Warning there will be major spoilers for Akame ga Kill ahead.
I’ve brought this up briefly in previous posts but Akame ga Kill is edgy, almost unbearably so for most people. That is its single greatest weakness, the edginess permeates the whole story and dampens the whole experience throughout the show. And for most people just having to deal with something that is so edgy all the time is enough to merit a poor rating and an easy dismissal. Luckily I’m not most people, because while the edginess is a problem, after some digging and reflection I’ve come to believe this show did a lot of things right or at bare minimum took big steps in the right direction.
Let’s begin with the basics, Akame ga Kill is an unusual spin on a very traditional story. The brave and noble rebels are fighting the corrupt empire and blah blah, oh wait, we aren’t focused on the heroes of the story as is typical, we are focused on the people doing the dirty work for both sides. This has both a positive and negative effect, on the one hand it was refreshing to look at a familiar story from a different angle, on the other it played into the rampant edginess that so hinders the series. Overall though I think this was a good idea, choosing to focus on assassins and their counterparts and targets as opposed to the traditional hero is a step forward and while it had mixed results here, I think if the same type of story was handled with more care we could see something really great. But for the most part I don’t think Akame ga Kill’s strength is its story, it’s the characters.
Ok before I dive in and really break things I down, I will admit that the overall edgy nature of the show does leave us with lots of warped, one dimensional and otherwise weak characters who inhabit the world. These are flaws, but the major characters are handled much better and in my opinion the latter outweighs the former in terms of significance. Akame ga Kill ends up butchering a sizeable portion of its cast in a relatively short period of time, and yet it also creates one of the most memorable casts to date. I can say with complete honesty I will forget the names of people in much smaller and much more alive casts without reminders like that one Salamander with the claymore from SAO (Eugene), meanwhile I can remember not only the name of every major character in Akame ga Kill I can remember the order in which they die. However they choose to do it, in this case by making everyone’s hair a different color of the rainbow, Akame ga Kill’s creators made an extremely memorable cast of a decent size. But the merits of Akame ga Kill’s major characters goes way beyond merely being memorable.
In this post here I talked about how Akame ga Kill not only makes interesting psychos, it makes a variety of different kinds of them and makes for some great analysis on that subject. I won’t be repeating what I said there and it covers four of the major characters. Likewise I mentioned in this post on anti-heroes that Akame, our titular assassin is a huge breath of fresh air and one of my favorite anti-heroes because she is centered around the idea of atonement as opposed to revenge or a fall from grace, which lends her character a level of stability, grace and maturity that more traditional anti-heroes struggle to match. I will not discuss her further in this post. But I will talk about Tatsumi because like many other aspects of the show he is a refreshing new take on the protagonist. For the most part protagonists fall under 1 of 3 broad categories, the typical shounen hero who starts out as one of weaker members of the cast before nakama powering up their way to totally outshining and over-powering everyone else, the total badass who never losses, or the weak wimpy dude who is the center of attention because he has some kind of special power. Tatsumi most closely resembles the typical shounen hero but he doesn’t quit fit the archetype to a T. He begins as the weakest of Night Raid’s members but rather than nakama power up his way to victory his performance is a bit more realistic. In the earlier episodes he’s left in bad shape and is saved by allies. Then as he trains to get stronger and gains experience he can carry his own weight in a fight and even becomes a force to be reckoned with, but I don’t think he ever outstrips Akame as the most powerful of the heroes and he certainly doesn’t outstrip Esdeath. The impression I have with Tatsumi is that he always had a lot of potential to be good but he needed experience and guidance to develop that potential or else he would have died. This shines through on the story as he takes the advice given to him by more experienced members to heart and uses their teachings later in the story. I don’t there is any one aspect of Tatsumi’s character that makes him unique or more interesting than any other hero, he doesn’t really do anything no other hero does, but I do think that Tatsumi becomes more interesting when taken in his totality. He isn’t different from other heroes because he does something different, but the sum total of everything he does and how he comes together as a character is different and it makes him a lot more interesting and believable for good measure. In this regard Tatsumi mirrors my view of Akame ga Kill at large but I’ll get into that later. For the characters are not the only strong suit of Akame ga Kill.
