Suicide Squad Isekai Premiere Review

First Three Episodes of Suicide Squad Isekai Now Available on Hulu and Max

If there’s a uniting factor behind the two live-action Suicide Squad movies released as part of the now-defunct DCEU (besides the ebullient presence of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn; good luck topping that, Gaga!), it’s the idea of outré DC bad guys as a Hot Topic-friendly fashion statement. That’s not a knock; even for a bunch of superhero-type characters, the best-known Suicide Squad characters cut memorable, iconic figures. Their bad-guys-gone-good-ish storyline rides the line between scary contemporary Batman-villain menace and goofy Silver Age dress-up, so it makes sense to port their bold, graphic, darkly whimsical sensibilities into anime. The first three episodes of Suicide Squad Isekai, a new Japanese-made animated series streaming on Hulu and Max this summer, land somewhere between the dopiness of 2016’s Suicide Squad and the weirdly heartfelt gonzo action-comedy of its 2021 follow-up. But it understands that a Suicide Squad project should always be visually engaging.

Suicide Squad Isekai Lineup

The show doesn’t have any formal connection to those movies – in this telling, the main characters are all being conscripted for the first time – but its lineup seems influenced by them: Harley Quinn (Anna Nagase), Deadshot (Reigo Yamaguchi), Peacemaker (Takehito Koyasu), King Shark (Subaru Kimura), and Clayface (Jun Fukuyama) are the initial fivesome that form Isekai’s all-star antihero team. (Clayface is the only member not heavily featured in the live-action films.) The show also appears to quote the first film’s memorably stupid “like some kind of suicide squad” line, presumably with a wink.

Fantasy Adventure with a Suicide Squad Twist

This mission goes further afield from the movies’ approximation of grit. The title’s “Isekai” refers to a particular subgenre of anime where characters visit an alternate world via a portal, here opened by Suicide Squad boss Amanda Waller (Kujira). So while the first episode does feature some Harley-and-Joker antics, it’s mostly about zapping the newly formed Squad into a fantastical kingdom of floating castles, besieged royalty, and beastly warriors. Newcomers to the subgenre need not worry; Clayface, leaning into his wannabe-actor smarminess (he’s hilariously characterized via on-screen text as an “unpopular movie star”), is familiar with isekai and its conventions, providing Abed-from-Community-style commentary about how the story is supposed to go.

Thoughts on the Show

As usual, the reasons for this adventure eventually involve another Suicide Squad; Waller’s managerial strategy tends to rely heavily on sending Suicide Squad after Suicide Squad to deal with possibly unsolvable problems. The show has a different and more surprising problem: an occasional lack of urgency in the first three episodes, particularly the second and third. There’s a ticking clock on the group’s muddled mission, compounded by how their handlers are dispatched before they can give them more information. Yet there’s a fair amount of repetitive time-killing where the Squad is captured or jailed and then fights their way out through different groups of henchmen.

Those fights are admittedly a lot of fun, with everyone’s skills mysteriously enhanced or modified by their new environment. This, too, takes the characters much longer to figure out than the audience. The colorful, fluid animation provides yet another reminder of how well this medium can capture the essential weirdness of comic-book storytelling. Where the show falls short is the isekai material; the new fantasy characters have some trouble competing with the likes of Harley and Peacemaker, in terms of both visuals and attitude. Still, as a series of endearing and well-composed splash panels (plus, during the credits of one episode, a goofy music video), this show is worthwhile for DC fans waiting for the next big reboot.