This is a top 10 on any top anime list anywhere. Only one season of 24 episodes flies by as it grips you and inspires you and hurts you over and over again. Oddly profound, shamelessly unrealistic, beautiful in so many different ways, this series embodies so many things that make anime great. While it is not about the samurai by any means, the effect of their way, the way of the warrior, on Japanese culture and history is engrained into this tale. For to the death do these heroes fight, and to the death do these heroes live.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 9

So many great characters. As the name of the show implies, Akame is at the center of everything. Not so heavily as you might expect, but nevertheless, it is her strength and power that propel this tale and drives the Empire to its knees.

I cannot think of a show with more powerful female characters than this one. Akame is chief among them. Such a beautiful design and execution. Sora Amamiya brings this character to life. Can you believe this is the same VA as Aqua from KonoSuba? She’s so calm and quiet in this show. She does let loose a couple of times for sure, when her sorrow overwhelms her. If there is anything I would have done differently about her character, it’s how the writers handled showing us her sadness. But even so, I’m not dissatisfied with it. She is unimaginably sad. Tatsumi once refers to the weight she carries, and she gasps that he realizes it, because she makes so great an effort to conceal it. It’s only to Tatsumi that she ever even hints at this crushing weight. Only three times does she show her pain. After Sheele is killed and Tatsumi meets Akame in the kitchen that night, she breaks down and screams and cries. Next time, also with Tatsumi, she cries after she kills Kurome, burying her head against Tatsumi. Lastly, when Tatsumi himself passes, she is inconsolable, crying to him that he promised to survive. At the first of her comrades’ deaths in the show and at the last, the armor on her heart cracks, just a little more at each death . I suppose you could say Kurome’s death, at Akame’s own hand, sums up the pain she’s feeling the most. The pain that she must kill to survive, to give better lives to good people, even if it means killing her own sister. The deaths of her comrades exacerbate this pain, adding new levels of injury to an unkillable heart. Yet to the last she holds strong.

This is the power of Akame’s character. If you’re watching this show, you kind of wonder why this series is even named after her. She’s the most reticent of the entire cast. Bols probably talks more than she does. Her behavior is very ordinary. You’d imagine a warrior like her would have a sullen exterior, like her personality had been broken. Think Homura Akemi (Puella Magi Madoka Magica). Yet her mannerisms don’t show any of that. The shameless overeating, the deadpan responses to humorous moments, she’s generally just very unassuming and normal about most everything. But she does all this intentionally. All the weight of all the people she’s killed and all the comrades she’s seen fall bears down upon her. It’s Esdeath that more or less tells us the truth of the matter at the end. When Akame scores her hand with Murasume and transforms during their battle, Esdeath proclaims that Akame is no longer human. And I think that is closer to the truth than we would think. Akame is just barely living, just barely surviving. Yet through it all she endures. Scarred irreparably after this battle, she wanders the world killing evil in the name of good, surviving that others may live. Akame is an epic character.

Second on this list of powerful female characters is the great one herself, General Esdeath. Easily my favorite villain of all time, and arguably one of my favorite characters anywhere, period. Impossibly powerful in action, voice, design, and execution, she is a top 5 female badass. Called Esdese in the Japanese dialogue, supposedly some play on the word “sadism,” it amounts to the same difference in the English version of her name. She is a bringer of pain and death.

As amazing as Akame’s black and red color palette is, Esdese-shogun takes white and black and blue to a whole new level. Her blue hair is fantastic, right down to her icy eyebrows and eyelashes. That hair goes everywhere, adding to the effect of her clothing in much the same way as Akame’s black hair does. She is large and imposing. Yes large there too. Having read some of this manga (I know I usually don’t, and some of you hold that against me, but you got your way here!), I realize the change they made with her physique in the anime. It’s a little too much in my opinion, but still I guess it adds to her imposing appearance. She is unrivaled outwardly. From her sadistic and confident smile to her towering height, she bears the title of shogun as well as anyone ever did. The military outfit is amazing, cut just right at all the right places. I’m kind of not a fan of her rapier-like sword, which you wouldn’t expect to hold up for a single hit against a slashing weapon like Akame’s katana. Like many things in this show, it does the impossible and matches all other weapons slash for slash. Esdeath even cuts off her own arm with it.

