Akame ga Kill! Ep. 1: Dead, tortured villagers and a catgirl

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Throughout the first episode, the story repeatedly hammers home the point that the capital city is one messed-up place. Tatsumi, our initially doe-eyed protagonist, thinks he’s going to find a job in the city in order to help secure the financial well-being of his village. People repeatedly tell him, however, that city is rotting from the inside out. Those danger beasts he’s been slaying apparently have nothing on the true monstrosity of the people he’ll soon encounter. Sure enough, Tatsumi is eventually taken in by Aria, a well-to-do young lady, and her family. He thinks she’s all kind-hearted and everything, but he eventually learns the truth: this is a household full of sick, twisted sadists. In fact, Aria has been luring unsuspecting villagers much like Tatsumi himself into her home. Then once they’ve fallen for her trap, she and her family tortures them. Oh by the way, two of these victims just so happen to be Tatsumi’s friends from his village. Boy, this sounds like it’s going to be a dark anime! There’s just, uh, one small problem: it feels as though half of Akame ga Kill!‘s first episode desperately wants to be a comedy.

The way I see it, the story — at least in the very first episode — doesn’t really give a shit about the victims. Oh sure, Night Raid’s stated purpose is to go after the corrupted ranks among the rich and the powerful. Oh, I guess I should explain what Night Raid even is. It’s a group of assassins comprised of hot babes and some schmucks, and they like to target people much like Aria. If it was just unfair taxation or labor exploitation, however, we’d have no story. No, that isn’t quite right. We’d still have a story, but it just wouldn’t be a story that most people would want to see. Imagine going through all the motions to mount a protest, stage a labor walk-out, petition for new laws, etc. Gosh, wouldn’t that be boring? Yo, we want blood to spurt all over the place. We want limbs to go flying through air as if they weigh practically nothing. We want our characters to strike a pose after they’ve thrown a spear cleanly through a complicit guard’s neck. Let’s just come right out and say it: we want to kill.

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That’s fine. The word ‘kill’ is even in the title. I didn’t go into this expecting to see sunshine, rainbows, and peaceful mediation between two sides. Still, there’s something off-putting about how the story’s been set up. Y’see, exploiting the poor and the weak certainly is evil, but we need superevil. We need evil so evil that executions aren’t just an unfortunate necessity. They become fun. These bastards’ deaths become a show and a dramatic one at that. Most of all, we need the poor and the weak to suffer so that we can have an excuse to hack some evil bitches up. Sayo and Ieyasu are the prime examples of this. Their deaths hardly even linger around long enough in the consciousness to leave any sort of emotional impact. Rather, they simply provide our hero with a quick and dirty impetus to immediately do an about-face and take Aria’s life. As soon after he does so, he is whisked away by the members of Night Raid. As our hero disappears into the darkness with his newfound allies, we hear him scream, “What’s up with this turn of events?! What’s going to happen to me?” Y’know, like this is some whacky shounen story.

There’s nothing wrong with mixing humor and the taboo, per se. Basically, this would give birth to what we commonly know as dark comedy. The thing is, however, what we get in this first episode isn’t dark comedy. In other words, the humor in the show isn’t actually trying to shine an ironic spotlight on the ugliness of human nature. Instead, the two elements are compartmentalized, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. On the one hand, we have a storehouse full of tortured victims. Tatsumi even sees one of his friends hanging naked and brutalized before him. On the other hand, we have these wacky moments which have nothing to do with the murders themselves. Dark comedy involves making light of serious subject matters. Why? Because they are so serious. Often times, we avoid the taboo because it’s too horrific to confront. As a result, dark comedy allows us to explore these topics in a safer, less traumatic environment. But like I’ve said, the humor in this first episode is kept separate from the actual horror of the story.

