I was originally planning to write about what is may be my favorite anime from this year, Yuri Kuma Arashi, but when it came time to actually do the writing, I realized I had said most of what I wanted to say in a post from earlier this month. So, I had to figure something else out. And so, I wrote about something about as different from YKA as you can get.
Ikuhara is a lover of stage play; so, if experiencing YKA is like going to the theater, then watching Akame ga Kill is like going to an independent punk rock show. I say this because the latter plays by its own rules…and I usually felt kinda drained and beaten-up after watching it.
First, let me say this: I get it. I completely understand why those with an allergic reaction to ‘edge” got off the train. The show is very interested in letting you know about its moral ambiguities. Akame ga Kill features protagonists who are professional killers and who happen to enjoy their jobs. These folks take many opportunities s to tell you how they are bad people…even though they’re kind of good people. Viewers also get to spend a lot of time with the show’s villains, most of whom have some very redeeming qualities despite being utter psychopaths. One is a loving father, one is a young lady experiencing her first crush, one seeks justice above all else…when they’re not murdering for fun, they’re just the most adorable crazies.
All of this is to say that I see your objection, and my only response is that I’m not really bothered by those things. Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, let’s get into what sets Akame ga Kill apart for me: eschewing conventions.
Akame ga Kill doesn’t give a damn about world-building. Where its genre-mates Hunter x Hunter and One Piece take great pains to construct and communicate their world and its mechanics, sometimes down to minutest detail, Akame Ga Kill slings the viewer some quick-and-dirty setup on an as-needed. basis. You can almost hear echoes of the creators saying “Yeah, yeah yeah” as the show spits brief explanations about the power structure of its world or the nature of the mysterious weapons contained therein. I like this because to me it says that the creators understand their strengths. The show is good at certain things, and these things should be prioritized. There is a complex and intriguing world present in the show which could be explained in greater detail, to be sure; however, doing so would undercut the anime’s pace. For a culture that has thoroughly embraced the Dark Souls style of world building, it seems like the “I’ll give you a nibble, but you fill in the rest” technique would be appreciated.
Here’s the big one for me: Akame ga Kill plays for keeps. The stakes are high in this show, and there are consequences to every single fight. This results in a heightened sense of tension within the viewer every time there’s combat, without fail. What other shounen fighting anime can say that? But, this isn’t just satisfying on a dramatic level alone. Many characters die, but imagine how hollow a show about assassins would feel if it overvalued keeping the characters around. When trained killers face off against one another, there shouldn’t be many draws.
And lo, another objection presented itself: Isn’t Akame ga Kill emotionally manipulative? It focuses on a character, you get to like them, then they die. How is this different from something like Fushigi Yugi or X?
For starters, this doesn’t happen every single time. The show is only 24 episodes. There isn’t time to kill everybody! In all seriousness, though, you’re right. The show can be emotionally manipulative. I’m cool with it, though. Remember, for character deaths to be able to tug at your heart strings, a show has gotta give you characters that you actually care about in the first place. This is a virtue of Akame ga Kill; the cast ingratiates itself to you pretty quickly. They aren’t particularly deep, but what characterization is present is usually appealing and comes across clearly.
And I’m struggling to recall any cheap or meaningless deaths. Not even a hint of Tomino, here. The show understands the value of, and opportunity present in, a death scene. A death scene gives the creators a chance to (a) allow the dying character to have the spotlight, get some last minute development, say something cool, etc. (b) show off how badass, ruthless or honrable the character doing the killing happens to be and (c) to propel the allies of the departed character forward into new circumstances (external and internal). Sure, all these deaths lead to Tatsumi standing in a graveyard, crying in the rain (SO NO ONE WILL KNOW) or some other similar scene, but this is just another variety of melodrama. Anyone who has followed this blog or my Twitter account for any length of time knows I feind for the melodramatic.
Akame ga Kill proved to be a memorable surprise for me in a year chock full of them.