In order to take over her grandmother's Dagashi store, art student Kumi Honamanuma moved to Kyoto. She met Harami Mino, K Kusanagi, Mai Haisaka, and a dog who lives in the store, which supposed to be empty. Kumi ended up living with these girls, who claim that they are heroes reincarnated to contemporary period to chase after the demon king. Harami and others seem to live in a peaceful life with no missions to to do anymore, Ran, who was demon king in the past and appears to be an elementary school girl from failing to reincarnate, one day. The story begins with Ran requesting to collect demon king's fragments.
Simply looking at the cover of LaidBackers can give you enough of a clue to what kind of movie it is. Lighthearted comedy built around a cast of cute girls that may or may not be fighting against someone. Who're they fighting against? Is Kizuna Ai really singing the theme song? And is that Papika from Flip Flappers?! Tons and tons of questions everyone has to be asking themselves. But the only question left after completing the movie is: "Was it really worth it?"
The story of LaidBackers seems much more coherent on paper that it is in practice. Despite the premise of a group of
friends fighting against a demon-like creature being interesting enough to pique my interest, there really isn't that much of a story in the movie. It starts with a random fight sequence, follows with 40-minutes of basically nothing, and ends with another fight sequence that this time at least has a position in the story. There are bits and pieces of individual struggles and character psychology scattered throughout, but it is all on such a small scale and basic level that it never seems to go beyond the surface. Ran, a demon lord turned into a loli, says a lot of stuff about wanting to change. But it never feels genuine enough because she always talks in the same monotone throughout the whole movie. There's not even a hunch of emotion in the way she comments on her mistakes, so where is our emotion supposed to come from?
Granted, a lot of these rushed things can be blamed on the length of the movie, which is only about 60 minutes with credits, but still, it seems to me like the creators don't really know how to get their ideas into the watcher's head. Maybe focusing a bit more on Ran rather than some of the other characters would be enough to do that, and I would personally approve of it because there are at least 2 characters that should not even be in this movie, let alone be given any significant time.
Have you seen a moe show before? Good, you've seen these characters before. There's really nothing going on for this group of 5 girls as individuals, besides the idol character who's potential dilemma could be exploited well given more time to work with and Ran, the devil who got turned into a loli. That said, the characters work together well enough so that their encounters are fun and pleasant to watch. How much of that falls onto the back of Harami, who really is just Papika from Flip Flappers pulling out a Wreck it Ralph move, is a question in itself, as her energy and overall positiveness carry a lot of moments that would otherwise be quite dull. There are 2 other characters, Kumi and K, that really add almost nothing of value to the movie, and I'd rather see them cut entirely. But K presents some yaoi manga jokes so hahaha everything's forgotten I guess. Also, the dog character. Jesus, just never speak of her again.
Given its presentation, one probably wouldn't expect that this series also tries to present and work with a deeper message. Well, deeper, it's not like this movie will make you think about something for more than 5 minutes, or in my case, for more than the hour I'm writing this review, but I certainly find it an interesting topic to talk about, despite the end result being as shallow as it is.
The message and concept the movie is built around is that people can change with time and everyone deserves a second chance. Which is not a problem in itself per se, the problem here is how it executes this message. Namely, how "in ya face" it delivers it. We're constantly reminded every 3 minutes that the dog character hates Ran because of the thing she was in the past. The same kind of dialogue comes back so many times over and over as if that was supposed to make the message more powerful or whatever. Meanwhile, we never get to see how Ran really changed her ways from being a cruel demon, it just happened along with her transforming into a loli and that's it. I fail to find the subtlety in all this, and so an interesting, albeit overused, concept ends up being quite simply undeveloped, despite being the only part of the movie that had enough time to work well.
The animation of this movie is not something that would leave me in awe. It is certainly better than your average TV series, but we need to remember that the production process is quite different for movies and our standards should be set higher. Considering this, I came to the conclusion that the visuals of LaidBackers are simply very average at best. The character designs bring nothing new to the table whatsoever. The animation itself is fluid and consistent, even during some of the action shots, but the background work for example to me seems like it was totally half-assed. The movie also presents a bit of CGI in some of the battles, to which I just say meh (just like to every CGI except for one show). The only comment I'd like to make about the sound part is that they should've muted the screaming. It honestly damaged my ears.
But despite all the complaining, I don't want to make it seem I was struggling through the entire movie, because I was not. In fact, if I wasn't watching it at 8 AM at a convention hall with horrible sound quality and people interrupting the experience on a minute basis, I'd say I even enjoyed the experience. That said, there's very little, if anything at all, this movie does on an above average level. The only thing it has going for it is that it picked a funny concept and characters to build the movie around.
That does save LaidBackers from the abyss of anime production, but at the same time, it alone cannot save it from being just another mediocre movie out there that will be forgotten by everyone a week after they've seen it.
You know, there's an argument to be made that being forgettable is worse than being bad. I think there's some truth to that.