In recent years, there always seems to be at least one or two anime every year that suddenly skyrockets in popularity. Sometimes it lasts (Attack on Titan), sometimes it doesn’t (No Game No Life). In mid 2014, this show was Akame ga Kill. A lot of the popularity seemed to come from the manga, but the anime also gathered a pretty big following. Unfortunately, popularity doesn’t always correlate with quality.
Akame ga Kill is set in a fantasy universe ruled by a child emperor who is being manipulated by a cruel and selfish minister and rules as a tyrant. After arriving at the capitol, a young warrior named Tatsumi discovers how cruel people can be and ends up joining a group of assassins known as Night Raid. Night Raid opposes the emperor and the prime minister and works to pave the way for a revolution.
The plot is mostly structured like a standard shonen manga: individual arcs with their own subplots and an overarching plot that moves a bit slower. These arcs are generally entertaining and it never feels like it’s wasting too much time. It’s nothing amazing, but the plot is pretty solid, if a bit generic. The setting is a weird mix of fantasy tropes and anime tropes, with some especially anachronistic school uniforms. It’s a bit strange, but not much of a problem. Akame ga Kill’s problems mostly revolve around reaching too far. It tries to be dark and mature, but is never able to sell it. There are plenty of character deaths and a lot of blood, but the tone tends to feel forced. The members of Night Raid mention early on how, regardless of why they’re doing it, they’re still murderers and criminals. This sounds like a pretty interesting idea, but the show never goes anywhere with it and constantly portrays them as the good guys and the villains as clearly evil (one villain regularly has insane-sounding rants about how she fights for justice while brutally killing people). That line is really only there to make the story seem more mature than it is. Dark doesn’t automatically mean good, and trying to make a story darker than it actually is usually causes more problems than if the writers had kept the tone more natural.
Speaking of tone, Akame ga Kill is probably the most atonal anime I’ve ever seen. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but the tonal shifts in it are really that extreme. It has a bad habit of switching from dead serious action to goofy shonen comedy at the drop of a hat, and it feels whiplash inducing. Neither aspect is badly done (there’s a hilarious visual novel parody about half way through) but they’re not integrated well. It’s perfectly possible to mix seriousness and comedy in the same show and even in the same scene, but it requires a certain amount of grace in transitions that Akame ga Kill just doesn’t have. It feels like they stuck One Piece/Soul Eater style comedy into something like Attack on Titan.
The characters are also a mixed bag. Tatsumi himself is about as generic a lead as they come and doesn’t leave much to talk about. He’s a teenager who’s good at fighting and The other members of Night Raid and the villains have a little more personality, although none of them are particularly complex. The secondary villains tend to be pretty generic and the evil minister has basically no personality beyond being evil, but the Jagers, a group formed to hunt Night Raid, are more colorful. Wave, a young man who joins up with them, creates a nice parallel with Tatsumi, and their leader, Esdeath, is a lot of fun to watch. She isn’t very complex, but she’s plenty entertaining as a psychopath who just enjoys killing. The vast majority of character development tends to happen right before the character in question is killed off to make the death more emotional. Tricks like this work okay once or twice, but become predicable and artificial fast. It reaches the point where it’s easy to predict when a character is about to die based on how much development they’re suddenly getting and how sympathetic they are. Developing characters like that makes it seem like they only exist to get killed off, and actually makes their deaths less impactful because they’re so predictable. That’s not to say Akame ga Kill lacks good character moments. Akame’s subplot with her sister is handled especially well, as are Tatsumi’s relationship with the other members of Night Raid and the relationships between the Jagers. It’s just not able to consistently do this.
Luckily, Akame ga Kill is able to work better as an shonen action show. There are plenty of fights with plenty of blood and plenty of entertainment. Most of the characters use special weapons called Imperial Arms that each have different abilities and add some variety to the fights. As is the usual case with shonen, the scale grows as the series go on and the later fights are a lot of fun to watch. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but the action is enough to carry the show when the characters can’t.
The animation was done by White Fox, and is mostly solid. It isn’t amazing but is more than enough to carry the action scenes. The art isn’t anything special and can be a bit generic, but gets the job done. The music is pretty good and sets a nice atmosphere. The main theme, Fallen Heroes, is especially noteworthy. Both openings are solid, and the second is especially interesting in how it mixes soothing and intense sounds. There is a dub, but I haven’t seen it myself.
Overall, Akame ga Kill is a solid shonen action anime that wants to be something it isn’t. It’s fine when it sticks to just that, but it stumbles badly when it tries to create complex characters or be more mature than it actually is. It would have been better if it had just stuck to its strengths instead of overreaching. It’s not a bad show at all and is worth watching if you’re in the mood for that kind of action. It just isn’t as deep or impactful as it wants to be.
Akame ga Kill is available from Sentai Filmworks and is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
Final Score: 7.5/10