I love how she fights nonetheless. Most of the time she uses her ice weapons, which are overwhelmingly powerful against almost every foe. Speaking of impossible! And also speaking of impossible, one thing that frustrates me about this show is that she somehow isn’t able to overcome the entire Revolutionary Army. We see her singlehandedly annihilate three different armies before we reach the siege of the capitol, and she even kills all the advancing forces within the walls of the imperial palace just prior to her battle with Akame. So it’s a puzzle to me why she isn’t able to overwhelm them all outside the capitol’s walls. Well, I guess it isn’t a mystery. The writers simply wanted her not to. Oh well. But after cutting off the outside world in her wrath at Tatsumi’s death, she faces the great Akame one on one. And this is one of the greatest battles in anime history. I’ll speak of it a little more in the artwork section below, but to finish up this part on Esdeath, how about those kicks! Her long and powerful legs are the only things to land blows on the mighty Akame. And are they powerful! The axe-kick she lays on Akame is one of the greatest duel moments you will ever see in anime. You will cringe in pain at the sight of it.

She is undoubtedly a villain. Her sadistic delight in torture is subhuman. She lives to kill, regularly murdering thousands of her enemies in a single engagement. She breaks the final straw for Najenda when she leaves a handful of one of a rebellious faction’s warriors alive not only to make them suffer from the memory of their brutalization and loss, but also to ensure they will foment more revolution so that she may have more enemies to fight. But for all that, there’s two things about her that make her totally endearing and even more memorable. The first is her love for her subordinates. The woman took an army to the north, wiped out the enemy almost completely by herself, and then sends her entire monetary reward to her army. The comfort she renders to Seryu when she is suffering internally also speaks to this, even somewhat belying her talk about the weak. But beyond that, we of course have her somewhat girlish love for Tatsumi. Even Tatsumi asks her why she’s so attached to him at one point. And we’re all wondering that. She really does love him, and it’s so uncharacteristic of her. It hardly matters what he does even, she still holds on to her love for him. When they both die at the end, and she folds him in her arms before sealing them together in ice, you can easily forget all the harm she’s caused and fall in love with her yourself. I know I did!

I could go on and on about this character. So much about her is amazing and so memorable. Even some of her dialogue, her expounding on the strong versus the weak, is easily some of the most memorable villain dialogue you’ll ever see. Satomi Akesaka, a relatively less-well-known VA, does a great job with her voice. Appropriately human at times, and then suddenly the overwhelming monster, she dominates all her scenes. You have to point at Revy (Black Lagoon) as the prototype for badass female anime characters, but General Esdeath is right there. She is an epic and one-of-a-kind character, and propels this show to a whole new level.

The march of the mighty doesn’t end there! An easy favorite in the show and my third favorite character, Leone leaves an indelible mark on everyone’s hearts–and eyes–in this show. The leonine appearance, both in her Imperial Arms form and her human body, is very fun. Anime does a great job at subtly bringing animal characteristics into human appearances, something live action anywhere always struggles with. Yeah we’ve all seen the times when it’s overdone and looks strange, but Akame ga Kill! is another great example of how this is done well. But I stray. Mine, the all-pink girl, is irritating, but is unquestionably among the mightiest in this show. Her Pumpkin gun–where’d someone come up with that name?–is not an equalizer: it’s a game-changer, distinctly swinging the advantage to her side. To bring up impossibility again, Pumpkin makes two impossible claims. One, the shots are insane. They rival Megumin’s explosions in magnitude and wow factor. Second, if we’re to believe her shots have comparable speed to normal rifle shots, you simply can’t dodge those shots the way so many characters manage to dodge them in this series. It’s a little frustrating at times. Nonetheless, she takes down several high-power targets during the series, including the powerful Commander-in-Chief Budou. Chelsea is strong in her own unique way. I needn’t remind you all of what Chelsea is most remembered for. And of course you have Najenda, who I personally really love. She stands strong the whole series too, despite knowing what she’s doing and how many of the people she loves fall. Among the enemy, you have Kurome and her drones, whose powerful sword skills that are second only to Akame and Esdeath. And of course the frustrating maniac Seryu Ubiquitous has the strength of all her toys that ultimately lands her a place on the Jaegers squad.

