by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Akudama Drive ?
Akudama Drive whips absolute ass. I try to be a bit more eloquent about my thoughts in these reviews, but there's just no getting around how much of an incredible spectacle this week's episode is. Heart-pounding action dominates the runtime in between heartstring-tugging interludes that steer us towards the sound and the fury of its bitter conclusion. This is like the platonic ideal of a blockbuster action movie climax got shoved into the midway point of this anime. It rules. It slaps. It whips ass.
It's hard for me to resist just recapitulating the episode beat-by-beat, and I'll just state here that nothing I can say is going to top the experience of watching the episode for yourself. The gang's fight-to-the-death against the Executioner Master is riddled with sublimely ridiculous moments. There's stuff we're already familiar with, like Doctor nonchalantly stitching up a mortal wound to her stomach, but there's also a ton of beautiful, novel escalations to the action movie aesthetic. Courier, for instance, finally gets pissed off enough to exchange dumb childish comebacks with Master. Cutthroat, pinned against rubble, chooses to sever his own legs so he can lash back out at Master. Cutthroat then shields himself with Brother and stabs his entire arm through the child's thorax in order to get a hit on Master. Brawler then throws Hoodlum pompadour-first into Master's flank. Akudama Drive is weighing down its acceleration pedal with a stack of bricks right now, and what it lacks in good taste it more than makes up for with its unique action alchemy.
The action is also just plain smartly-constructed on a structural level. I've praised Akudama Drive for this before, but given the amount of boring and/or abhorrent fight scenes I've had to watch for This Week In Anime, it bears repeating just how good we have it here. The choreography of bodies in motion is clear and lets the audience languish in its most dynamic moments. Even as anatomical rules get bent, bodies clash with a real sense of weight, and punches are punctuated with glittering raindrop explosions. Meanwhile, the settings are not only varied and evocative, but incorporated beautifully into the fights themselves, whether as framing or as additional fodder to be played with. I also love the way the setting evolves as the fight progresses—starting in the dreary scrapyard, entering the neon-glow of an abandoned arcade (eat your heart out, Nicolas Winding Refn), climaxing against the asterism of a reanimated ferris wheel, and falling to the sound of rain on an otherwise silent bridge. Each of these places evokes moods that suitably enhance both the actions and the emotions enveloping those actions. Yoshifumi Sasahara is credited for both the storyboards and the direction this episode, and that is for sure a name I am going to look out for from now on.
Thematically, this week's installment follows the tragic trajectory I anticipated in my last review. The episode's title, “Brother,” is a clever bit of misdirection on the show's part—it could easily have referred to the new character the Akudama are currently escorting, but it instead refers to the unusual, yet strong, kinship between Brawler and Master. As the Executioner Boss explains, Akudama and Executioners were once two sides of the same coin, both seeking extravagant deaths at each other's hands for the sake of fulfilling their ambitions. Here, they are once more reunited as reflections of each other, and in their mutual destruction, they find fun, camaraderie, and peace. As nice as it is to see Brawler and Master enjoying themselves throughout the episode, their dark and bloody end is never far enough removed. And naturally, I'm not surprised that the most likeable character in a Kodaka story is the first one to leave us. That still doesn't make it hurt any less. I'm going to miss this big beautiful oaf.
The solution to these machismo-fueled death wishes of the Executioners was to pair them up, to foster feelings and responsibility that would hold them back from sacrificing themselves willy nilly. I should note, a 30% fatality rate is still pretty darn high! Executioner HQ clearly still doesn't care that much about the welfare of their employees, but progress is progress. While Boss touts their master/pupil system as the secret weapon that separates themselves from the Akudama, our main Akudama gang is kinda undergoing the same thing right now. Brother is making them work together, and although there have been (and continue to be) growing pains, they too have been able to shirk death by watching each other's backs. Until now, of course. The dark side of this buddy system that the Boss neglects to mention is the aftermath of loss. The system itself hasn't changed, so death is still frequent and inevitable, and now it leaves behind a grieving partner. Pupil cries for her Master. Hoodlum silently stands over the corpse of his bro. The first thing they do afterward is fight each other. When Pupil later looks in the mirror at her lost eye, it cements that the relationship between Brawler and Master will survive and metastasize into this cycle of revenge.
That's a darker and more serious turn than I had expected out of Akudama Drive, but it earns it through the strength of its direction. It definitely borders on triteness, and I wouldn't begrudge anyone for wishing it didn't hew so closely to big blockbuster playbooks. I'm a total mark for this kind of stuff when it's done well, however, and I think Akudama Drive has also added enough of its weird Kodaka-derived sauce on itself to be palatable, if not deliciously spicy. I haven't even gotten to talk about the confirmation that Brother and Sister are, at the very least, genetically-modified humans, or that there are underground Morlocks who speak with Kansai-ben. We're also only at the halfway point! Think of everything that's happened so far, and imagine everything we have left. I've been enjoying Akudama Drive a lot, but I've never felt as pumped up about it as I do now. This will be an episode to remember when it comes to thinking about the year in review, and there's no reason to conclude this series won't be able to top itself.
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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