Even most of the people who hold a pretty dim view of Akame ga Kill will at least concede that it has good action. The fights are well directed and animated, they have a good balance between quick and brutal battle and drawn out spectacle, which is not easy to do. But while this is good on its own the two things I found most important about Akame ga Kill’s battles was the variety of weapons and the more impartial nature of the series. Variety is the spice of life and yet with distressing regularity most melee combat is dominated by either martial arts or swords. Axes and spears and other weapons get some time in the spotlight but not much compared to swords and fists. But in Akame ga Kill all weapons are fair game. Spears, swords, giant scissors, guns etc., they all have a role on the battlefield which makes the combat a lot more interesting since it always looks different. I want to give a quick shout out to Lubbock as well because he is an awesome ito (means thread or wire) user and that’s not a fighting style you see often outside of old school ninja shows. And while I’m giving shout outs I also want to celebrate Susano’o. I have seen a lot of Susano’o’s ranging from Naruto’s fiery bone giants to a punk with a pompadour in Inari Kon Kon and to date I think Akame ga Kill’s Susano’o is by far the best representation of the actual Shinto deity for which he is named. I love mythology so that matters to me. Moving back to action, one of the things that really sets Akame ga Kill apart from other shows was its willingness to mostly abandon plot armor. Outside of a few characters, in Akame ga Kill everyone has a roughly 50-50 chance of winning or losing, that may not sound like a big deal but when you look at shows like Naruto, Bleach or Fairy Tail and compare their hero body count to battle count ratio the difference makes itself pretty apparent. Akame ga Kill battles are more intense than most not just because of the fight direction or great variety in weapons and fighting styles but because our heroes die almost as often as the villains. That makes our time with the characters more precious and adds a lot of tension to the battles when we go in knowing that either side could die. It brings the combat to life in a way that the scale of the attacks or fluidity of the animation have a hard time matching and for this reason Akame ga Kill’s action is especially engaging. Ok so I’ve spent a bunch words praising this show, does it do anything wrong?
Yes it does. Setting aside the edginess and its problems, the show has a couple flaws worth noting. The transition from the manga arcs to the anime only arc, episode 19 I believe, was very jarring. I don’t think the anime only arc was bad, actually I thought it fit very nicely alongside what came before and I’m glad the creators gave us an anime only ending because they easily could have just stopped where the manga was and that would have sucked for people like me who don’t really read much manga. But actual moment of transition was done badly, the settings changed after leaving a number of loose ends unresolved and it was so sudden that they botched the transition. More importantly the show shoots itself in the foot in the strangest ways. The humor in the show is problematic. One common complaint is that the humor sprinkled throughout the show detracts from the seriousness but this show is already warped by edginess, so I actually was glad we had humor to lighten up in between scenes of gore, brutal violence and total disregard for human life. However there were two people who got stuck with wacky comedic bits that severely limited the potential of the characters. I’m talking about Bols and Akame. Bols and Akame were the two most mature characters in the entire story. They had come to realize certain truths about themselves, what they had done and what they should fight for. More importantly they had come to terms with their actions and continued doing what they believed in. One of my favorite scenes in the entire show is when the two are fighting and Bols stops the fight to asks Akame why she switched sides, Akame answers and Bols accepts the answer without recriminating her. It seems out of place in an edgy slaughterfest but that scene showcased how mature Akame ga Kill could be. Unfortunately both Akame and Bols end up serving as something of comic relief characters in the downtime which detracts from their otherwise mature and focused selves. It’s a shame to see characters bearing great qualities and depth get stuck with a silly gag because it draws attention away from their strengths. But these were the main flaws of the show outside of all that edgy nonsense, so is there anything else left to say?
Remember when I said Tatsumi taken in his entirety is special even if none of his individual qualities or actions are and that this somehow mirrors the series itself. I’m gonna explain that now. One of the main reasons I hold Akame ga Kill in higher esteem than many other critics was the ending. It wasn’t because of the final battle although that was cool. It was because when I saw the meager survivors of the conflict standing atop the walls I was suddenly struck by the enormity of the conflict that played out during the series. During the series I never felt like any individual death had too much impact, nor did I think the scale of the story ever really changed. But by the conflict’s end we have born witness to the death of several influential figures, a staggering loss of talented young people, and the destruction of quite a few of the priceless and irreplaceable Imperial Arms. Looking at the sum total damage left behind in the conflict’s wake, this was an immensely costly rebellion not just for Night Raid or the Empire but for the world of Akame ga Kill. It really got me thinking and I came to the conclusion that in the fictional world of Akame ga Kill, there would never be another conflict like this one that was of the same scale and intensity. There couldn’t be, after all even if you allow that new young talent will rise up to fill the gaps left by this conflict, too many Imperial Arms are destroyed in this conflict, they will never be able to use that many of them in battle again. What this means in practical terms is that the story of Akame ga Kill marks the passing of era, a time of which the people of that world can never go back to. In its totality the conflict laid out in Akame ga Kill will reshape the fictional world it is set in beyond the end of the Empire, that alone is powerful narrative occurrence but to me watching an age go out in a blaze of glory and then pass on is many times more so. To me the ending of Akame ga Kill lends the conflict the nature of literary epic or legend, we are watching the era when Imperial Arms ruled the battlefield pass into legend for the fictional inhabitants of the fictional world and for whatever reason that strikes a very powerful chord in me. Incidentally I have always found epics and legends to play up the evils of villains in manner similar to Akame ga Kill’s rampant corruption and edgy bullshit, albeit with a bit more subtlety and taste, and looking at Akame ga Kill through this particular lens helps me forgive a lot of its moment to moment edgy bullshit because it generally fits better into an epic narrative.
And that about wraps up my thoughts for Akame ga Kill. Thank you for reading, hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.