Two characters make promises that they break in this show. They both promise to survive, and neither does. The first is Esdeath. The second is Tatsumi. Akame’s heart breaks as she reminds Tatsumi of his promise right before he dies. Tatsumi is a frustrating character, like so many young male characters of his type. Growing in strength but often falling just short when it matters most, prone to overzealous outbursts of enthusiasm, and relatively diminutive stature, he is a bit of a cookie-cutter character. But as the second most important character in this series, he plays his role well. He is one of the two people to break his promise. You could say this is just out of convenience for the show, and that could very well be the case. But I like to juxtapose it with Esdeath’s broken promise. I don’t know if it carries a ton of meaning, but since they’re the only two to break this promise, perhaps they share a similarity in their optimism, or something like that, making them a little closer to each other than we might have otherwise thought. Sure Esdeath falls in love with him instantly after he wins the tournament she held, and we figure it’s because he fits all those requirements she listed out to the Emperor. But I like to imagine that there’s something deeper that makes these two compatible that’s reflected in these broken promises. It makes Tatsumi a little more than just an ordinary MC if you think about it that way.

I could go on more about individual characters, as all have their unique attributes that make them engaging. But I want to get to something that is common to basically every character in the show: they all die.

This is very unusual for an anime of any kind. Maybe you have a single tragic death (Kaori, Your Lie in April) or the main characters die tragically (Code Geass, Grave of the Fireflies), or characters pass on into some other existence that makes it similar to death (Darling in the Franxx, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Serial Experiments Lain). But you almost never see all the characters die. Wait, you say, Akame and Najenda both live! True, but the argument can be made that they didn’t survive really either. Akame survived on a certain level, but at great personal cost, to the point that she’s almost not alive. I spoke of that a little bit above. Najenda definitely survives, but given that she poured so much of her “life force” into Susanoo, she observes at the end of the show that she doesn’t know how long she’ll live. She could die within days of the last time we see her, for all we know. She’s not going to live to a ripe old age, that we’re left certain of.

But other than them, everyone unquestionably dies. Sheele’s death is shocking and unexpected, but you find yourself telling yourself that you didn’t have a ton of feelings invested in her yet. We did have her fondness for Tatsumi and her endearing clumsiness, and that made it very difficult, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been if she’d lasted a lot longer in the series. But after that, once Bulat dies, you get this feeling that things are not going to get better in this regard. And they do not. Tatsumi finally makes it in time to save someone, only to have Mine, who has just warmed to him and actually fallen in love with him, die in his arms. He doesn’t make it in time for Sheele, or, most cruelly, for Chelsea. Chelsea is such a broken character, and then to meet the fate she does…I won’t go into that anymore. By that time you’re so broken watching this show it just adds a new twist to the harshness of it all. After seeing this happen, you just hope the rest can survive somehow. Then Mine falls. Then Lubbock. Then Tatsumi himself. Leone survives long enough to say her goodbyes, then dies forgotten in an alleyway, finally succumbing to her mortal wounds. There’s not much pleasure to be found in the renewing of the Empire.

But there is the fact that these people did not die in vain. That is important. Everything they worked for, all they endured, all the loss and pain, all was rewarded with a complete victory over the evil at work in their land. There is something inspiring about this that cannot easily be put into words. It’s not often we get to see such heroism, in real life or in media, and get to connect with it. It’s hard to even imagine what these characters have to go through, but as each character is developed and plays their role in each subsequent episode, we get a little closer to understanding them. At least there’s some meaning to their deaths in the end. But it does not make the deaths any easier to bear.

We can even sympathize on a very deep level with some of the servants of the Empire. Bols’ death is one of the saddest in the series, as he leaves behind a beautiful life with his wife and child. Kurome is a mad nut, but she went through the same difficulties, and worse, as her sister, yet she had to be the one to die, even if no one, not a single character or viewer ultimately, wanted her to die. Bulat’s former general has completely noble motivations, if misguided in his direction, yet Bulat must end him. There isn’t much to sympathize with Seryu about, but she’s at least guided by a heightened sense of justice, and we can all sympathize with that. And of course Esdeath, evil beyond recovery according to Tatsumi, dies in the dead arms of the one she loved.

