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by Rebecca Silverman,

Akame ga KILL!

GN 1

Akame ga KILL! GN 1
Tatsumi has come from his impoverished country village to the Capital in order send money home and save the town. But it turns out that being out in the boonies he hasn't gotten all of the pertinent information, and the Capital is a hotbed of corruption and fear. After his ideals are crushed, Tatsumi falls in with a band of assassins who teach him the way things really work in the big city. Can Tatsumi join them and fulfill his dream? And what does it mean for that goal when the bad guys turn out to be better than those who are supposedly good?

At first it seems like we know this story. Tatsumi is the bright-eyed, eternally hopeful country mouse who comes to the big city full of big dreams. He gets taken advantage of by a pretty lady, but eventually he finds out that there are still some good people in the world after all, and they take him in. Only...those good people aren't quite as good as they seem, and the supposedly bad people who come after them may, despite being assassins, actually be the more upstanding citizens. While Tatsumi does get taken in by this second group, thus fulfilling the basic requisites of the “country lad in the city” story, there's more going on in Akame ga KILL!'s first volume than at first meets the eye.

What's particularly well done and interesting about this volume is the fact that everything is painted in shades of gray. (And as a nice corollary, there's a fair amount of gray space in the art as well.) The assassins who take Tatsumi in, the Night Raid, make no bones about the fact that they are killers for hire. When Tatsumi remarks that they're basically Killers for Justice, the group laughs at him and tells him, “No matter what name you give it...what we're doing is still murder. There's no justice in that.” While the members of Night Raid all clearly believe in what they're doing and feel that it is the best way to oust the corrupt government, they still harbor no illusions that their way is in any way a holy crusade to save the people. They commit murder for a living. End of story. Having this admitted moral gray area (because it is made very clear that the people they eliminate are cruel and corrupt) takes the story and makes it something more than your average fantasy fighting blood-and-boob fest. There's still plenty of violence and pretty women in various states of undress, but the story also tries to give you something to think about while you're reading.

This is not to imply that Akame ga KILL! is a great philosophical treatise on the necessary evils of wartime. While that is certainly a theme that is never far from the surface, in part because Tatsumi's two friends who did not make it are never far from his thoughts, author Takahiro also knows how to make the story fun. The usual cast of characters is present, from the overtly sexual(ized) Leone who occasionally rests her bountiful bosom on Tatsumi's head to the snippy Goth Loli Mine to the total pervert Lubbock, all the standards are alive and well. In a nice change, homosexual muscle-bound soldier Bulat is not the series' go-to joke, and if primary heroine Akame is about as cookie-cutter as she could be with her apparent lack of emotion, dark past, and general cold demeanor, well, she at least has the potential to become a more interesting character as the plot thickens. Takahiro uses her to facilitate most of the jokes, and there are some good light-hearted moments in an otherwise fairly dark tale. Unfortunately he occasionally seems too busy with jokes or backstory to explain much of the actual world the book takes place in. We know that each of the members of Night Raid has a special something known as “teigu” and that Bulat's is his armor, called “Incursio,” but beyond that we're pretty much in the dark. What is a teigu and how did he get it? Why are all teigu different? Is Leone's the reason she sometimes has cat ears and a tail? That none of this is explained is a major fly in the ointment, as is the fact that we don't know the basic political structure of the world. Since Night Raid is fighting against the system, it would be really helpful to know exactly what that system is.

Tetsuya Tashiro's art shows motion well, which is a major plus in an action-heavy book like this. Characters are all easily told apart, and there is an interesting mix of human and non-human people living together. Panels and pages can get very crowded, which detracts, and one choice that continually threw me off was the clothing. It is an odd mix of standard fantasy apparel and very contemporary touches, such as Akame's necktie and Tatsumi's sweater. It made the setting feel unsettled and made it difficult to pin the story down to a specific time or place. While that may turn out to be deliberate, in a first volume, it was a distraction.

Akame ga KILL!'s opening volume is a fun, action-heavy story about a group of assassins fighting against The Man. The idea that they can be doing good and yet still be bad helps the book to stand out, and while it suffers from a lack of world building and some crowded art, it still makes for an enjoyable reading experience. Hopefully it will get its issues straightened out in the next book, because this has the potential to be a lot of fast-paced fun.

Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B

+ Fast-paced, action-heavy story. Good use of moral gray areas, it's nice how present Tatsumi's friends are in his memories and motivations.
A lot of gaps in world building, at least as conveyed to readers, art can be cramped at times. Characters are all pretty standard types, clothing feels anachronistic.

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Production Info:
Story: Takahiro
Art: Tetsuya Tashiro
Licensed by: Yen Press

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