by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Akudama Drive ?
Momentum is a difficult quality to maintain across a full narrative. I can rattle off dozens of anime series that started strong and bombastic, yet decelerated into a more rhythmic and predictable pace once that dust settled. That's not a fault in itself, and sometimes it can be a sign of storytelling maturity. Trying to up the ante week after week is a dangerous game risking disastrous, disappointing, or nonsensical consequences—unless you can pull it off. Akudama Drive is nothing if not loud and ambitious, and its full throttle philosophy has somehow kept it going freaking hard week after week. This episode decorates its suite of relevant commentary and bitter tragedy with a sanguine coating of blood-soaked bodies, and it feels every bit as fresh as it did in the beginning of the season.
Again, so much shit goes down this week that I'm at a loss where to begin, but let's start with a thematic thread I'm very happy to see fulfilled. As the Executioners finally turn their lightsaber blades on the general public, Akudama Drive nails the alternately terrifying and farcical quality of quotidian fascism. The Executioner Boss instigates the murder of countless people by bullying a quivering bureaucrat into slightly altering the definition of a word. This is, beat for beat, how weak rule-obsessed leadership inevitably cedes itself to stupid and strongarmed authoritarianism. Meanwhile, in a darkly hilarious way, the Boss is annoyed at all of this. There's no sense of gravity here; she just tells her underlings to take care of business and restore order. “Order,” in this case, of course means whatever placates the bigwigs in Kanto, and it has nothing to do with the wellbeing of the general populace. Akudama Drive, ever tongue-in-cheek, gilds this bloody scene with the softness of a first snowfall, letting the ironic aesthetic contrast speak for itself. Turns out if you give a police force military-grade weaponry and zero oversight, they start killing a lot of citizens. Who ever would have thought?
Kodaka, historically, likes to play with the definitions of words and audience's expectations. In this show's case, our perception of “Akudama” has constantly evolved—from cutthroat killers, to misfit outcasts, to both, to neither, to everyone. What has now become clear is that "Akudama" is a blanket term for whomever doesn't fit into Kansai as Kanto wants it, and that's a broad enough term to be essentially useless. I mean, it doesn't make sense for the psychotic Cutthroat to be considered just as dangerous as a deliveryman with a cool motorcycle. The story all but paints a big red arrow pointing at this nonsense with Doctor's dialogue, as she deliberately taunts the Executioners with the fact that they stripped her of her Akudama title. Sure, they can execute protestors willy-nilly, but they can't touch a woman who drives a needle into their heart and attempts to kidnap children. It's the “just following orders” defense, but with its blade turned around and pressed against their necks. If anyone can be labeled an Akudama—and anyone can be stripped of that title should it happen to benefit the government—then it's no longer a useful framework. We have to adapt more nuanced perspectives about what breaking the law is, as well as about what “the law” even means in the first place.
The Doctor returns in rare form this week, and although I was a tad unenthused about her presence last episode, she more than makes up for it here. She relishes in the supervillain life, casually reading magazines next to slaughtered bodies, nonchalantly teasing the police with her diplomatic immunity, and callously manipulating everyone around her to meet her needs. As with Cutthroat, Akudama Drive recognizes that she's not the ultimate villain (whatever else she may think), but she's still not a great person. It's fun, however, to see her act this evil and this unhinged. The animation complements her final stand extremely well, making her the most expressive she's ever been, and using POV shots to communicate her megalomaniacal vision of a world entirely within her machinations. The gut-punch of a reveal that she's responsible for Brawler's death is the awful icing on the cake. In Swindler's words, she truly embraces being “the biggest bitch,” and I think that's a high note for her story to end on.
Hoodlum delivers her that end while wrapping up his own story. It's hardly a surprising turn of events in an episode that begins with him again mourning the loss of Brawler and reckoning with how much he really loved the big galoot. You don't see bigger death flags than that, but Akudama Drive isn't afraid to work within these cliched story beats. Not a lot of anime can get away with that. However, Akudama Drive just oozes confidence that its aesthetic command and its full-throttle ridiculous sincerity will make up the difference, and it does. My heart reaches out to Hoodlum, not necessarily because his moral struggle is an especially compelling one (it's not), but because his pain from losing Brawler feels sincere and palpable. Brawler was probably the first person in his life who made him believe he could be better. What started as bravado explodes into courage, and in the end, I think Brawler would have been proud of his bro.
Of course, I also cannot ignore the metaphor of Doctor being ultimately trampled to death by a giant crowd of ordinary citizens. Law enforcement made her into even more of a monster, but the public was able to come together and take care of business themselves. There's something poetic about that. However, I can't begin to guess why the Shinkansen opened to them, nor do I dare speculate where the show goes from here—besides obviously Kanto itself. Did Hacker hijack the train again? Is Kanto really opening its doors? Whatever happens, Akudama Drive isn't slowing down, and as long as it avoids crashing spectacularly in its final act, it's going to be an anime to remember.
Akudama Drive is currently streaming on Funimation. Save on Anime Streaming Subscriptions with Funimation.
Steve is, most unfortunately, still in vtuber hell over on Twitter. We're all praying for his salvation.
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