Akudama Drive
Episode 4

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Akudama Drive ?

Akudama Drive cranks up the loud and dumb fun quotient in its high-tension train heist aboard the cyberpunk Shinkansen. With an uninhabitably contaminated fallout zone ahead of them, the supercop Executioners behind them, and a bullet train beneath their feet, the Akudama gang hack their way (both physically and digitally) through their obstacles towards their billion-dollar reward. The time for plans is over. The time for punches is now.

This is the most fight-scene-heavy installment of Akudama Drive yet, with the first half of the episode consisting of more or less one unbroken and constantly-evolving brawl between the Akudama and the Executioner pair. It also spills into the second half, constantly escalating towards its laser-happy conclusion. While not necessarily virtuosic in its presentation, this battle is commendable for how easy it is to follow in spite of the number of combatants and the show's hyperactive sense of style. The actions and reactions are always clear, and the storyboarding and animation communicate kinetic energy without losing composition. These are subtle things, but they really add up towards making the experience of watching them feel effortless and riveting. A lot of craft goes into making “mindless” entertainment actually good.

It also helps that each of these characters possesses a distinctly brazen way of conducting themselves and kicking ass. Again, these aren't richly complex personalities, but leave it to the Danganronpa crew to assemble a largish and immediately recognizable cast. So far, I'd say only the Pupil Executioner has failed to stand out in a meaningful way, which is a consequence of her constantly losing fights and getting knocked unconscious. Don't worry, Pupil, maybe someday you'll get to do something! Doctor exclusively speaking in double entendres also might get old very fast, but for now, my juvenile sense of humor is winning the fight against good taste. Brawler, however, is by far the best Akudama and it's not even close. He's always pouring 150% into every interaction, he's willing to put his life on the line both for his pride and for his colleagues, and he has, at most, two functioning brain cells. He's the group's muscle, our resident himbo, and I'd die for him. That's why I have no respect for Hoodlum and the speed with which he was going to switch allegiances to Cutthroat. Brawler deserves better.

In fact, Brawler delivers the best moment in the whole episode. Courier shoots him, he catches the bullet with his teeth, and then spits it back at the Master Executioner with enough velocity to bury it in his shoulder. That is the kind of exquisitely over-the-top action movie bullshit I am here for. The Akudama's abilities ride the line between human and superhuman in such a way that might be frustrating to some viewers, but as long as the anime can keep delivering sublimely dumb moments like this, I can't possibly complain.

There's a tad less new background intrigue this week, as a lot of it (the Absolute Quarantine Zone, the Decontamination Field, etc.) had already been covered in prior episodes. We still get some pretty good stuff, though. First of all, although the episode title is “Speed,” it can't help but exhibit some parallels to the Snowpiercer film. Most notably, as Hacker opens the way to the front of the train, we go from drab storage cars to swanky first-class seating. Since Akudama Drive is also interested in class stratification, Snowpiercer's central metaphor is certainly not lost here. And although this train is devoid of people, these cars do raise the good question of why the Shinkansen would bother to accommodate passengers if it purges all organic matter on the way to Kanto. Clearly, people are being ferried out of Kansai, but are they being secretly whisked away to a paradise, like Hacker believes, or are they being trafficked for much more nefarious purposes?

Almost certainly it's the latter, if the final moments of the episode are anything to go by. In another very Snowpiercer-y turn of events, the much-vaunted vault at the end of the train contains a pair of children: a brother who can remotely control a talking robot cat, and a sister who can command a giant force field. Like anything derived from the mind of Kazutaka Kodaka, this raises a lot more questions than answers, and with only four episodes down, that's a good thing! Akudama Drive's billion-dollar heist might be far from over, or it might transition into something completely different. It might even do a bit of both. Whatever is in store, I'm eager to see the show develop further into what it's really going to be “about.” That was one of the best parts about the Danganronpa series too, which used its cartoonish murder mystery exterior to seriously explore weighty themes about society's structures and personal redemption. Akudama Drive has a lot of potential, and it's also a freaking blast to watch. That's a great place for it to be right now.

Rating:

Akudama Drive is currently streaming on Funimation.

Steve is, most unfortunately, still in vtuber hell over on Twitter. We're all praying for his salvation.


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