by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Akudama Drive ?
Akudama Drive gives us its subtlest episode in weeks, which is a wild thing to say considering it begins with a moon-bound rocket ship crash landing in the middle of Lake Biwa. It's a purposeful shift, however, and an important turning point for both the show and its main character. Swindler's been stuck in the passenger seat for most of the story, but now that she's the only person who can protect Sister, it's time for her to press that pedal herself. Meanwhile, the surviving Akudama, now separated after the chaos of last week's battle and betrayal, align themselves towards new motives. The Executioners aren't off the hook either, with only one “offering to Kanto” retrieved and a gaggle of Akudama loose ends still lurking in the shadows. We may have taken a detour, but this drive is far from over.
Swindler's arc is the backbone of this week's story, with her charming naivete finally crashing spectacularly into the gravity of her and Sister's situation. I mean, she really should have foreseen that those huge wanted posters would be the only thing welcoming her back into Kansai, but that fits her character. She's not a hardened criminal. She's just trying to feed and protect the little girl with her the only way she knows how. She even relishes the opportunity to go by a new moniker, fully embracing the new “Big Sis” title bequeathed to her during her many adorable interactions with little Sister. Her character motivation—or rather, her lack of one—made for an amusing fish-out-of-water story in the early moments of Akudama Drive, but now that she possesses a real, flesh-and-blood motivating factor and a goal to work towards, her character can develop into something a lot more compelling than an easy gag.
And her character sure does develop here! She's definitely still altruistic to a fault, but even she's willing to admit that her moral compass has been spinning for a while now. A bunch of super-criminals did just rescue a pair of siblings being trafficked from a top-secret child-melting government laboratory to the country's authoritarian occupational headquarters. They also killed a lot of people, one of them was killed, and another turned out to be a traitor. Things are complicated! But for Swindler, the situation has evolved into a simpler matter of keeping Sister safe and reuniting her with Brother, even if she has to give up on everything else to do so. It's a significant moment for her that doesn't feel as monumental as it could, because the series never dug into her past enough to establish the life she's leaving behind. This is one of the consequences of Akudama Drive's lightspeed-quick kitchen sink plotting, but its fundamentals remain strong enough to carry an acceptable amount of emotional weight. Plus, Swindler marks the occasion with a Character Development Haircut, and that's my favorite trope ever, so I'll forgive a lot for it.
Unfortunately, Swindler also has to mark the occasion with a lot of blood. Her confrontation with the thugs is quite the departure for Akudama Drive, which forgoes its usual ultraviolent spectacle for tactile grit. Swindler and Sister are in real danger here, and they don't have wild anime crime superpowers to help them out of it. Backed into a corner, Swindler fights desperately with what she has, and the episode gives this violence the clumsy gruesomeness it deserves. It's an uncomfortable scene animated smartly. It's also worth noting that their plan to sell off Sister's and Swindler's bodies is pretty much the same thing the Kansai government was doing with the siblings. And these guys aren't Akudama. They're just run-of-the-mill lowlifes making a living off human trafficking, seemingly unabated by the authorities. The dissonance between the presence of these guys and the celebrity of the Akudama is surely a purposeful move on the series' part. Maybe the Executioners only care about criminals big and powerful enough to potentially mess with Kanto. Maybe they couldn't care less about crimes that only affect the already-downtrodden population of Kansai. Either way, Swindler now has blood on her hands, but she and Sister are safe, and she's not alone.
Courier is as tsundere as ever, so I'm not at all surprised that he almost immediately reunites and allies with Swindler. The other Akudama are also on the move this episode, however. Most prominently, Doctor doesn't waste any time using her newly-earned immunity to continue doing crimes, and even her stylish ultraviolence looks a little more gruesome than usual. She seems to have now taken a personal interest in the sibling's immortality, and she doesn't seem to care about biting the hand that feeds in order to track them down. To that end, she recruits the lonely and depressed Hoodlum, who is still reeling aimlessly after the death of his bro. He's never exactly been an upstanding character, but he's definitely at his most pathetic here, squirming with pain in a dreary alley while Doctor grinds her heel into his crotch. Look, I know I called this the subtlest episode of Akudama Drive, but that doesn't mean the show isn't still a deafening explosion of sex, violence, and strangeness. Case in point—even Cutthroat is still shambling around with his patchwork legs, muttering about Swindler like a huge creep. The next episode being titled “The Shining” certainly doesn't bode well either.
While Swindler's character and moral compass settle, so too do those of the Executioner Pupil. Minus one of her own pupils now, she's hardened into a short-sighted revenge-seeker, in defiance of her Boss' wishes. Will she be able to break the cycle, or will her death wish propagate the history of violence onward (and on that note, I'm actually surprised we haven't gotten an episode title “A HIstory of Violence” yet). There are a lot of pieces at play as we move onto the next arc, with all of our characters converging on Brother's location for reasons both noble and ignoble. And despite all its swerves and hard turns, Akudama Drive still hasn't lost a bit of its momentum. Back in the beginning of the season, I thought this would at the very least be a neat curiosity from a cult creator, but Akudama Drive's vision, scale, and ambition have cemented itself as one of the year's most memorable anime experiences for me. It's a potpourri of cultural touchstones swirling around in one delightfully deranged package. I don't know if it can become a personal, heartfelt tragedy on top of all that, but the effort it devotes to Swindler's growth this week is an auspicious start to the next arc.
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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