First Impressions – Akame ga Kill!

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There was certainly no easing into things here.

Of all the series that didn’t edge their way into the Season Preview, this one and Tokyo ESP were probably the last cuts.  Akame ga Kill is one of those series that looks like a pretty formulaic LN adaptation when you read the synopsis, but there were a few hints that it might be at least a little surprising.  It’s not a LN adaptation for starters, it’s a manga, and the series is produced by White Fox – a studio that doesn’t doesn’t have an impressive volume of material but makes up for that because what they do tends to be very good.  They also have a reputation (well-deserved, as any Jormungand fan could tell you) for adapting source material very faithfully, even tricky series like Steins;Gate.  We also have a director in Kobayashi Tomoki who’s worked on some very good shows, including directing one of the most underrated series of the 2000s in Sola.

There are a few things that stand out in Akame ga Kill, a solid premiere that is indeed full of surprises.  Most obviously that it’s a very good-looking production with excellent music from industry stalwart Iwasaki Taku – no surprises there, as White Fox is reliable when it comes to production values.  That ties into the other aspect of the series that really stands out, which is contrast.  In that I mean the look of the series and character designs (bright and cheerful) belie the sometimes shockingly graphic violence.  It’s not just the look, though – Akame ga Kill is a strange blend of silly comedy and depravity, sometimes in the same scene.  This sort of tonal contrast seems to be something of a trend in anime this year, and Akame ga Kill certainly puts its own spin on it.

The end result is a rather heady and breathless thrill ride, leaving you unsure of just what sort of series it is you’re watching.  The tale of Tatsumi (Saito Soma, a relative newbie on the brink of splashing with lead roles in two of this season’s most high-profile shows) could hardly be more classic shounen fantasy – a boy from a small village who’s off to the capital to make enough money to save his village.  While this is hardly contemporary or specific to anime or Japanese fiction in general, there’s a definite measure of social commentary here given the current situation in Japan – young people fleeing the rural areas in droves to seek their fortune in Tokyo, only to find it far different than they expect.  Despite a warning along the way from a couple of cart drivers he’s saved from an earth dragon (showing surprisingly good sword skills in the process) Tatsumi is promptly fleeced out of his bankroll by a busty blond promising to get him into a military that has far too many applicants thanks to the recession, leaving him to sleep rough.

So far things seem pretty standard, and no less so when Tatsumi is taken in by a kindly ojou-sama named Aria (Satou Kanami).  Her parents seem nice too, and her father (Yamagishi Haruo) even promises to pull some strings to get Tatsumi into the military after all.  But this is when the “switch” part of the bait-and-switch kicks in.  The house is attacked in the night, both parents and their guards brutally slain, and Aria flees with another as Tatsumi watches from a window, horrified.  The assailants are the wanted gang “Night Raid” led by Akame (Amamiya Sora, also about to splash big-time and showing impressive range and depth in the process).  Naturally Tatsuki springs to Aria’s defense despite believing he’s about to be killed, but Akame and her colleague Leone (Asakawa Yuu) – who we recognize immediately but Tatsumi doesn’t – show him a shocking secret.  The storehouse is full “hicks” like himself, lured in by Aria and then tortured and killed.  As if that weren’t enough, the two children who left the village with Tatsumi are among them – although Ieyasu (Takahashi Kouji) hangs on long enough to tell Tatsuki what happened to their friend.  And just for dessert, Tatsumi ends up slaying Aria with his own sword.

What’s really interesting here is that the goofy humor stays in place right up until the start of this bloodbath, and picks up immediately after as if nothing had happened – in fact, it’s even present during.  If Brynhildr was a comedy trying to look serious and Gaworare a serious show trying to look like a comedy, I haven’t got a handle on just what Akame ga Kill is yet.  If you’re looking for a cookie-cutter show, Akame ga Kill clearly isn’t it – and that’s a plus in my book.  I like the political angle here, with a child emperor supposedly being controlled by an evil prime minister and a bunch of fighters for justice who act an awful lot like terrorists – there could be some interesting moral ambiguities in that.  I also like that the main cast of full of bright young talent on the verge rather than the usual suspects.  One thing that sets off alarm bells for me is Aria’s family – unless there’s more here than we’ve been told it seems as if they’re so spectacularly evil mainly for plot purposes, and for that reason I’m feeling unsure whether there’s going to be believable nuance in the story, or simply good people acting good and evil people acting evil just because.  Still, there’s more than enough of interest in the premise and the series is well-executed enough to keep me around for a while at the very least.

