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I like smart TV shows. I like some dumb ones too, provided they're actually enjoyable and not just flinging their stupidity in your face. But if there's one thing I absolutely can't stand, it's a dumb show that thinks it's smart. And that's the problem with Akame Ga Kill.
The show—and the manga it was based on, from what I've read of it— talks a big game about being morally ambiguous and "mature", but it all falls flat after watching just a few episodes. Most of the characters are cardboard cutouts with no personality beyond the stereotypes they represent, and the few who aren't get killed off to quickly for us to care. The villains are of the bland "evil for the hell of it" variety, and with the exception of Esdeath they lack any sort of charisma to make up for it.
To make matters worse, the setting is poorly established, with generic names like "The Empire" and "The Capital" being thrown about. Video game terminology gets used a lot even though the show isn't based on a video game, and the characters dress as though they all came from different shows. It's especially jarring when one character wears headphones, despite nothing more advanced than a steamship being seen elsewhere in the setting.
We're told that there are ancient, powerful weapons called Teigu, but we never get much in the way of a backstory on these, which would have been fascinating. Nor do we hear much about the larger world in which this Empire exists, or how it became so corrupt in the first place. The whole series is little more than an un-ironic exercise in the most overused anime and RPG cliches, with nothing to set it apart from other works that did the same things earlier—and better.
Akame Ga Kill is one of the worst-written shonen manga of all time.
I'm not kidding, and let me explain why I think this way.
See these Designated Evil and Narm tropes on the YMMV page ? (I added the latter one, by the way.) They encapsulate absolutely everything that is wrong with Akame Ga Kill.
The manga is a festival of cruel, gratuitous violence (both in the physical, mental and sexual sense of the word), very predictable character deaths for the sole sake of shock value, shallow and clichéd characters fined-tuned to maximize the gratuitous violence, and a world so crapsack that even the writers of Warhammer 40K would find it a little over-the-top.
And you know what ? I could be fine with it all. I can appreciate a violent, exploitative story once in a while, one of these stomach-churners that nonetheless make for a mesmerizing read. I don't find the crapsackness of the world repulsive in on itself (hell, one of my favorite mangas is Berserk), and the character designs, clichéd as they can be, look cool enough. The fights and powers are rather cool as well (in the manga, that is.), which is really the least you can ask of a Shonen series.
But Akame Ga Kill isn't satisfied with just being that kind of series. Because Akame Ga Kill manages to be pretentious.
It had to try and establish Grey and Grey Morality, thus taking any reader thinking about it for more than five seconds for a complete idiot. It had to try to have its shock value-filled cake and eat it too. Even if her design is cool, Esdeath is such an invincible Villain Sue that it makes her appearances boring. Even the "good" members of the Jaegers are working under such patently evil assholes with precisely zero wish for reform that it makes you wonder if they are supposed to be delusional (special mention to Wave, whose only reason for siding with the Jaegers instead of Night Raid is becaue he got saved by someone once.). Anti-Villains can work, and work quite well indeed, but I lose my sympathy for them when they serve complete psychos instead of more reasonable employers.
In a few words: if you want to read Akame Ga Kill, turn off your brain completely. Just stare at the violence on the pages - but if you're like me and tend to feel pissed off when media tries to pass itself as something much smarter than it actually is, go read Berserk.
Akame ga Kill is what you'd expect from a shounen anime/manga with a basic formula and premise. The one thing about this series that stood out, however, was how surprisingly dark it was. The fights are actually pretty darn gory, unspeakable things constantly happen to good people, and almost all of the villains are the worst kind of monsters.
The story is pretty straightforward, constantly reinforcing Night Raid is good, the Empire is horrible and morality is firmly Black and White. It's a simple formula that keeps what's important and most well-done (the fights) in focus. Also worth noting, Akame is one of the few series I've found that can balance intense violence and drama along with classic, goofy Shounen comic relief. It actually manages to play out smoothly with little mood whiplash.
As for the characters, the heroes' team is rather bland and predictable, with all the fundamental personalities being covered, like Big Brother Mentor, the Tsundere, the Chivalrous Pervert, the Nice Girl, etc. The VILLAINOUS team, however, I found very rich and interesting. Most of the Jaegars are actually highly sympathetic compared to the rest of the villains. In fact, the Jaegers are so cool I found myself ambivalent at times over who I want to win when the two teams clash. The complexity of the Jaegers also lends beautifully to the Cycle of Revenge underlying the conflict between the two sides. I found these "villains" to be the best part of the series.
All in all, Akame is your typical shounen series, but the intense fights, cool villains (well, the Jaegars, at least), and skillful use of the Anyone Can Die trope still makes for an enjoyable experience if nothing else. Also, if you like the anime, definitely check out the manga, it's even better and still ongoing.
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