I’m back, fuckers!
Today, to start the new year off strong, I’m going to do something a little different. I’m not just going to tear the anime to pieces! This time, I’m going to talk about both the anime and the original manga. I don’t normally do this, but I figured that it was only right for this series.
Akame Ga Kill was, for a long time, a pretty big series in my life. I discovered it relatively early in my anime-viewing days, back when the darkest thing I had seen was Soul Eater (oh, the innocence of youth). It took me by surprise and quickly became one of my favorite series! My love for it was so strong that I kept up with the Western releases of the manga, collecting all fifteen volumes plus a few volumes of the prequel series and the first volume of the sequel! It even influenced my style of writing for a long time during high school! It was a big thing in my life for a while!
But now I’m an adult. I’ve developed a far keener critical sense of what works for me in art and what doesn’t. Now, I can look at this series that I fell so strangely in love with and admit something. Something that, a few years ago, I would have been shocked to hear myself say.
This series is bad. Like, really bad! Sure, it has some high points here and there. But for the most part, it is simply awful! And yes. I’m still referring to both versions of the story. Because by the end, both versions suffer from the same problems. Hell, the manga even adds more problems on top of it!
Today, I’m going to take an unnecessarily deep and thorough dive through Akame ga Kill in an attempt to break down what it did right and what it did wrong. My ultimate aim? To figure out why I loved it so much in the first place!
Please, for the love of God, let it not be just because I had terrible taste.
Story: Murder, Murder, and More Murder
That about sums it up. But for the sake of review, I’ll be a little more thorough.
Our story takes place in the Empire, an ancient kingdom being driven into the ground by a gullible emperor being manipulated by a corrupt minister. Tatsumi, a naive and pure-hearted swordsman, heads to the Capital city to join the military and make money for his village, which is being bled dry by taxes. But when he arrives, he quickly discovers that everything is far worse than it seems. After losing his two oldest friends, Tatsumi joins Night Raid, an assassination team set on improving the Empire by cutting down all those who thrive off of its suffering. But working as an assassin is hard and dangerous work; will Tatsumi survive to see a brighter future for the Empire?
On paper, this premise is pure genius! The amount of drama you could muster from that is incredible! How does our protagonist handle becoming a violent murder? How does it affect his body, mind, or spirit? What does losing his comrades do to him? How does the public feel about his actions? How does he handle the public perception of him?
Unfortunately, very few of those questions are explored in this series. This story is much more focused on a different question. The age-old question of anime.
How many babes can the protagonist nearly bang without realizing he’s attractive? His teammates? His enemies? His boss? The boss of his enemies?! No one is off limits! Forget the compelling drama, we only need boobs and excessive violence!
On the subject of boobs (which admittedly may be my worst segway yet), let’s talk about the tone! This show leans hard into the ‘dark’ in the ‘dark fantasy’. Gruesome murders? Check. Lots of those. Rape? Check. Waaaaaay too much of that. Gruesome murder and rape of children? Check and double-check!
Tact? What’s that? Is that another form of sexual violence?
Yeah, this show doesn’t exactly tackle those subjects with much respect. Rather, it throws them around as casually as a dog plays with a tennis ball until you’ve become desensitized to them completely. There is no tact in this series. At least it isn’t all that graphic most of the time.
Until you read Zero. It practically turns into hentai in that one.
The story’s pacing is also a complete mess. It’s too fast! Granted, it isn’t as bad in the manga, as the anime cuts a few crucial scenes, but it still isn’t good. Few events get the time they need to have a proper impact. The events do have a sense of cohesion, with certain events playing into another later down the line, but the major story arcs have little cohesion between them.
Also, note how I said certain events instead of all the events. Some of them go nowhere, others are resolved immediately. Few of them leave you satisfied. Most of them leave you bored, empty, or both.
Characters are introduced and killed off way too quickly, making the cast feel bloated and uninteresting. Some characters get plenty of time to develop, making them feel genuinely interesting and likable. Others get virtually no time to shine, making them feel shallow and pointless. Because of this, certain character deaths hit like an emotional truck while others have less impact than a worm sliding into the grass.
