“You fought the Best, now try the Rest!” –Rufus, Street Fighter IV
After The Great Tokyo War divides Japan into ten smaller nation states, individuals known as the Best are hired to defend each prefecture from further conflict, supported by ordinary people known as the Rest. When Rest Moritomo’s friend, Masami Utoku, becomes injured after an engagement with Kuniko Shigyo, Nozomi sets off with her new-found friends, Yukina Kosaka, Ai Hibiki and Chiaya Misono to support Masami, heading off to tour Japan and fulfill the role Masami had as a Best. Their travels bring them to unique regions of Japan, each with their own distinct culture, people and problems. Despite lacking any of the powers a Best possesses, Nozomi, Yukina, Ai and Chiaya manage to help each area in their own way, helping to resolve conflicts and unearth the mystery behind the Moonlight Stones. At its core, The Rolling Girls is a tale of perseverance and the importance of the masses: common people can, and do have considerable contributions to a society; despite being a Rest and lacking any of the combat prowess or durability of a Best, Nozomi and her friends nonetheless play a pivotal role in helping the peoples of Always Comima, Aichi, Mie, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Okayama sort out their troubles via a more face-to-face approach, using words and kindness in place of overwhelming force. Although Nozomi and her friends do not always have the easiest of times, their dedication and ordinary approaches leave a considerable impact, showing how normal folks can still do something positive: while individually weak, together, people can nonetheless achieve great things when unified. This theme is the heart and soul of The Rolling Girls, keeping the anime cohesive; as a story about travel, The Rolling Girls is packed with adventure and colour, discovery and exploration. Each episode is an awe-inspiring, and occasionally, overwhelming experience, so having a clear message that comes from each journey serves to keep The Rolling Girls focused.
Besides its central theme, a secondary theme begins manifesting in The Rolling Girls as the story progresses: in this unique world, confrontation and conflict is initially presented as the norm. The anime opens with Masami fighting Kuniko for territory and pride over something of limited value, and for their troubles, both wind up hospitalised. As Nozomi and the others travel to other parts of Japan, they see a similar story: Bests fighting one another over past grievances and perceived slights. Because they are unable to match power with force, Nozomi and the others devise different ways to help out, and these seemingly trivial actions wind up having a large impact on those they sought to help, even changing how opposite sides of a conflict view one another. Over time, even Masami and Kuniko set aside their differences to help Nozomi and the others resolve a problem in the Hiroshima-Okayama area, as Chiaya’s origins as an alien is revealed and she’s set to return home during a rare astronomical event. Throughout The Rolling Girls, Nozomi, Ai, Yukina and Chiaya enter different areas unaware of the more subtle nuances in the local history, and as such, bring a properly neutral mindset with them. Their words and actions, understandably innocent, also helps to put things in perspective.Through Nozomi and her friends’ actions, as well as their travels, it becomes clear that The Rolling Girls set out to show how despite their superficial differences in customs, beliefs and traditions, people have more in common than they are different, and that allowing trivialities to get the better of one results in conflicts that, in retrospect, appear ludicrous and petty. Fortunately, with a nudge from outsiders who have a different outlook, seemingly deep-seated problems can be approached and solved, as well.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Out of the gates, with the #AniTwitWatches crew, my immediate impression was that The Rolling Girls is incredibly busy: the first few episodes establish the basic context and showcases the fights that can happen between two rival regions. Once Masami and Kuniko finish beating the living daylights out of one another, Nozomi, having long been inspired by Masami’s role as Maccha Green, takes up her mantle, and despite lacking any power of her own, sets off with three others to help other regions sort out their problems, each with their own reasons for coming along.
- From left to right, the Rolling Girls consist of Yukina (Rina Hidaka), Ai (Risa Taneda), Chiaya (Yumiri Hanamori) and Nozomi (Ari Ozawa). These are all familiar voice actresses: Hidaka played Kantai Collection‘s Kisaragi and a few other ships, Sword Art Online‘s Silica and Ano Natsu De Matteru‘s Rinon, Taneda is Rize Tedeza of GochiUsa and Aya Komichi of Kiniro Mosaic, Hanamori is Yuru Camp‘s very own Nadeshiko Kagamihara, and Ozawa plays Yuno from YUNO, as well as Endro!‘s Fai Fai and Wakaba Kohashi from Wakaba Girl.
- The page quote is sourced from Street Fighter IV, or more appropriately, a variation of Rufus’ pre-fight line: having seen what Bests are capable of, it seems inconceivable that individuals who routinely get blown away like ragdolls whenever Bests fight have any chance to make a difference. However, this is precisely what The Rolling Girls is about: the girls’ journey takes them to a curiously named place called Always Komima, where they help a Best named Thunderroad to find her Moonlight Stone and settle a matter involving a terror group, which turns out to have been a fabrication to try and keep everyone together.
- While away from home, the background artwork in The Rolling Girls takes on a fantasy-like tone, sacrificing the normally smooth lines and bold colours for a watercolour-like feel. This effect is deliberate, to create the sense that every region has its own unique culture and elements. To be truthful, The Rolling Girls has enough regions and subplots that I wouldn’t be able to realistically describe and discuss everything in a single post, so I’ve elected to discuss The Rolling Girls at a higher level.