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It’s actually typical anime humor, to be quite honest. Oh look, women sure do love to go shopping, haha. That giant present that Aria just bought is wacky! Hey, the Shredder-looking guy isn’t as intimidating as he looks! He might even be a little fruity! Watch yourself, Tatsumi! Man, isn’t Akame kind of deadpan in her responses? Oh, that incorrigible girl! So like I’ve said, while we do get both comedy and the macabre within a single episode, they never actually touch each other. It thus isn’t interested in making light of the dark and the taboo, thereby allowing us to explore these grave and serious issues. But that’s not even the problem. Rather, the real issue is how this ends up making those same serious subjects seem, well, insignificant but not in a good way. The humor doesn’t add anything to the show’s darkness. Rather, it distracts us from it. It makes Sayo and Ieyasu’s deaths feel like an aside, a footnote, a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. And when you have the poor and the weak being poisoned and tortured in some storehouse, I’m not sure how well that sits with me.

It’s not as though I want a grimdark series. After all, I’ve just extolled the virtues of dark comedy a mere couple paragraphs ago. As a result, I’d have no problems if the first episode had actually been chock full of black humor. The issue at the moment is that the anime doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. At times, it feels like a generic shounen series with all the generic shounen hijinks that we’ve come to expect and dread. At other times, however, it’s a story about a group of well-intentioned assassins going after villains that would put some of history’s most notorious serial killers to shame. I mean, c’mon, we have a storehouse full of tortured villagers, and this is just the first episode. What’s next? Mengele-esque human experimentation? Look, if Naruto‘s your thing, that’s no sweat off my back. To each his or her own, y’know. I just don’t think a NarutoShigurui crossover would necessarily make for a very good story. I’m not saying that Akame ga Kill! is very similar to either of those two series. I’m just saying that putting humor and taboo subjects side-by-side, but refusing to let them mix is a strange way to go about it.

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Anyway, I can only hope that future episodes will get a better handle of what Akame ga Kill! truly wants to be. And if humor is going to stick around, I hope it’ll be used in a meaningful way, and not just some cheap visual gag that has nothing to do with the overall story. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to spruce up the animation quality a bit. What we see in this week’s episode is honestly kind of mediocre.

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16 thoughts on “Akame ga Kill! Ep. 1: Dead, tortured villagers and a catgirl

  1. Kong Ben

    his 2 friends are tortured to death, all our MC could do is cut the girl and kill her in an instant and in the same instant forget about his friends and move on….. i am not expecting our MC to tortured that evil girl or something but at least a sad sound track + some tears would have gone a long way

    Reply
  2. Caustic

    It’s White Fox, what do you expect?

    And personally, it never gets better. Akame ga Kill’s main appeal is cheap shock value, and lots of it.

    Reply
    1. SP

      While it does have a few good points (some of character interactions & it’s action), it’s overall take on the main theme (rebellion, war, death & torture) is childish & superficial. It’s like someone who never read anything beyond mainstream shonen action manga suddenly read a poor Garth Ennis comics (The Boys) & suddenly decided to write his own manga by mixing these two.

      Reply
  3. Flawfinder

    I kinda like how your Kamisama Dolls posts are in the related section for this. I mean yes, the first episode of this has the same problems as that series’ entire existence, but it still made me chuckle. Anyways, not much I can add to the discussion since me and several others were turned off with how much of a tonal mess this was for the reasons you described, although I’m still watching this for blog-related reasons.

    Out of curiosity, what anime would you say did dark humor the best? If I had to choose, I’d probably pick either Akira or Detroit Metal City.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I don’t know. Maybe the manga adaptation of Welcome to the NHK (anime adaptation was pretty tame). I haven’t read the novel so I have no idea what it’s like.

      Reply
  4. Ax_v

    When I finished watching this I though, “This is what all the hype was about?” I know it’s the first episode, but first episodes usually set the tone for the rest of the season. It’s just so…ok. Even the art is too generic, for me. Nothing I’d lose my shit over. Then I see tons of people saying how “Awesome” it is, mostly because they read the manga and liked it. Personally, I do think it will get better, but if that “humor” stays it wouldn’t even matter if it gets better or not.

    Reply
    1. Akuma

      It’s not going to go away.

