Essentially a shoujo anime in short story form, The Girl Who Loved Shonen Knife by Carrie Vaughn is an over the top yarn about two rival high school girl bands, hackers who have depleted the coffers of the banks in the city (presumably, Tokyo) and a mystery that’s as intriguing as a Scooby Doo episode.
Don’t know what a “shoujo anime” is? Me either, until I looked it up in order to write this review. “Shoujo” is anime or manga aimed at young girls or containing themes that appeal to said audience. Considering this story is part of Hanzai Japan, an anthology of futuristic crime stories about Japan, it is more of an adult homage to “high school shoujo” and it may be better appreciated by fans of the genre. I am not one of them so other than being amused by the goofiness of it all (one of the bands is called Lizard Blood, “a Lolita death metal band” whose members, instead of playing their instruments, “use synthesizers plugged into programmable neuromuscular implants”) I didn’t find much to enjoy.
The protagonist –and leader of Flying Jelly Attack, a Shonen Knife cover band– hates Lizard Blood’s leader, the rich brat Yuki Niamori with her “poofed-out skirts” and “little derby hat the size of an apple.” She also has a slight crush on a mysterious new student (called “New Guy” for most of the story) until he reveals he’s anything but: New Guy is conducting an undercover investigation into the bass player of Flying Jelly Attack, who’s suspected of being the hacker that has crippled the city. Never mind that New Guy doesn’t identify himself by his real name up until the very end of the story – and yet the girls are willing to play along and let him keep spying on them.
While the two bands compete to be picked to play at the high school spring dance, the protagonist describes the turmoil in the city, as hackers shut down water services and “[p]eople fled, and the streets and trains out of the city became impassable.” Keeping with the campy spirit of the story, the mystery of the hacker’s identity is revealed during the audition to decide which band will play at the school dance. One of the characters dishes out a tedious explanation about the “military-grade firewalls” used by the hacker and then, if it wasn’t clear enough, the protagonist repeats it almost verbatim a few paragraphs later.
The revelation is as arbitrary as anticlimactic. Maybe this would have worked better as a manga or an actual anime, where the paper-thin plot and the plodding mystery could better take a backseat to the flashy dresses and assorted pyrotechnics.