I just don’t understand why The Rolling Girls has the reputation it has, as as alluded to in this well timed post defending it. It’s not just that it’s seen as a flawed show, but as an example of a show that collapsed completely, with the promise of the first episodes not delivered by the rest of the series, even dragged out as an example of how Wit Studio always does that when e.g Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress went through its own *ahem* derailment. But I don’t see it. Having binged the entire series over the weekend I found a rather charming, fun seriocomic adventure series that actually holds together better than many more esteemed series.
But you have to understand what it’s about first. And to know that, you need to understand that subtitle: Rolling, Falling, Scrambling Girls. For others. For themselves. Even if they’re destined to be a ‘mob’. That’s the core of the series. The Rolling Girls start out as supporting characters in other people’s stories and through a series of misadventures, they don’t grow into heroes and remain supporting characters. And that’s fine. But if you don’t take it seriously and think that this is just another zero to hero type of story, you’ll be in for a disappointment. And I think that’s where a lot of the criticism of this series comes from.
To be honest, it is not difficult to get the wrong idea about The Rolling Girls from its first episode, with all its cool footage of superpowered vigilantes fighting each other. Because that’s apparantly how in a fractured, future Japan, the various warring states solve their disputes. Each “Best” is supported by their vigilante squad of “Rests” who mostly stand on the sidelines and get blown away by the intensity of the fights. Moritomo Nozomi is one of those Rests, her sister being the squad captain of the local vigilantes and not so secretly the resident Best. When she gets hurt during one fight Nozomi decides to take over, going on a tour of Japan to fulfil the requests asked of her sister, together with three other girls with their own reasons to travel.
The perfect setup for a group of four misfits to learn how to become Bests through their shared adventures discovering new countries and solving their problems, becoming close knit friends in the process. And that sort of happens. After the first two episodes set up, the next six have the four visiting Tokyo — one big year long Comiket –, Mie and Aichi — racing and deep fried shrimp — and Kyoto — rock and geishas. Each country has its own cultural tics and problems, which Nozomi and co try to solve, but they’re mostly serving as a catalyst rather than actively contributing. In fact, in a fair few episodes they’re rather useless. The final four episodes find the girls in Hiroshima, where everything comes to a head as all the various subplots brewing since the first episode come to a head. Again, most of these subplots are resolved without them or even in spite of them and in the end they’re still more or less the same people as that set out to travel.
I like that, personally, that they didn’t get to be the big heroes but in the end were arguably still supporting characters in their own series. No angst here about wanting to be the best, or boring platitudes about working hard to achieve your dream, but no learning to live within your limitations either. They may have been rests, they still ended up helping change the world.
The series isn’t perfect: the main plot is barely established before it comes crashing into the last four episodes, there are several times when characters behaved like complete idiots because the plot demands it, our protagonists are sometimes more bystander than catalyst and there are some tonal shifts in the first two episodes that were hard to swallow. But in the end, this is a series about finding a place in the world that’s too big for you to be the Best, without resigning yourself to be just a mob character, a series that revels in the fun worlds it creates, that was messy and too ambitious for its own good, but still ended up achieving much of what it set out to do. I hadn’t started watching weekly anime yet when The Rolling Girls was streamed, so I don’t know how I would’ve received it had I watched this week by week, but ultimately I think it’s much better than its reputation would lead you to believe.