Akudama Drive – Anime Review
Synopsis: Many years ago, a Great Civil War ravaged Japan, leaving the country fragmented between two regions: Kansai and Kanto. In Kansai, a group of six Akudama carry out missions given to them by a mysterious black cat, while evading the police. But a dangerous journey is about to unfold when a civilian girl becomes twisted into the Akudama’s way of life and witnesses their criminal drives. (Official Funimation Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Akudama Drive may not actually be all that deep a show, boasting a weighty narrative, layered characters or expansive world building, but what it does offer is a torrent of well-paced action, frequent suspense, and a multitude of thrills as an average girl becomes sucked into the world of the Akudama; criminals for hire and a mysterious job that sets them under the relentless pursuit of Kansai’s top executioners. This is all bolstered as Akudama Drive is one of several Winter titles to continuously impress with its visuals throughout its entire run. It’s not uncommon for anime to suffer significant mid-series visual lulls; where the production buckles under the pressure of a strict time table that hinders the staff’s ability to pump out awesome visual feasts that make anime exciting and captivating. Here Akudama Drive seems to have avoided that complication, affording audience some of the strongest action animation this season, with only Jujutsu Kaisen outdoing it. Not only that, but the design sense brought forward by Tanioka Yoshio, Tsuneki Shinobu, Yamamoto Shou, and Miyagawa Haruo crafts an arresting and unique futuristic cyberpunk take on a Japan ravaged by war and rebuilt as a truly dystopian society. The mix of shadow and bright neon colors is reminiscent of 80s Cyberpunk-aesthetic like blade-runner, yet still boasts a distinctly Japanese feel.
Linny: It’s certainly a constant thrill ride with plenty of action and violence, so much so that I would like to give squeamish viewers a heads up. There is a LOT of blood and gore in the series, especially the deeper we get. It becomes common to find the most grotesque events censored with large black lines chopping entire portions off the screen, particularly as the brutally increases with each episode. Still, even with such heavy censoring, all the implied violence might still be a tad too upsetting to some as people are hacked and slashed apart with abandon. With that warning said and done, let’s now step past the superficial and discuss the story itself. Action is Akudama Drive’s bread and butter. The series is so fast paced with it that not a single episode ever feels all that stagnant or boring. However, the story beats themselves, characters and plot progression all tend to fall on the familiar side. You’ll likely recognize common stereotypes like the blood licking psychopathic killer who is so enamoured with killing that even having his legs cut off fails to distract him from his desire to kill, or a reprehensible, cowardly person growing a moral compass and backbone during a final, crucial moment. Or the very obvious development that since the ‘bad guys’ are kind of our main characters, sooner or later they will actually turn into some sort of heroes while the ‘good guys’ will reveal themselves to be not so great after all. While you’re unlikely to be bored thanks to the extremely tight pacing, be prepared for Akudama Drive to drift into a predictable flow now and again.
Tom: Akudama Drive’s propensity for falling back on well-worn tropes really sits with the handling of its characters. Notably, none of our characters, from our heroes to our villains, has an actual, honest to god, name. Everyone is referred to by their titles. Even our lead girl, just an ordinary citizen, comes to be known as Swindler, the moniker she adopts for fear the other Akudama will murder her. It’s this naming convention that gives away just how archetypal each of our characters are. Brawler is exactly as you’d expect; a meaty jock-head whose only goal in life is to smash and pummel until he’s declared the very best. Courier is a stalwart, silent ‘anti-hero’ who lacks a discernible persona because his entire being is dedicated to fulfilling the job he’s been given. Everyone more or less fits their title, and even if they don’t they still embody an archetype regardless (Like ‘Doctor’ who is a classic, sexy, femme-fatale through and through.) The way Akudama Drive makes this cast of well-worn archetypes work however is the way in which they interact. There’s some very playful banter and character interaction that keeps this cast lively, at least until the series starts to get increasingly brutal. Once we pass the six episode mark, Akudama Drive starts to get kill happy. Our cast is whittled down over each episode with a death here or there. And that’s certainly shocking, particularly as so many anime have an aversion to even killing their more minor characters. But for Akudama this becomes a problem, as it’s largely the Akudama’s lively interactions that make them a fun bunch, leaving the back half of the series to languish in that regard.