- The title, “The Rolling Girls“, is probably a play on The Rolling Stones, an immensely famous British rock band and the idea that Nozomi and her friends are always on the move, rolling, so to speak. While not musicians per se, Nozomi, Ai, Yukina and Chiaya do sing while on the road and are fans of music. Their journey is usually spaced over the course of two episodes: the first half has the girls arriving in town and gaining a measure of the situation, and then contribute to a solution of some sort in the second.
- This results in a highly clean and consistent experience for viewers; the variety of places in The Rolling Girls is great, and moving from place to place, the anime does remind me of Kino’s Journey. Whereas Kino typically just experiences a place in Kino’s Journey, Nozomi and the others actively intervene in whatever way they can to help out in The Rolling Girls. In Aichi and Mie, Ai reacts in shock when a girl steals her noodles and begins wolfing them down. It turns out this is Himeko Uotora, the daughter of a shachihoko craftsman who aspires to be as great as her father.
- Mie and Aichi are afflicted by a rivalry between two factions, and ultimately, this is resolved with a race. During this time, the Rolling Girls also end up helping Himeko rediscover her reason for wanting to continue the family business, as well as for racer Tomoki Suzuka to pick up racing again. My peers in the #AniTwitWatches counted this to be one of the strongest arcs of The Rolling Girls, as it conveyed a particularly moving story of self discovery. For me, it marked one of the best examples of how a Rest can solve a problem: while it is possible to have simply pasted both sides into the ground with force, the girls’ helping Himeko would actually turn out to be more effective in resolving an old rivalry.
- By the events of Kyoto, I’d become accustomed to the way The Rolling Girls worked, and was looking forwards to the episodes we were watching: when the girls reach Kyoto, they are treated to a rock concert of gargantuan scale. The vocal music in The Rolling Girls is excellent, and the series makes extensive use of the electric guitar to create a very energetic, youthful sound. The incidental music of the soundtrack is a bit more subtle, often overshadowed by the vocal songs, but are still excellent in their own right.
- Kyoto has the team work out a conflict between two former friends, Misa Ichijō and Mamechiyo. A misunderstanding had caused a rift between the two, and in the present day, the two are not on speaking terms. Things are further complicated by a fracture between members of a band in the area, as well as a third party whose leader, Shutendōji, seeks to do naught more than kill time. While seemingly antagonistic, it turns out that Shutendōji’s desire to kill time is simply another way of saying keeping things interesting: he is neutral, hardly interested in the conflicts, and merely seeks to do whatever it takes to prevent life from being too dull.
- In the end, Nozomi and her crew help Mamechiyo recover one of the Moonlight Stones, during which Mamechiyo’s mother ends up revealing that Misa had never intended to leave her. While Mamechiyo and Misa ultimately reconcile and resolve their differences on their own, had Nozomi and her team been absent, Mamechiyo would’ve likely not learnt of the truth, and a resolution would’ve either never been reached, or taken considerably longer to reach. Nozomi, Ai, Chiaya and Yukina’s actions are indirect, setting the stage for people in the various regions to solve their own problems, rather than taking the approach that Masami would have as Maccha Green.
- The whole notion of indirect action brings to mind J.R.R. Tolkien’s role for Gandalf, a Maia spirit sent to Middle Earth to assist its beings. Verboten from using their powers to directly influence events in Middle Earth, Gandalf and other Maiar were only permitted to use their wisdom and guide beings. Gandalf himself ended up giving Bilbo Baggins a light push out the door, allowing Thorin’s company to reclaim Erebor and eventually, drew forces away from Sauron’s main army. Gandalf similarly motivates Frodo Baggins to continue a Herculean task of carrying the One Ring to Mordor. Back in The Rolling Girls, in between their requests in different regions, the girls often take it easy, stopping at onsen and the beach as time allows.
- Towards the end of The Rolling Girls, Ai and Nozomi spar, prompting Ai to leave. Nozomi, Yukina and Chiaya continue on their journey into the Hiroshima area. Throughout their travels, Nozomi and the others are tailed by Kuranosuke Momiyama, Chiaya’s caretaker. He’s tasked with ensuring Chiaya’s safety and ultimately bring her back home; Kuranosuke initially seems a shifty-looking fellow, but he’s kind at heart and reveals the truth to the girls: that Chiaya is actually not from this world.
- While wandering on her own, Ai comes across a field of peach trees and is caught stealing by Momo and Haru Fujiwara, the family who runs the peach farm. She witnesses a tax collector exorting fees from the area’s residents, and it turns out that Momo’s been tired of seeing her neighbours get pushed around. She rushes off to square off against Ura Kukino, a dæmon who controls the area, but finds herself completely outmatched. Fortunately, Haru and the other soon arrive, where it is revealed that Ura was Momo’s birth mother, but circumstance pushed her to leave Momo.
