by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Akudama Drive ?
Akudama Drive is the synthesis of many flavors—a high-stakes high-speed heist, a cautionary cyberpunk dystopia, a buddy criminal comedy, a Cheshire-grinned children's show—and now it's time to add slasher flick to the mix. Unsurprisingly, this episode titled “The Shining” draws liberally on horror influences (including its titular one) to paint the spiraling chaos sewn by its characters. Now fully splintered and scattered, our Akudama gang is at war with itself in a race to rescue Brother from the Executioners. Meanwhile, the rest of Kansai is also at war with itself, in the guise of being at war with the Akudama. Things aren't great.
Mercifully, it's not all bad; Akudama Drive gifts the audience a little reprieve before splattering its walls with blood. In fact, it's extremely cute how effortlessly the sibling dynamic blossoms between Courier, Swindler, and Sister. Courier is adorably standoffish in his curt yet doting big brother role. Sister's precocious defense of her big sis is a natural extension of the bond they forged last week. And Swindler is just happy to eat some tomatoes. This scene may be a tad incongruous with the rest of the episode, but I'm always happy to see heartwarming reminders of shared humanity amidst even the most desperate situations. That's something the Danganronpa games could be really good at as well.
Akudama Drive also gives us something I've been wondering about since the premiere: a glimpse at the average Kansai citizen. Sure, it's been a blast (sometimes literally) following these larger-than-life criminals doing their super-crimes and fighting the super-cops, but how does a normal person function in this society? Not great, it turns out. Everyone has been so thoroughly indoctrinated to hate and fear the Akudama that all it takes is a single vague-tweet from Swindler to get them to start rioting. It's an ironic inversion of the police abolition movement currently sweeping the US—here, the public is revolting because they believe the cops aren't killing enough people. Like the neighbors of Maple Street, their culture of blind reverence towards their leaders and paranoia towards their enemies turns them against each other. This breeds vigilantism, while innocent people are branded as Akudama and executed in the streets.
This is about as cynical as Akudama Drive has gotten so far, and I don't know if it earns it. This facet of the episode is thematically rich, but it feels like more of an afterthought compared to the rest of this week's narrative. The optics also aren't great on the surface—I'm instinctually wary of anything that demonizes protesters/rioters. However, here I think the context does work to make the message clear. These riots are a function of this dystopia, rather than a reaction against it. These citizens are prisoners who fancy themselves wardens. Additionally, the show depicts Kansai's law enforcement as either ineffectual and cowardly (in the case of the police), or ruthless and militant (in the case of the Executioners). Both are sure to exacerbate the body count. And with a society this fundamentally indoctrinated and broken, it's no surprise that some people choose to live on its fringes, whatever risk that entails.
Doctor is, on paper at least, a free citizen who can do what she wishes now, so she's using this second chance to go full JRPG final boss on everybody and monologue about how much she wants to throw a harness on Death itself. This scene is a lot more entertaining than it is compelling. That's indicative of Akudama Drive's priorities, and I certainly don't expect Shakespearian levels of interiority out of it, but I am nonetheless a little disappointed about how flat her character remains. Her nefarious plan is also too abstract to be interesting, especially because, in practice, it just boils down to recapturing the kids. She's also maybe like 200 years old, but we'll have to see whether those hints pan out into anything meaningful. Thankfully, Hoodlum's reactions make the scene, as the dawning horror that he just slept with a comic-book supervillain blooms comically on his face while Doctor chugs her blood-tinged wine. He was in over his head with Brawler too, but they shared a reciprocity that's sadly absent here. Hope the sex was worth it, buddy!
The other transparently villainous Akudama also takes center stage this episode, as Cutthroat finally turns against Swindler and tries to squeeze some of his favorite red juice out of her. Like Doctor, his character has remained pretty static since his introduction; although I do appreciate the infectious mirth behind Takahiro Sakurai's unhinged performance, I can only stand so much of his infantile serial killer demeanor, so I'm not too cut up about seeing him go. But what a sendoff! Akudama Drive's direction morphs effortlessly into slasher mode, altering its mood and even adapting its animation style to best fit the horror melange. Cutthroat himself is animated much more expressively, and some of those expressions are knock-outs. Plenty of obvious visual references to The Shining also decorate the chase scene. I love that, while Jack Torrance needed an axe to slice through a door, Cutthroat needs only his bare hands. Akudama Drive has zero shame and no qualms about broadcasting its influences, nor should it, considering how well it remixes them into a show that still feels fresh nine weeks in.
Overall, despite some shaky components, this was another strong and entertaining installment of Akudama Drive. Swindler has an adorable little found crime family now, and she's beginning to relish her life as a fugitive a bit (gotta love that wry little smile she gives once she realizes how much chaos she inadvertently caused). She even manages to outsmart and outfight Cutthroat, albeit with some remote assistance from Hacker. It's possible the AI in his Haru orb opened the door to the armory by itself, but I'd wager he's been keeping a tab on things through it. One of these days, I'll be proven correct and he'll show up again, mark my words! In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing what Courier's plan is for rescuing Brother from midair, because I'm sure he somehow has one. Akudama Drive hasn't let itself be held back by common sense yet, and I doubt it's going to start anytime soon.
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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