen within their own social strata as Rest, never to become Best. The only exception to this was Ai, who by and large was open in her expression to get stronger and be useful. Unfortunately, by the time an event that allowed her to try such happened it was the end of the anime, making it hurt even more. It’s as if they were operating under the mentality that coloured the kids from the mid-2000s Transformers anime (Armada, Energon, Cybertron). There’s a whole lot of “We gotta do something!” about them, but they never really do much. One great example was when, in the middle of the night, the quartet willingly expressed they must do something with regards to a particular heart-shaped gem (a painfully awful MacGuffin that doesn’t mean much since it’s eventually discovered the power was in all of us this whole time). Within a few seconds, they’re asleep at the same spot they made that declaration, and the episode’s antagonist was successfully able to do whatever she needed to do at their location.
I would probably forgive the mistakes of such youth, if I didn’t feel like every episode wasted its time. These conflicts being talked take about at least two episodes. There’s soooooo much build up and faffing about in each two-episode arc that when the climax finally comes it’s not at all magical. At the moment when I am supposed to say “WOW!” the statement is moreso an irate “Finally…” Had the episodes been more brisk in its pacing and thus cram more manic plot into a half-hour then it could have worked. Instead I’m bored out of my skull wondering when the show would move forward. When it did, I was back to Square One again while the show gazed like Narcissus into the well-animated pond.
Rolling Girls’s vain love for itself was so intense that eventually instead of focusing on what mattered, the growth of four young ladies in a crazy world, it refused to end in a satisfying manner, drowning itself in its own excess. Even then, the pool revealed itself to be ultimately shallow. Built-up revelations ultimately meant nothing, the main cast was pushed to the side when the Best from the first two episodes return, and ultimately in the end all are (once again) back to Square One. Nozomi, Yukina, Ai, and Chiaya still remain as Rest, and the final ending where they’re shown to continue developing does not compensate for the time wasted on supporting characters instead of those girls.
By and large, Rolling Girls is a road trip that’s only worth one way. Coast through those twelve episodes best you can. Admire the locales, have an occasional laugh with the protagonists, but don’t expect to get to know them or expect the rest of its world to care. If you find anything kooky or wacky, like moon-shaped gemstones or squid aliens, don’t pay much attention because they don’t mean anything when it comes to the end.