Akame ga Kill! – 04-07 Review
Sure, that’s how you handle sadness: You just beat it out of yourself!
Is the Capital actually worth saving? The way I see it, 60% (at least!) of that city are insane, evil people who need to be killed by Night Raid. I don’t even know why anyone would even wanna live in the Captial with all those psychopaths around! And this so-called Revolutionary Army? Well, good for them that they can sit on their asses in safety while Night Raid does their dirty work. All the busywork and none of the glory – no wonder Tatsumi wants to be a member of Night Raid!
Night Raid don’t kill people. Can anything they call that obscenely evil even be called human? I mean, looking at it that way at least saves them the trouble of feeling pity or remorse. But when one of their own dies… that one hurts. Then again, you don’t become a member of Night Raid for your sunday-school-behavior.
So, in the end despite all the killing, blood and gore, being a Night Raid assassin is just like any other job: You simply move on. You do your job and you move on. Hey, some comrades will leave you along the way but nobody said the job-market isn’t tough, right?
If the series would actually embrace crazy moments like these, this series would actually able to deliver some interesting fun. But instead this is just a stylish way to dress up average shounen-genre-tropes.
A series’ ambition isn’t necessarily indicative of its quality. Then again, ambition is usually equated with depth and excellence to a degree where what a series wants to talk about becomes more important than how it talks about those things. Rather than blaming average-seeming series for not wanting to be deep, the issue isn’t its story-material but rather its formulaic approach.
This series is less unambitious than simply not committed enough to what it’s doing. It’s chickening out. When I look at a series like Zankyou no Terror, it’s obvious that it’s a series oozing with meaning (which doesn’t make it automatically entertaining of course) but when I look at Akame ga Kill, I see a rather average shounen-series that tries to look cool. I’ve already talked at length about how the series doesn’t use any of its core-ideas to its full potential and so what’s left is to talk about what the series is actually doing.
It all starts with the series’ notion of evil. Actually, it has become clear that it’s less about evil but more about heightening certain tropes. None of the brutality or goriness is actually necessary for the plot or story. It’s all just a choice of style. The bloody gore or evilness of some scenes doesn’t really impact any other scenes because it’s more about style than content when it comes to these things. This series has moments when in an effort to be dramatic, it uses these mannerisms of a dark and grim story but the series on the whole doesn’t commit to those. The darkness in this series is an obscene parade of excessive evildoing.
The series lacks any sense of human warmth, though and struggles to put its grotesquely evil moments into context. Akama ga Kill just slaps the audience with these moments without caring about how impactful those scenes are dramatically. Evil is generally impersonal, simply grotesque or unreasonably bleak when it comes to the good guys. The series lacks the perspective of even discussing the notion of doing good. Sure, Tatsumi often brings up the topic of what idealistic heroes would’ve done instead but nothing in this series proves him wrong, instead it just seems to be common sense in this series’ universe to react in a snarky way whenever valiant heroism is brought up. And then there are naturally those moments where characters admire Tatsumi for being somewhat idealistic as if it was impossible for anyone else to understand the notion of optimism or idealism.
What happens instead is that the series wants to be so ambiguous about the notion of good and evil that it’s hardpressed to present a clean conflict between good and evil. For all its ambiguity, it doesn’t want to get down into the mud to wrestle with the idea of good and evil. Night Raid characters may have occasionally these little speeches about being bad people but every confrontation is very frantic about judging the evil characters with the notion that they need to die for some reason. Moralistic ambiguity and amorality generally create a state of confusion when you’re asking yourself who’s good or evil. But Akame ga Kill doesn’t have any of that. It’s very clear who the “good” guys are and who the bad guys are. The excessive way in which evil is presented leaves no room for doubts as to who you’re supposed to cheer for. And that the “good guys” go so far as to brutally murder these evil people is only there for style. An actual discussion of morality never really happens. It’s never doubted that the “good guys” are doing wrong things for the right reasons whereas evil people do wrong things for the wrong reasons. And the difference in justification is all the moralizing this series seems to be satisfied with.
This series doesn’t treat any of its gore or dark ambience as an actual theme, it’s more of a little ingredient to spice things up. And it most certainly has succeeded in separating itself from series like Naruto or One Piece like that. The only problem is that overall it still wants to target the same audience Naruto or One Piece would. This series hopes that its “edginess” would provide some sort of excuse for fans of Naruto or One Piece to pay attention to this series. This series’ personality feels more like a response to the approach most mainstream-shounen-series choose than an individualistic endeavor based on originality.
