Akame ga Kill!

3 out of 5

Directed by: Tomoki Kobayashi

Tatsumi is the kind of youthful, bright-eyed sort who we know is going to get a wake-up call soon.  Travelling out from his destitute homeland with two friends, they seek to use their battlin’ prowesses to earn moneys, but are soon enough separated, and Tatsumi winds up about where we expected: in the kingdom’s capital, penniless after being swindled during a con.  He’s taken in by a well-seeming family… and depending on the tone of the story you’re watching, things are either going to get fish-out-of-water silly, or this will be the start of an adventure, or – as suggested by Akame ga Kill’s darker beats – much, much darker.

Or, uh, all three.  Which isn’t very effective.

Initially, Agame ga Kill does take the latter route: Tatsumi is quickly thrust forth into the realization that corruption runs deep in the capital: friends are lost; those who offer kindness are holding knives behind their backs.  He falls in with a subversive group of assassins called Night Raid, as they recognize that his aforementioned battlin’ prowess is actually legit, and he proved able to see the truth of the situation in the Capital sooner than most.  Several gory assassinations follow, with a constant hefty reminder from his new team: Night Raid are murderers.  The stakes of the various scuffles underline the impact of violence, and it seems like the show is aiming toward some interesting grey areas, comparing relative good versus relative evil.

Ah, but then there’s also fan service.  And slapstick comedy.  Tatsumi is a cutie pie and the Night Raid girls have crushes on him, and each Raid member has quirky habits reminiscent of the defined-by-joke characters of shows like Black Clover.  While some moments suggest that the show is using this humor to purposefully juxtapose the darker stuff – meaning that it’s intended to build an important duality – that falls away after several repeated gags, and extending the humor to some battle scenes.  Frustratingly, though, these bits in and of themselves are amusing… they’re timed well, acted well, and would be a great component of a more straight-forward action-comedy, except… yeah, that’s not what this is.

Just in case that one wrinkle ain’t enough, we also have “Imperial Arms” – mystical weapons – and Danger Beasts – two fantasy elements that are huuuge distractions from the more grounded Rebels vs. The Capital storyline, and offer a digression into lore: where the Arms come from, how they function, who owns them, etc.  Most of the assassins have them, which gives them unique abilities which are cool to animate, for sure, but anime can have this kind of magic / fantasy stuff without blinking, and I would’ve accepted otherworldly weaponry without the attempts to world-build around it.  Perhaps in a longer running show, or in the manga, where the concept could probably be seeded in better, it’d work, but here it becomes another hiccup that affects the tone.  And yet, it’s another piece that works okay in isolation.

Which is what keeps Akame ga Kill completely watchable, and entertaining: moment to moment, it succeeds.  Taken altogether it waters itself down, but it’s individual peaks are rather high – especially when it takes itself seriously, even if it never manages to dig into the good and evil dualities beyond surface level – and despite the comedy, the series continually throws down the gauntlet and shows us that pretty much none of the characters are truly “safe.”  White Fox also animates the heck out of this thing, with greatly followable fight choreography, character models with full personalities, and a sense of space to the various settings.  Maybe someone comes back around and makes an “action” cut, and a “drama” cut, and a “comedy” cut, 8 episodes a piece, but even as an action / drama / comedy mish-mash, it’s enjoyable.