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Monday, 15 December 2014

Akame ga Kill.

Akame ga Kill.

Good god, the last twenty-four weeks have been a trial by fire when it comes to dealing with annoying fans who yell about adaptations being terrible and the worst thing ever with no redeeming features (while also watching the moment it comes out every week - I've never really understood that).

Akame ga Kill, adapted from the manga of the same name, is the story of Night Raid, a group of assassins working for a revolutionary army within a corrupt empire, ruled over by scheming Prime Minister Honest and his child emperor. With the help of magical weapons called Imperial Arms, Night Raid sets out to assassinate key figures across the Empire. Before long, however, they're drawn into a rivalry with the Jaegers, a secret police force under the command of the bloodthirsty General Esdeath.

Apart from the aforementioned confusing encounters with fans over quality, I also had confusing encounters with fans over whether Akame ga Kill was a dark, gritty story of war and blood and tragedy, because so many people were saying it was, but it clearly isn't. By jove, does it have pretensions of being so, killing off characters by the bucket load (and in one notable instance, introducing a character only to kill them a few episodes afterwards) and occasionally throwing in references to sexual assault, but these seemed to be more just immature whimsy of an unskilled writer in what was, in every other aspect, a lulzy shounen anime about people beating each other up with their magical weapons. Which is fine. I like lulzy shounen anime.

Pictured here, someone who should have gotten more screentime.

In that role, it works pretty well. The action scenes are good, and the Imperial Arms, while very much built in the generic 'personalised magical weapons' mould, are varied and interesting enough that you're genuinely intrigued by them. The story progresses at a fast pace, but is still divided into discrete arcs. The pacing starts to go a little wonky towards the end, but Akame ga Kill would hardly be the first anime to suffer from that. 

There are problems, too. Tatsumi, our lead (or at least our viewpoint character), is by far not the most interesting character in the show, being a very formulaic shounen anime lead, and thus consistently outshone by the rest of the cast, especially his co-protagonists - fellow assassin Akame (who despite being the eponymous character, really does not get enough screentime), and opposite number in the Jaegers, navy man Wave. In fact, the series might have been much improved by his total removal, making Akame the main character in Night Raid, and Wave the main character in the Jaegers. 

Nobody can ever tell me that Wave and Run aren't dating.

In general, the writing is not of the finest quality. Characters don't really develop: In place of development, there tends to simply be the reaffirming of qualities we already knew they had. Wave is honest, upright and interested in protecting people? Well, here's an arc in which we learn that Wave is honest, upright and interested in protecting people. Esdeath is torn between a need for human affection and a warped, bloodthirsty nature compounded by Randian philosophy? Here's an arc establishing how Esdeath is torn between a need for human affection and a warped, bloodthirsty nature compounded by Randian philosophy.

It's a failure with the source material, which also finds character development to be distasteful, it seems. Characters undergo events that should prompt them to change, but they never do.

The plotting is also sub-par. It's an excuse to match up characters for fights, and everyone knows that, so I can't rail too hard against the lacklustre plotting. I am going to complain about it a little, however, because the plot often feels like it doesn't connect with itself. Point A - say, assassinating a political figure - doesn't smoothly lead on to any kind of Point B, or influence the wider plot in any way. We're given reasons why Night Raid might assassinate someone (usually with an addendum noting that the target is also just objectively a horrible person, because even minor villains in this show are cartoonishly evil in order to avoid any moral consequences for the protagonists), but we never see any consequences for it, which makes the final confrontation come more or less out of nowhere. 'We can take down the Prime Minister now!' Great! How have any of your actions thus far led you to this point, or did you just need to complete a certain number of side quests before it became available.

Pictured: Yet more heterosexuality.

The thing is, if you're doing a story about assassins operating in a corrupt fantasy empire, then I kind of need to see some moral ambiguity there. Akame ga Kill is set up perfectly for it, too: With the story split between Night Raid and the Jaegers, you could easily examine both the moral difficulties in assassinating people (especially if they're good people, as realistically some of their targets would be) in order to secure a future that's better for the masses, and the moral difficulties in protecting a status quo that ultimately does more harm than good. 

(The story does try, very briefly, to touch on this with Run, a Jaeger who wants to ascend the ranks of the political system and change the Empire from within, and who is against Night Raid's violent and dangerous methods. Then a gigantic robot attacks and everyone forgets that they were having that particular discussion.) 

I realise you might think I'm joking. I want to make it absolutely
clear that I am not.

One thing I do have to praise Akame ga Kill for, though, is that it's actually - surprisingly forward thinking for an anime. Most of the time, at least. The main cast contains a pretty much even split of men and women, with women leading both groups. In addition to that, of the four big rivalries of the series, three of them are between women, and none of those three have anything to do with men. The show passes the Bechdel Test easily. In addition to that, the story has an openly gay man in the role of the main character's big brotherly mentor - the series' treatment of him is far from perfect, as Tatsumi gets his fair share of 'gay panic' jokes - but he's nevertheless represented as an unambiguously heroic and admired figure. 

Akame ga Kill is never going to be an anime classic, but it is a lot of fun, and worth watching for that reason. 

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