Linny: I might go so far as to argue that there’s a lack of consistency to character growth in some cases, as if the characters aren’t actively learning and absorbing information as they go through all these ordeals. For example, Swindler is an innocent civilian who ends up having to don a fake criminal identity. Despite being arrested due to a misunderstanding, breaking out of prison, going on the run from the law and then, without a doubt, having to become an actual criminal engaging in illegal activity, she then proceeds to try and buy some food using her real identity as soon as she is back in a city. This ‘mistake’ of hers is clearly for the sake of plot progression and it makes no logical sense that someone who has dabbled in this much criminal activity at this point thinks she can use her true identity on a nationwide network without being immediately revealed. Yes, she is no criminal mastermind but it is baffling that someone on the run thought they could get away with what she attempted.
Tom: Another aspect to the series that works at times, and stumbles at others is Akudama Drive’s approach to world building. Early on Akudama Drive excels at dripping in little nuggets of knowledge about its world, particularly Kansai and Kanto’s history. There’s also a great sense of mystery to Akudama Drive that never overwhelms you, but keeps you invested by dripping in details that spark the imagination and make you hunger for more. The series is constantly peeling back layers, revealing details and shedding light on its more central mysteries and burning questions. At least until we reach Akudama’s second arc. Akudama Drive can honestly be split into two arcs; one centered on the initial mission our cast of ‘baddies’ is given at the end of episode 1, and the second that focuses on the aftermath, as some of the series’ biggest questions are answered. That initial ‘heist’ arc is Akudama Drive at its best, with plenty of character banter, drippings of world building and such. It’s in the series second half, beginning around episode 7 or 8, that sees Akudama Drive veer off the rails. Not only does the show lose its fun banter, but Akudama Drive’s world building takes a hit as well. It becomes clear, particularly as we reach series’ end, that Akudama Drive’s world only exists so far as the story needs. There’s niggling questions that are never fully addressed, little details that’ll leave more attentive viewers wanting. It’s not to say Akudama Drive gets bad mind you, but it really is laser focused on following Swindle, and the others, to the conclusion of their story, with little care for satisfying audiences’ grander curiosities.
Linny: You also need to be braced for the show’s propensity for presenting audiences with ‘shocking’ imagery. These can sometimes leads to scenes or sequences whose sole purpose is to make the characters and/or the audience gasp all while throwing all logic and explanation to the wind. A prime case of this is a scene in Episode 7 where the floor of a school gym like room instantaneously transforms to reveal this pool/sea of floating corpses. It’s jarring and makes an undoubtedly impactful visual but we are given no explanation as to how these corpses have all been put there or why they’re being ‘stored’ like this. Do instances like this happen often enough to ruin the story? Not at all! But if you prefer your dramatic scenes to still have serious and logical ties to building the main plot, you might find Akudama’s penchant for extravagant dramatic flair a bit trying.
Tom: Linny’s example is a perfect encapsulation of just how much the world building in Akudama Drive is truly thin, there to make the plot work, but not enough to leave Akudama Drive feeling any deeper or well-thought out. Still, while this review may be harsh at times I ultimately really enjoyed Akudama Drive for what it is. Akudama Drive is a well-paced, chock full of action thriller, that delivers excitement at every turn. Maybe it isn’t all that deep, maybe the world building is a tad thin when we get right down to it, and maybe the characters are based too firmly in well-worn tropes. But what’s here really goes to show how much execution matters over being entirely original. Akudama Drive is undoubtedly one of Winter’s most fun, captivating offerings, and while it’s unlikely to earn itself a place in the pantheon of anime titles that are remembered even decades later, it’s well worth a watch in the here and now.
Linny: As much as I have been piling on with criticism, Akudama Drive was actually one of the shows I would look forward to every week this season. My critiques are more meant to help readers gleam if the show is a good fit for them, pointing out all the potential issues others might have, and what could be show ruining without set expectations. If you’re someone who can sit back and just dabble in some shallow, over the top, non-stop action packed shenanigans wrapped in a cyberpunk aesthetic, Akudama Drive has plenty to love. Yes, the story progression and even the cast can feel paper thin and predictable but the show is packed with enough flair and violence to work as a quick, loud, shut your brain off kind of entertainment.