The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide Akame ga KILL!
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team, Jul 6th 2014
Headstrong Tatsumi is slaying monsters on his way to the Imperial Capitol, where it's said even worse monsters reside: evil spirits that take over the bodies of men and ravage the city. This doesn't slow him down, though; rejected by the military due to his unwavering bravado, Tatsumi runs into a buxom warrior lady who tricks him out of his big bag of GP and is taken in by the deceptively kind Aria. Turns out Aria's entire family is evil and corrupt and so a team of assassins called Night Raid, led by the half-lidded Akame, shows up and slaughters them all. Once it's revealed how truly evil Aria is, Tatsumi slices her up with little hesitation or remorse, and so Night Raid decides to make him one of their own. "What will happen to me?" Tatsumi says as the episode closes out.
I'm not sure I care, but the tonal whiplash in this episode is enough to leave a mark. It's super generic fantasy stuff until Night Raid arrives, when it turns into a hyperviolent, bizarrely nasty and cruel affair where people are just getting hacked up left and right with oceans of blood splattering everywhere. Characters in the background occasionally drop weirdly harsh sociopolitical beliefs (stuff like "it's your fault if anyone steals from you", "we're being strangled by taxation!" and the eye-rolling "it's not just this girl that shops too much, all women shop too much") giving the whole thing this "fantasy show for conservative guy on internet forum" feel that was a big turn-off for me. They're mixing zany Slayers-esque fantasy comedy antics with hardcore violence and shock factor story twists and the result is a cocktail of things that just didn't blend together for me. Production-wise it's nothing special; doesn't look bad, doesn't particularly look good either. The character designs are pleasantly distinctive between the assassins, so that's a plus, I suppose, but there wasn't anything in here to hold my attention and the cruelty streak is a bit too wide. I'll pass.
Tatsumi has come from his country village with his friends Sayo and Ieyasu to earn money for their community. But things aren't going quite as he planned. First he's separated from his friends, then he's swindled out of his monster hunting bounty by a busty blond, plus joining the army clearly isn't the road to riches he thought it would be. It looks like his luck is turning when sweet little Aria picks him up off the street and takes him home, but the next thing he knows he's reliving Perrault's “Bluebeard” - Aria and her family are definitely not as nice as they appear to be. He discovers this when an infamous bunch of assassins show up to kill his apparent benefactors...clearly the world he inhabits has not been forthcoming with its truths.
This is an episode that really sells itself in its second half. Part one is such bland, cookie-cutter fantasy (complete with dragons) that when the violence erupts in the latter part you are shocked out of your false sense of complacency. Much like Bluebeard's wife finding the bodies in the bloody chamber, Tatsumi (and we viewers) suddenly find that the generic world we started out with is remarkably corrupt. There was a hint of this before, with Aria's father mentioning a government that is less than upstanding, but one gruesome scene after another once Akame and her merry band enter the story is a good way to hammer home the message. The show is uncensored in terms of gore – blood sprays, bodies are sliced in a variety of places, and necks snap with a sickening sound. If you are sensitive to these things, this is not the show for you; I admit that I was very uncomfortable once the killing started.
There are efforts to make lighten the mood with some jokes, most notably the bishie sparkle of the burly male assassin once he is handed a recalcitrant Tatsumi, but this feels rather out of place. The real draw here is the athletic agility with which Akame and the other assassins move, the violence, and the shock factor. This is almost enough to make one ignore the very generic character designs and backgrounds – who cares how Akame looks when she can move like that? Some of the background music choices are also very appealing, enhancing the scene without distracting from it or overwhelming it.
Akame ga KILL! lulls us into a false sense of blandness before turning the tables, and it works to pull you in. If you aren't made uncomfortable by uncensored realistic violence, as opposed to the more fantasy violence of Tokyo Ghoul, this is looking like a safe bet. The humor may not quite work, but the pace picks up admirably and the story looks like it will being going interesting places as Tatsumi tries to find his way in a world that isn't quite what he was expecting.
Akame ga KILL! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: Akame ga KILL! is an odd mix. A shonen fantasy-action vehicle, it combines gory action and some sickeningly dark content with a bright, silly sense of humor. You'd expect the whiplash to be acute as head-lopping fights and sickening revelations share space with SD gags and goofy behavior, but strangely the mixture goes down smooth—the show's two poles intertwining harmoniously and even supporting one another. The relationship is obvious from the outset, as hero Tatsumi, a spunky country warrior on his way to make a name for himself in the capitol, demonstrates his dragon-slaying badassery then immediately wrecks his image by being way too pleased with himself. When the show's nasty streak comes out to play, most noticeably during mysterious assassin Akame's attack on the wealthy family that is sheltering Tatsumi, that kind of silly byplay keeps the darkness from getting oppressive while simultaneously, since it is universal across the cast, disguising who is an ally and who is a human monster.
There isn't a whole boatload depth to the cast yet, particularly Akame and her team of assassin-mates, who are given little to do besides menace and a pose, stalk and kill. But if Tatsumi is any indicator, they'll do well enough. His country bumpkin naiveté is very funny (it's a running joke just how unlucky he is in the big city) when it could easily have been wearing, and while he's strong—he can go sword to sword with Akame and at least not die—he's also hearteningly aware of his own limitations. As for the rest of the episode, while there aren't too many surprises, it is good at muddying the waters enough to make you uncertain, and its action is viciously, gruesomely unpredictable. Extreme emotions are handled with flair by White Fox, and characters have enough instant charm that their evil fates and hidden psychopathy have surprising impact. A keeper.
Akame ga KILL! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: In Tatsumi's world an empire has reigned for centuries. His outlying village is starting to fall on hard times, so he and two puissant companions – Sayo and Ieyasu – travel to the capital to earn enough money to rescue their village, but get separated. After easily handling an Earth Dragon he encounters on the way there, Tatsumi is advised that the capital is a place now rife with corruption, but he learns that lesson the hard way when a busty lady swindles him out of his money. He is taken in by wealthy Aria and her family, who have a habit of rescuing strays, but while helping out Tatsumi learns two disturbing things: that the government is actually run by a regent for a child Emperor and that a band of assassins is going around attacking the wealthy. That night they come for Aria's family, and that night Tatsumi also learns some even uglier truths about just how corrupt the empire is actually becoming.
The underlying premise of the franchise is, of course, that Tatsumi is going to eventually hook up with the assassins, which one can probably reasonably assume are going to turn out to be the shadow good guys working to excise the corrupt heart of the capital city. Exactly how that plays out, though, may catch people a bit off guard, as what initially appears like it will be a typical high-spirited shonen action tale takes a sudden and extremely bloody turn a bit more than halfway through the episode and then goes to some even darker places towards the end – and all of that without entirely sacrificing typical shonen goofiness. This is shonen with edge and bite. The closer suggests that most or all of the eclectic mix of assassins have some tragic stories to tell, too, that will doubtless be dealt with in upcoming episodes.
Director Tomoki Kobayashi and the White Fox animation team have tackled action-oriented fantasy works before with some success (Tears to Tiara, Utawarerumono), but this is their most graphic work by far. The make the most of an apparently limited animation budget in designing stylish renditions of key displays of violence in the featured scenes in the second half of the episode, with some unusual but effective musical choices contributing to the panache of their execution. The combined effect works so well that the attack of the assassins in the second half completely sells an episode that had been bland to that point. Being too dependent on shonen trappings might eventually weight the series down, but so far it looks like it has promise, and the graphic content certainly won't disappoint.
Akame ga KILL! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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