When it reached its midpoint, I wasn't exactly thrilled with Akame Ga Kill. However, by consistently bucking trends and subverting expectations, it won me over in the end.
[Note: This review contains massive spoilers for Akame Ga Kill. For a non-spoiler look at the series, check out our review of the first half.]
Built into the premise of Akame Ga Kill is a simple rule: When two people wielding magical weapons fight, one of them will die. And from the start, the anime made plain its willingness to kill off main characters, heroes and villains alike. So, at the time of my first half Akame Ga Kill review, I assumed that everyone was basically already dead—except for Tatsumi (the lead character) and Akame (the title character)—and thus had trouble connecting with any of the characters.
But as the show continues on, there is a lull where none of the heroes die and existing characters are developed while new ones on both sides are introduced. It is a perfect ploy to get you to lower your guard. Because of their constant exposure and long-term development, it appears that most of the heroes will make it to the climax at least. Of course, this is all just to lure you into a false sense of security so that when the bodies begin piling up again a few episodes later, you're invested in the characters and feel each death keenly.
In most anime, it's easy to see who the main romantic couple is going to be—-namely, the main character and the most prominent character of the opposite sex. In the case of Akame Ga Kill, it seems even more obvious. Tatsumi is the main character and Akame the title character; so of course they are destined to fall in love with each other. Except, brilliantly, they don't.
Rather, despite Akame's major role in both Tatsumi's life and the story at large, Tatsumi falls in love with Mine, the series' token Tsundere character. While Mine obviously has a thing for Tatsumi from early on, you discount it as it looks like one of the myriad of unrequited romances from any number of other anime. However, slowly and naturally their relationship grows and Tatsumi begins to reciprocate—subverting any number of expectations along the way.
But romance isn't the only way Akame Ga Kill challenges your anime preconceptions—there are many ways the anime twists the typical shonen fighting genre style as well. You expect a villain who is in love with the hero to be redeemed through the power of love. She isn't. You expect the hero of the story to save the woman he loves from mortal danger. He doesn't. And even in an anime founded on the premise that “no one is safe,” you don't expect all but two of the heroes (and two of the villains) to die—especially when Tatsumi himself is one of the casualties.
But perhaps the most shocking moment comes right near the end, where the now deposed boy king—who was obviously the evil chancellor's innocent puppet—is publicly executed. Of everything, I think child murder was probably the thing I least expected to see in this anime (though it tragically made sense in context).
Like many anime, Akame Ga Kill is based on a manga—a manga that has yet to be completed. While many anime adaptations simply have no ending in cases like this (or opt to do a filler story arc and tread water), Akame Ga Kill goes the rarely used route of making its own ending, free of the source material. It is this freedom that likely allows for all the ways the series breaks with convention—especially in regard to the fates of the characters. After all, if you're going to be doing something different, why not just go all in.
One of my biggest gripes in my review of the first half of Akame Ga Kill is that the show has a bad habit of shattering the suspension of disbelief—even in its fantasy world. Now, make no mistake, the second half is much better in this regard, but things like a flintlock pistol that can fire a good dozen shots in rapid succession still pop up from time to time and undercut what should be dramatic scenes.
But perhaps the event that takes you most out of the story is the final scene of the anime. In it, Najenda tells Akame that everything has been set up so that all the rebellion's questionable acts will fall on her shoulders—simultaneously allowing the new government a fresh start and making Akame the most hunted person in all the land for crimes she did not commit. However, Akame takes that misplaced responsibility stoically and begins her life as a fugitive.
If that sounds like a familiar ending, it should. It is basically the ending of one of the most critically acclaimed films of the past decade: The Dark Knight. The problem with reusing any famous scene or situation like that is that it makes you think of the work that made it famous and not what you are currently watching. In the case of Akame Ga Kill, it is even worse as this is the final scene and thus the series robs itself of its final goodbye to the audience.
Ultimately, Akame Ga Kill's great strength is its willingness to play with—or outright ignore—many of anime's most prominent clichés. It creates a story that is not only action-packed and fun to watch but also marvelously tense as the unexpected can happen at any moment. While it does stumble at times, it is a solid anime at its core and is perfect for anyone who grew up watching shonen fighting anime like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto and is now looking for something a bit more “grown up.”
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