So I finally got around to watching Akame ga Kill!
The story tells of Tatsumi, a swordsman from a small village who comes to the capital with his friends, in order to raise money for his village. He quickly learns of the depravity and poverty that is rife in the capital and joins Night Raid, a crack unit of assassins who have made it their mission to end the Empire’s corrupt regime.
This series was a breath of fresh air. Takahiro has attempted something that I haven’t often seen in a series. He has created a series that is unrelentingly fast-paced, full of indiscriminate deaths, which reflect the world where these assassins live. Death occurs randomly, frequently, and the characters (and audience) cannot prepare for it.
I haven’t seen many shows where the narrative structure and dialogue do so much to emphasise the mood of the series. I have read blog posts and forum comments where people have criticised the shows use of comedy. Most of the comments talk about how the comedy is mis-timed and jar with the show’s dark tone.
But I would argue that this is part of Takahiro’s plan for the series. While the comedy breaks up the drama, it also adds to it. Light-hearted scenes are usually cut short by a fight to the death or serious statement, and this highlights the harsh reality of Night Raid’s life.
In episode 2 of the anime, Tatsumi envisages Night Raid as ‘assassins of justice,’ and is roundly laughed at. The laughter is cut short by the Night Raid members’ stark warning that:
“No matter how you spin it, we commit murder. There’s no justice in something like that. Everyone here could die at any moment, as retribution for our actions.”
As assassins, their lives are full of death, they acknowledge that they could be killed at any given time, but they are still humans. They laugh, find humour in everyday scenarios, but death permeates every aspect of their lives, and so they can only afford to switch off momentarily before they are brought back to reality.
Some people have also criticised Akame ga Kill’s lack of character exploration: ‘there are so many death scenes, but because the characters lack depth, you can’t really empathise with them.’ For some people this is one of the series main weaknesses.
However, I would argue that, as hardened killers, Night Raid and the Imperial Guard cannot afford to show vulnerability, which is why we barely know the back stories of the characters. It is only with Tatsumi as our focaliser that we get to know anything about our assassins. Assassins are not meant to be open books, and so the characters are not fleshed-out as they are in other series.
Akame ga Kill! is exciting, adrenaline inducing, and unrelenting, and tries its best to make you a part of its world. This could also be extended to the way in which futuristic technology is merged with a seemingly medieval setting. This is easy to miss, but looking at it more closely, I realise that these motifs act as a subtle way of indoctrinating the reader/viewer into the world of the series. By merging the modern and familiar with the unfamiliar, we relate more easily with the ways of that world.
The series is by no means perfect, that’s for sure! The finale between the assassins and the Emperor is anticlimactic, overly dramatic, formulaic, and is the worst fight scene in the entire series.
But the ways in which Takahiro keeps his assassins true to themselves, by making them hard to read and understand, counter intuitively, makes the world of Akame ga Kill! more realistic in its depiction of its main characters. Whether or not these experiments succeed or not, is for you to decide.