One of the biggest problems of the series’ portrayal of evil is its inability to go beyond showing evil people who are apparently evil just for the sake of being evil.
One just has to look at the Imperial Relics and notice the vague, plot-convenient “magic-system” behind those. For a long-running shounen-series this is exactly what you want, of course. Sure, writing a new chapter each week or month is tough and with the possibility of a series running for a couple hundred chapters (or even more), you need to be prepared. You have to be quite the hotshot to turn down the chance to turn a series into a long-running series. ‘Who cares about the quality when you’re allowed to write and draw a couple hundred fucking chapters and get paid for it!’… is what it basically comes down to. After all, writing hundreds of manga-chapters weekly (or even monthly) without any real lengthy preparation is simply an insane notion. At that point being formulaic is a lifeline to base your ideas on!
More than just having the typical “power-system”, this series also doesn’t know how to translate its edginess for quieter moments. Those quiet moments are often a complete contrast to the gory scenes concerning evil and battles. But instead of trying to make a point with that contrast, it’s an accidental one kind-of – because what is actually going on in these quiet scenes is basically average shounen-esque drivel. Characters defined by certain one-note traits that are used for running-gags and the drama is so blatant in its delivery that it’s already kinda soapy.
And this never becomes more apparent than in Sheele’s death-scene. It’s a typical problem for fiction: How do you handle deathly violence? This series is just another example of the paradox violent series or movies encounter: On one hand you get to see individuals instantly die through one shot, blow or whatever but on the other hand there are death-scenes where dying characters can have a whole dialogue before they’re off to hell, heaven or wherever frigging dead people go. Now, naturally it would be easy to look at this from a realistic angle and wonder what would happen in our reality in these scenes but for the enjoyment of a piece of fiction, I would say the dramatic value is more important. So, it may make not much sense for one shot to instantly kill some goon but if it looks cool and supports the story with this, why not? And if a dying man can say something meaningful to a character who cares about the dying person, it makes sense to suspend your disbelief. I mean, Spider-Man is the best example with its “With great power comes great responsibility.”-line of how you can utilize a dying character. But naturally in a fictional world where people can die instantly the other extreme of dying people being real blabbermouths can become grating very fast. And, well, Sheele’s death-scene was kinda grating because of its length.
It also doesn’t help that this was a scene already dominated by this obscene display of violence and here comes along this cheesy death-scene. The violence in that scene was brutal! Any sort of melodrama would’ve been misplaced in that scene but Sheele’s death really knocks it out of the park with her lengthy monologue and the way she saves Mine. The scene acts like it expects the audience to be swept up by the tragedy of her death but this is also the series that is so blatantly grim that its “good guys” don’t even want to be compared to heroes. So, empathy would’ve to be earned by the likeability of the dying character. But I’ve already mentioned how characterizations in this show are driven by one-note traits for running gags. Complexity and depth aren’t really a major concern for this series so far when it comes to its characters. What the audience gets in the end is an unnecessarily lengthy death scene of a character that has barely done anything to be noteworthy.
And the seventh episode doesn’t do anything noteworthy with her death either. Tatsumi has an emotional moment with Akame basically but – it’s a rather shallow one. There was never any doubt that Tatsumi hadn’t committed to the Night-Raid-cause and there was never any doubt about Akame actually caring for her teammates. The change Tatsumi talks about and the emotions Akame shows are superfluous. The scene doesn’t add to the series, it just reiterates stuff that has already been established – but it falsely acts as if something has been changed or added. And after that… Sheele’s death is barely felt as a dramatic presence in the episode.
What follows is the beginning of a rather typical shounen-battle-series-setup: Bulat against some old geezer. Both have Imperial Relics so it’s a power-contest. And also the series lazily uses the personal background of Bulat to turn this enemy into a past close acquaintance. Shounen-series usually go this route when the fight is supposed to be dramatic. When Shounen-series want to tell the audience that a fight matters, they make it a personal one. I find it a bit sad how rarely these series actually use world-building to make battles matter in a bigger sense than to just make it a personal vendetta. Instead there will be flashbacks, accusations, questions and a rather sappy undertone on the whole. You know what I would’ve expected this series to do with this old guy that Bulat once knew and trusted? I would’ve expected him to be turned into an ugly-looking mutated brute with a mindless urge to kill. But by encountering Bulat this brute would sometimes remember his old personality and cry out to Bulat that he should kill him. I say it again: If this series doesn’t plan to create compelling characters for the evil side, they should make evil look as grotesque and inhuman as possible. But this isn’t that series. In the end it’s just an average shounen-series with some slightly different ideas about style.