- Meanwhile, Nozomi attempts to stop Kaguya Nayotake from being decimated in a fight with Shima Ishizukuri and Kishō Ōtomo, members of a shadowy faction who’ve been collecting the Moonlight Crystals and various artefacts for their own end. At this point, experience would suggest that while Shima and Kishō have some evil scheme to cause harm to the others, there is actually a more personal reason behind what they’re doing. Of course, their initial actions do everything except endearing them to the viewers. However, before Shima and Kishō can be dealt with, Nozomi brings one of Ura’s aides to the party, stopping the fighting long enough for everyone to talk things out.
- Despite wielding a Moonlight Stone, Ai is unable use the same power as a Best to get between Haru and Ura: I had spent much of the season under the impression that the Moonlight Stones were similar to the Infinity Stones, offering nearly unlimited power to its wielders. One aspect I’d forgotten to mention was that the Infinity Stones could only be wielded by those with sufficient mental and physical strength, and in The Rolling Girls, the Moonlight Stones appear to be a conduit for the individual’s will. In this way, it would seem that the Moonlight Stones manifest an individual’s will into physical power, and those with a strong enough spirit can subsequently perform feats of incredible strength and endurance. This is probably what the Bests are: people with an extraordinary will given physical form through the Stones. However, it would appear that Ai does have the beginnings of this power, as well.
- With Momo accepting both Ura and Haru as her mothers, one more problem is solved. It was here that The Rolling Girls really accentuated the idea that having Bests confronting one another head-on wouldn’t solve anything – this had been quite subtle up until now, and had Ura and Haru continued fighting, it is likely that an impasse would’ve been reached. Instead, it was through Ai’s intervention that the two gain a moment of clarity, moment enough to stand down and talk things through.
- The Rolling Girls’ finale is a thrilling spectacle as everyone works together to shut down the scheme that Shima and Kishō have been working towards. Chiaya’s origins are also put out in the open, and after twelve episodes, Haruka openly allows Chiaya to accompany Nozomi and the others, having spent much of the series behind a desk and orchestrating the acquisition of Moonlight Stones to fuel Chiaya’s return home.
- Yukina had been captured earlier, but reunites with everyone after Kuranosuke busts them out, along with Yukari Otonashi. Past differences are set aside, and Nozomi is shocked that Masami and Kuniko are not at one another’s throats. When an attacking force arrives, they take advantage of the confusion to seize a mobile suit that Shima had been secretly holding but was unsuccessful in getting fully operational. She decides to escape in the alien vessel that had brought Chiaya to Earth, but with the seal that allows her to activate the mobile suit, Kaguya is able to help Kuniko and Masami stop Shima.
- In the aftermath, negotiations and conversation, rather than death, follows. It typifies The Rolling Girls‘ ability to resolve problems through more diplomatic, peaceable means – having four Bests talking it out as the Rests would shows the sort of impact that Nozomi and her team had during their run. In the end, a resolution is reached, and everyone bands together to help get the ship back up and running such that Chiaya may return to her homeworld. It’s a tearful departure, but for Nozomi, Ai and Yukina, it was a journey that ended up being well worth it.
- Altogether, The Rolling Girls far exceeded my expectations going in – I am happy to give this series a well-deserved A (4.0 of 4.0, or 9.0 of 10) owing to how well everything comes together despite initially giving off a sense of incoherence. I believe a year ago, I came out of Yurikuma Arashi with a similar outcome, being impressed with what the show did well. This is a recurring trend for me, and the lesson here is reiterated: an open mind allows one to experience things that they would’ve otherwise missed. This is why I’m such a proponent of positivity and fair expectations: life is too short to be spent perpetually criticising and tearing down everything that’s outside the scope of one’s interests. My Terrible Anime Challenge series is, in part, about broadening my horizons, and it seems that #AniTwitWatches has a similarly positive effect. Of course, the latter is on a schedule, so my participation is dependent on whether or not I can accommodate it.
I picked up The Rolling Girls as a part of Jon Spencer Reviews’ #AniTwitWatches programme, and while the anime appeared to be very busy and even incoherent in the beginning, as Nozomi takes on the task of travelling around Japan and doing what Masami was doing as Maccha Green in her stead, it became clear that The Rolling Girls was really about the importance of not underestimating the rest; historically, society remembers its heroes, but lesser figures are lost to history even when their contributions directly allowed the heroes to triumph. Neil Armstrong’s historic moon landing, for instance, was as much of his achievement and dedication, as it was the efforts of the hundreds of thousands of technicians, scientists, engineers and support staff. In this way, The Rolling Girls celebrates what it means to be a Rest and how even the unremarkable can have an important role to play. Consequently, The Rolling Girls proved itself to be far more enjoyable than I’d expected: together with a healthy comedic component, a highly unique art style and a compelling collection of music, The Rolling Girls was a thrilling and heart-warming experience, whose seemingly frivolous setup and wild world belies highly meaningful and worthwhile themes. For me, while the first few episodes were chaotic and unfocused, the series doesn’t really kick into high gear until Nozomi and her friends set out on their bikes to tour Japan; folks who are able to push through the first three episodes will find a much more engaging series that was well worth it: The Rolling Girls is ultimately a series about how kindness leaves a more powerful impression than force, and that people are more similar than they are different. In these trying times, I believe that this is a message more of us would benefit in seeing.