Then there’s the ending! Holy shit, this is one of the worst endings I have ever seen to just about any form of media! The character drama flies completely out of the window, the internal logic/logic, in general, is completely shattered, and all for what? Giant robots and massive destruction! Why? Who cares?! We’ve got to kill as many characters as possible! Otherwise, the ending might have to take its time and end up cathartic! Can’t have that!
Before you ask, no. It isn’t much different in the manga. In fact, it might actually be worse in the manga. All we get there is a repeat of the anime’s ending with a few cosmetic changes and a ‘Where are they now?’ segment. It’s a whole bunch of tell and not a lot of show.
I have a basic rule. A story is only as good as its ending. Unfortunately, neither the manga nor the anime has a very good ending. But hey! The action is half decent! And some of the romance is okay! Even if none of it matters in the end…
Don’t get me wrong. There are a few things in this series that I think are great! Some of the fights are genuinely great, featuring good character moments, cool powers, creative tactics, and great choreography! The few characters that get the time to develop are genuinely interesting and likable! Plus, this story has some genuinely gripping, not to mention adorable, romance! Some of the plot threads, such as Akame’s rivalry with her sister and Wave’s entire character arc, are incredible and had me on the edge of my seat as I read!
But that just makes it all the more frustrating! This story was so close to being something amazing! It was so close to being a truly great fantasy story! In the end, it just ended up as a piece of missed potential. A guilty pleasure.
Still! I can safely say that it’s pretty nice to look at! Most of the time…
Visuals: Blood! Boobs! Bloody Boobs!
Okay okay, I’m done talking about the blood and the boobs. I’m going to talk about the actual artwork now. But first, I need to talk about the animation. Which is where the negativity train picks back up!
The anime version of this show is a mixed bag. The majority of the time, it relies on the classic ‘put a high-speed line filter around a still image and call it a day’, or they’ll simply cut to a completely still, highly-detailed version of a full-page manga panel. Admittedly, the latter does look pretty good. But in an anime, we kind of need it to be… y’know… animated.
Granted, it does look pretty good when the animators decide to actually try. But they don’t often do that. Unlike the composers, who brought their A-game for this show. If nothing else, the music is pretty fucking sick.
Now, let’s talk about the manga. Over the course of its fifteen volumes, the manga was drawn by the excellent Tetsuya Tashiro. As the story continued, Tashiro’s style became more and more refined, going from decently detailed and competent to highly detailed and gorgeous!
The paneling is also pretty strong throughout. Each drawing seamlessly flows into the next, making it super easy to read. Granted, some of the drawings themselves are a bit hard to follow, relying heavily on unclear speed lines.
But when they look good? They look daaaaaamn good!
It is worth noting, however, that the manga starts to take a serious turn for the worse towards the end, in the final few volumes. Rather than letting the drawings speak for themselves (you know, like a comic/manga should), they inserted little text boxes where a narrator, which had not been in the story at all up to that point, starts explaining what’s happening! The artwork has to take a step back, even though it is still rock solid and easy to follow! It does nothing but detract from the story when the narrator drops in! He sucks all the emotions out of some of the strongest points in the manga’s last few chapters!
*sigh*… I wish I had more positive things to say about this. The art is strong and the paneling is solid! But to my dismay, my list of criticisms has only grown longer. You were so close, Akame ga Kill. But again, you missed the mark.
Alright. Now that we’re here, I’ve reached my answer. While there are plenty of things to enjoy about Akame ga Kill, they are unfortunately few and far between. For every moment that is genuinely great, there are twenty moments that are terrible.
So yes. I did, in fact, have shitty taste as a younger man.
I can’t recommend watching Akame ga Kill. Nor can I recommend reading the manga. There are a few gems buried in the mess, but it is just that. A mess. Making it a shiny mess doesn’t make it any less disastrous.
Time is a cruel mistress. Sometimes what you remember fondly will hold up, even after you’ve grown older. Others, it will simply expose the cracks in what you once thought was perfection. Unfortunately, time was not kind to this chunk of nostalgia.