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  1. D

    So, this is the next Brynhildr, huh?

    Hey, does Night Raid have any special resonance or meaning in Japan beyond the obvious? It's popped up in a few anime/manga titles (often in English) by now.

  2. Not as far as I'm aware, no.

  3. w

    Word of warning, Akame ga Kill loves its comical villains. You won find anything resembling depth or subtlety in the way it handles that part of the story. They trend towards being sadists, rapists without reason beyond "I like doing it". The author is big into using sexual violence to distinguish between villains and heroes as well. Oh, and the politics are pretty much non-existent. If you can get past that, it's quite fun as a dark, trashy action series. But if you can't, well you've been warned…

  4. H

    This is why we can't have nice things!

    I don't think there's any unique sensibility to this show, it's just tone-deaf. They never once spare a thought of burying his dead friends or burning the storehouse down (in all it's rotten nature) completely. He just got whisked off to the next scene. From whemleh's description it sounds like the writer is disturbed.

    I think there is frustratingly great potential on paper (emphasis on frustrating), but White Fox, Mangaka and anyone else involved have gone about horridly IMO. Send in Kentaro Miura or Hiroshi Watanabe to show 'em how it's done.

  5. w

    Well I wouldn't say 'disturbed', I just think that's the kind of series it is. Dark, violent and with easy to hate villains. It's a action series foremost, with its main aim being to entertain. And it usually succeeds, despite my unflattering description above.

  6. H

    My tastes are possibly too old fashioned to appreciate this style of schlock. I imagine it caters more to the angsty/edgy teen crowd or younger fans to the medium in general.

  7. Also, Leone specifically says they'll collect the bodies of Tatsumi's friends for burial.

  8. H

    So they did! Doesn't sound very earnest though… The friend could be dangling there for a whole season for all we know. Jumping into gag mode seemed pretty cold. :(

    Another taste thing, but I feel hard done by when the cast consists mostly of waify characters carrying large scale weapons. But such is anime! I will wait in the inn for the horrors to end.

  9. H
  10. G

    I was amazed at how quickly he dispatched Aria without the slightest hesitation.

  11. m

    No they bury the friends, and they are a significant enough part of Tatsumi's development. He visits their graves often. I don't think that's a very big spoiler, but if it is delete this post.

  12. m

    The writer isn't disturbed he just makes his evil characters clearly evil. I don't think it's a "angsty/edgy teen crowd" that it was made for either. I'm neither and I still find it entertaining. It's one of those shows, like Brynhildr, where you have to accept that stuff is going to be over the top. Over the top fights, excessive violence for no real reason (other than being evil), over the top powers and weapons, and over the top comedy. It's not taking the serious stuff too seriously yet manages to get you to care about the characters. Which is another way in which it is like Brynhildr.
    I usually hate this type of over the top violence and characters that rape, murder, abuse, and all that stuff for no reason other than being evil too. Especially when the evil is so over the top, but it works for me in Akame ga kill, like it did in brynhildr, because of the comedy. AoT, Elfen Leid, and shows like that I'm not a big fan of. When you're too serious aand everyone is way too evil, or if the comedy isn't working, then I find it boring and unrealistic. But when the comedy is good the over the top evil and gore can be funny or just works as a contrast as Enzo was saying.

  13. H

    Part of the problem is I don't think the comedy this episode was that good at all, and certainly didn't tie into everything else going on before or after. I think it shows a distinct lack of self-awareness in that regard. Not crazy on the cast so far either.

  14. M

    I was disappointed with this show at first simply because I didn't expect it to be like this,with the way some fans were talking about how dark it is. Not so much an issue once you know what you're getting yourself into though. What remains,of course,is to see if Akami ga Kill's attempt's at comedy be a welcome addition or an annoying aspect. For this episode,I didn't find it too good either but maybe that's just because I(as well as others here) were expecting this show to take itself seriously and were caught by surprise. Now that I know what to expect,I'll be content enough if it'll be as entertaining as Brynhildr was or even less.

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