by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Akudama Drive ?
Akudama Drive enters its second half fighting tooth and nail to stuff the most plot it can fit in its gaping maw. This episode has everything. There's a horrific backstory that confirms and fills in some important blanks. There's a sudden yet oh-so-inevitable betrayal. Two characters want to live on the moon. A lesser anime might have contented itself to vamp on one of those points for an entire episode, but Akudama Drive wields all three of these ridiculous plot swords at once, and like Zoro, somehow it not only works—it slays.
I'm going to start with the moon, because that's my favorite one. The gang (and the audience) have been pretty curious about what Brother and Sister's master plan has been this entire time. I had my theories, but nothing comes close to the truth: hijacking an underground display rocket ship that is not only fully-functional but can also take them straight to the moon. Like a pair of tiny Dr. Manhattans, these kids are tired of this world, and they're not going to let a silly thing like the lack of an atmosphere stop them. What does stop them, however, is the revelation ten minutes later that the war also blew up the moon (because if Symphogear has taught me anything, it's that anime hates the moon). It's all so delightfully left-field, yet it still arrives with the fearless confidence I'd expect from the creators of Danganronpa. Screw logic. Send your characters to the moon.
Had the moon been intact, however, Brother and Sister probably would have been fine, because it turns out they're effectively immortal thanks to the Kyushu plant. The Child Broiler is alive and well, and it manifests in Akudama Drive as a stew of horrific human experimentation melting thousands of children into a genetic slurry, in the hopes of producing a single indestructible product. That's who Brother and Sister are. It's a shocking revelation, if not exactly a surprising one. Killing children is pretty easy shorthand for cementing your dystopian vision (and certainly one the Danganronpa creators are familiar with). I'd be more critical about that if not for current events and the ease with which my government committed itself to sacrificing the lives of 250,000 (and counting) adults and children in order to keep the wheels of Mammon greased. Kansai grinding up five thousand or so children in order to get on Kanto's good side seems paltry in comparison.
Strong direction and evocative visuals also make the flashback work as the emotional core that sets off the events of the story. Kodaka especially likes to use repetition and establish expectations in order to eventually subvert them. Akudama Drive, in turn, transposes this tendency smartly into Brother's alternatingly tortuous and happy quotidian life. He cycles between a blood-soaked lab table and a packed gymnasium filled with his friends, and like most people forced into inescapably dehumanizing circumstances, he makes it work—until it doesn't. In the end, the headmaster rips away any illusion of normalcy and shows him that his foundation is just a giant pool of dead children. It's horrible and evocative imagery, and that alone makes up for a lot. In fact, I really appreciate that Akudama Drive doesn't get too bogged down into the details about how Brother then manages to recruit the Akudama from inside the vault. Those parts are not so important that we can't fill in those blanks ourselves. I care a lot more about things like the emotional connection he had with the Professor, and how using (and losing) his cat body must have been a bittersweet experience for him.
For a moment, it looks like Brother and Sister might actually get that permanent moon vacation they've been dreaming of. However, it's only episode 7, so instead it's time to reveal the traitor. I've had the double agent possibility gestating in the back of my mind ever since the mention of undercover work got slipped into episode 3, but I never outright guessed that Doctor was just in it to clear her record. In retrospect, she did ask the most questions about the mission and about the kids themselves, so it makes sense. It's also revealing that the Executioner Boss didn't know the identity of the cargo she was so hellbent on retrieving. Even the highest authority in Kansai is nothing but a lapdog to Kanto, but Boss' intelligence-gathering hints that she's at least vying for whatever leverage she can muster. There are a lot of interesting power dynamics at play, and I hope we get to see more of them.
So much stuff happens in this episode that I almost forgot it began with my best boy Brawler dead. It's genuinely affecting to see Hoodlum so heartbroken about losing his bro, and the ensuing conflict between him and the others complicates and enriches the relationship the Akudama have been developing. Courier's insistence on keeping feelings out of work runs right into the wall called reality, and this is something I expect to see a lot more of now that the Akudama are fractured and in dire straits. Their escort mission is about to turn into a rescue one, although who will be rescuing whom is entirely dependent on where that rocket ship lands. Something tells me, though, that Swindler and Sister will probably touchdown somewhere close to Hacker.
This episode is still stuffed with little observances and moments I could talk about. For instance, what's the deal with the recurring Danganronpa imagery? This week we've got the descending elevator, the ascending spaceship, and the nondescript gymnasium housing dark secrets. Are they fun callbacks for fans, or do they hint at something else? Again, I could go on, but the main point I want to make is that I'm still loving the hell out of Akudama Drive. Its plot has as much jet propulsion as the rocket currently carrying its protagonist, it continues to hit that sweet spot between schlock and thoughtfulness, and this ride is far from over.
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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