      Akame Ga Kill is that odd sort of series where it uses extremes to try to and set it apart from other shounen. But it doesn’t actually do anything really interesting with those extremes, it’s closer to the shock quality of a grindhouse movie then anything actually written well. It also never stops jumping between the light hearted comedy moments and these depictions of ‘dark’ murder, there’s one character in particularly later on that keeps doing exactly that to the point where it’s pretty ridiculous.

      It’s alright as something you just read through in one sitting, but if your given a moment to think about it it doesn’t stand up very well.

      Reply
  5. Anonymous

    The first picture makes me cry.
    Ehh, I heard this thing even has a pregnant woman raped by a dog or something. So I think it’s just trashy.

    Reply
  6. ChaosCallMe

    Eh, this is probably actually a good thing. The manga is so damn gratuitious. It just throws decapitations and nonsensical rape around like it’s in style. Not very well handled.

    Reply
    1. kaoknight

      Yeah, im convinced that the authour is trying too hard to “edgy” and just doesnt know when to stop.

      For some reason I could bear/ignore the faults with the manga but they become way more apparent when animated and not on pages.

      I think The manga used a bait-and-switch approach of selling it as a typical shonen but then pulls an Ass load of shock value(they did the same shock bait thing magica madoka but it was way more tame and not up to eleven like akame).

      Reply
  7. Boytitan

    I normally love gore Gants,Guyver, and Hellsing are some of my favorite series. But this show just made me go wtf, It goes from shounen jokes I would find in a light hearted series like Jing King of bandits and air gear to extreme murder and torture, This series just does not sit right with me for that. Also if they are keeping the jokes and adding rape later its just well wrong and kinda sick for anyone to even write like that.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    I totally agree with this post. When I watched the start of the anime and he killed the earth dragon, I was thinking, thats it? Then with him getting robbed it seemed even more not fitting to the story, because in my opinion they could’ve made the robbing a lot more intense and make you actually care so when he did meet the Assassin guys again it would’ve made a lot more sense for him to believe the Aria girl over the Assassins. Personally I’ll keep watching but if the annoying humor that isn’t even funny is still their I’m done. It just doesn’t mesh with the whole story and feels I want from the anime

    Reply
  9. kaoknight

    Tbh, i’m a big fan of the manga, I saw a lot of faults in the story like the over-the-top evil villains but still enjoyed it but I fear that this show may become Marrai nikki 2014.

    I don’t know how well this will be adapted but in comic the shonen undertones and weird pacing eventually faded out but the author still doesn’t have a discretion when it comes to being dark and will show a villain rape & slaughtering dozens of times like beating a dead horse just incase the audience couldn’t tell that they were evil.

    I think the main reason why tatsumi didn’t stress over his dead “friends” was because they werent developed at all which is just faulty writing if you ask me.

    I don’t know if you’ll consider this a spoiler alert but characters will die and I don’t just mean the nameless losers being plucked off while the main cast is super safe no matter what like in attack on titans but ACTUAL main characters but it may come off cheap shock value many.

    Reply
    1. Boytitan

      Yea but attack on titan has very organic character interactions. They react to each other the way real people would. This shows character interactions are the exact opposite.

      Reply
    2. m

      All important characters have plot armor. The only important characters that die are villians, two people that joined the group before the arc starts that kill them (making it slightly less obvious than Sachi in SAO episode 3) and that bro because our MC needs to get a power from somewhere…

      Also, pedo black rape clowns that kill innocent families. Shock value is the onyl thing this series has, really. Except it is not even shcking because it is so predictable…

      Reply
      1. kaoknight

        yeah, I see the faults of this show but for some reason it’s a guilty pleasure of mine.

        And I agree, the pedo clown along with his group of serial killers were a bit much and overdone(they literally showed multiple chapters in a row that had nothing but them killing people over and over).

        [spoiler alert, only read if you’ve read the manga]
        tatsumi is the MC and akame is too OP(and she has her name in the title) so they’re the only ones that actually have some sort of plot armor.
        But about 4 people died so far, braht, the scissor girl, that bull guy and that shapeshifter(forgot her name) while some other MC’s are showing a bunch of death flags.

        Reply

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