In Netflix's "Scissor Seven," Slacker Comedy meets Shōnen Action
Between American children's series still enjoyable for adults (She-Ra, The Dragon Prince,) and more hard-edged, adult-oriented imports from Japan like Beastars or Yasuke, Netflix has slowly but surely been making a name for itself in funding and distributing original animation from all over the world. Amidst their dense, worthwhile roster of anime and anime-adjacent series, an entry from China called Scissor Seven is slowly and quietly demonstrating mastery of an evergreen genre: the action-comedy. Created by Xiaofeng He and a miniscule production team, Scissor Seven was the first Donghua (Chinese anime) to receive Netflix Original distribution. Despite this remarkable achievement and two seasons under its belt (with a third arriving this October,) a frustratingly slim number of American anime fans have even heard of Scissor Seven, let alone seen it. Anime series are often relatively niche, especially ones tied to a single streaming service, but even by these standards Seven deserves a larger fan base overseas. To call Scissor Seven a diamond in the rough wouldn’t feel correct — from its first episode onward the series is fully formed, relentlessly funny and boldly confident, filled with enough action, humor and charm to rival some of animation’s current heavy hitters.
The premise of Scissor Seven is both ridiculous and simple. A barber, referring to himself as Seven, decides to become a hired killer. He’s forgotten everything, including his real name, and as such his partner and manager Dai Bo suggests he make enough money as an assassin to afford memory reconstruction in the neighboring, high-tech country of Stan. Dai Bo just happens to be a talking blue chicken, who chain smokes cigars, wears sunglasses, and speaks in a smoker’s raspy whisper. Seven puts his remarkable gift for manipulating his pair of barber’s scissors with his mind (known as Qi-controlled scissors) to use in trying to become a killer. Along the way, he is aided by Dai Bo’s eggs, which can turn him into anything he wishes, and a baby flying chicken who hoists Seven out of danger by yanking him into the air by his waistband. As he bungles one contract after another, Seven often finds himself quite literally flying by the seat of his pants. A hitman with amnesia, determined to recover his memories, is old hat for any action story. Said hitman being a barber, in business with a talking blue chicken, is decidedly not.
Over and over again, Scissor Seven’s plot introduces familiar genre scenarios (a technological tyrant trying to take over a peaceful island, a league of ranked killers, each with special skills,) and supplements them with ridiculous characters and wry humor. Much of this humor comes from Seven himself, who embodies the kind of goodhearted slacker protagonist you’d find in a Richard Linklater film. At the end of the pilot, a robot from Stan marks Seven for death (for reasons unknown to him at the time,) and as a laser on its arm lights up to deliver the blow, Seven simply asks “Why do you turn the light on in broad daylight?” The same quizzical, warmhearted and innocent nature that makes Seven so fun to watch also makes him a disastrously ineffective killer. He doesn’t manage to complete a single asssassination contract throughout the show’s first season (a good thing, too, since most of them turn out to be nothing more than small-town grudges between the loveable denizens of his small island home.) However, this charismatically uncharismatic Seven is only one side of the coin. As the series progresses, it becomes clear that Seven’s life before he lost his memories was drastically different. He was a killer back then, too, with long anime hair and a gloomy demeanor, worlds apart from his current incarnation. The conflict between the old Seven and his new, cheerful self, is one of the series’ most low-key emotional throughlines.
As figures from Seven’s past and the assassin’s world continue to reappear (including the impeccably written femme fatale Thirteen,) the stakes, worldbuilding, and breadth of the series continue to grow. It’s a deft act of dramatic escalation as the plot continues, but remarkably, the show never once loses its good humor. There are plenty of series, especially in anime, which conceal their true tone until much later in their progression to shock and surprise the viewer. Neon Genesis Evangelion is the iconic example, but Hunter X Hunter and Attack on Titan are both action shows which delight in near-constant reevaluation and restructuring of their premises and themes. What happens in Scissor Seven is less a shift in tone and more a shift in scope. The lore may expand, and the action may increase, but the series never removes its tongue from its cheek. The characters remain amusing, gaining backstories and motivations which add pathos without dourness. Characters are fleshed out in ways sometimes funny and sometimes tragic (such as a standout episode which reveals Thirteen’s backstory,) while always remaining delightful to watch. Scissor Seven’s plot and world are well-conceived but not particularly original. But He’s aim is not to reinvent the wheel. Instead, He and his writers use their knowledge of genre tropes to amuse and surprise the audience through character comedy. It’s the plot of a series like Demon Slayer, happening to a group of characters who wouldn’t be out-of-place in Regular Show. The budding romance between Seven and Thirteen is incredibly obvious and at-times cringe inducing, but more often than not it’s genuinely funny, and a little bit sweet.
So that’s the comedy part covered — what about the action? It is, in a word, outstanding. The series’ animation emphasizes an almost chalk-drawn style, with thick and inky black lines around the characters and plenty of over-the-top facial expressions and physical motions. The minute an action sequence begins, this purposely hand-drawn, low-budget feel immediately dissipates. The focus becomes razor sharp, and He and his animators deliver fluidly drawn, cleverly boarded action, able to easily stand up to most hot action anime on the market in terms of wow factor. A short duel between notorious pirate Captain Jack and the Seven of the past is an early-season highlight, but even that pales in comparison to the finale’s last moments, which unveil one of the coolest weapons ever wielded by an anime protagonist. Every single action sequence, in both seasons, is well-thought out, drawn and choreographed. Each and every frame is purposeful, visceral, cool or funny, and all of it set to a soundtrack filled with catchy earworms and stand-up-and-cheer electric guitar. Scissor Seven’s action delivers the heart pounding wow factor which helped Demon Slayer’s Mugen Train film shatter box office records in 2020. These sequences show us that we’re not just watching a cool fight - we’re watching pure visual art, delivered by canny creators at the top of their game.
Scissor Seven, like its protagonist, is still young and far from perfect. At times (especially in the first season,) its slacker-style jokes can turn a bit leery, making Seven feel less good naturedly horny and more like a genuine creep. Certain jokes definitely take things a bit too far in a gross direction. There are non-creepy jokes and plotlines that don’t always land too, though like in any work of comedy, these will be highly subjective to the viewer. However, all this pales in comparison to the amount Scissor Seven manages to get right. It’s the type of action-comedy people used to go to the theater to see: one where stepping into its world is guaranteed to deliver visceral thrills and uproarious fun. You can’t see something like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon in the theater anymore, with their fresh mix of genuinely artful action and genuinely funny comedy, but you can find something similar sitting in your Netflix library. Scissor Seven is quite popular in China, but for too many American Netflix users (especially anime fans) it appears to be going unnoticed. It is simply too fresh, funny, and confident for such a fate. Give it a chance, you’ll see what I mean.