If it weren’t for the lightness of how some of these characters interact and our connection with them, this anime would be nearly impossible to watch because of these tragic deaths. I don’t want to underestimate this. I presume some of you could not make it through to the end, or did so with great pain. Maybe some of you reading this now remember that feeling, and it is unpleasant to be reminded of it, and all that went with it. That is the power of this work, and ultimately these characters. Their deaths give them life which can be given in no other way.

Artwork

Rating: 9

There isn’t a single thing that is super remarkable about this artwork. For 2014, this artwork is as typical anime as typical can be. Note the long and angular hair, the sharp corners and traditional eyelashes on the eyes, the thin torsos and limbs, the massively exaggerated movements (there’s several miles worth of jumping in this show) and effects (ahem, Esdeath’s ice), the traditional assassin weapons (Mine’s sniper rifle, Lubbock’s wires, Chelsea’s poison, Akame’s katana), the diverse hair and eye colors, the massive scale of the backgrounds and structures, and the heavy saturation combined with extensive shadowing that combines the light and the dark so effectively. But you will at times hear me say how the “ordinary” can be extraordinary in anime art. It’s what makes anime art what it is, after all. And Akame ga Kill! does this spectacularly.

Whoever did the character design for this anime deserves some kind of award. I mentioned Esdeath and her imposing figure. But down to even the overdone hairstyle on Bulat and Chelsea’s vivid hair color and Mine’s matching eye and hair color, everything works so well on these characters it’s almost perfect. Even little things like the differences between symmetry and asymmetry (something Susanoo humorously, but interestingly, brings to our attention) in the character designs are remarkable. Akame is probably most remarkable in this regard. Most anime hairstyles are mostly asymmetric, but Akame’s asymmetrical hair is one of the things about her that gets our attention the most. Even facing straight on to her the sharp corner on one side of the hair over her face is very memorable. And her sword, oh my goodness. Arguably the most beautiful katana in all anime, Murasame is long, strong, bright, and deadly. For an anime that has so many fantastically impossible weapons, Murasume is as traditional a Japanese weapon as one will ever see depicted in anime. And it is breathtaking. You have the red and black thing going on with Akame too. I’ve seen a lot of amazing red eyes in anime, and Akame’s are top-tier. If the artists were going for blood red, they got it right. Any vampire would be jealous. Akame is the warrior girl among warrior girls.

Speaking of her katana and weapons in general, the fights in this anime are epic. While not super gory, the animators hardly hold back in depicting that part of the reality of these fights. Lots of limbs are sliced off and lots of holes are blown. We get our money’s worth of vengeance for all the tragedy in this show when Leone beats Onest’s brains out. It’s ugly and unhappily fitting. But all that aside, the fights themselves are very well done. We definitely get a big dose of the impossible in these battles. Yes limbs are chopped off and holes are blown, and usually the victim keeps fighting. People fall from heights that should leave little of the human body remaining recognizable and survive with hardly a scratch. The jumping is unreal. And I mentioned Esdeath’s body kicks to Akame. It’s awesome to watch. That famous heel kick comes after she leaps into the air following Akame, spinning and kicking and driving Akame into the earth below. This is probably the most interesting part of their battle, and that battle has a ton of interest already. It’s regularly featured in montages of anime fights, and it rightly should be. It’s quite amazing to sit through. But if I had to pick a favorite fight in this show, it would be Akame versus Kurome. Since they’re both katana users, the Japanese artists have complete cultural awareness of the movements of such fighters, and they put it on full display. The jumping and the sword locks are probably the only impossible things about this fight (sword locks are almost always impossible as they’re portrayed, but I could go on and on about that). Because, besides that, the slashing and stabbing are extremely realistic to even the untrained eye. Ultimately Akame ends the duel driving her sword through Kurome’s body. It’s not gory, it’s not ugly, it’s amazing. I hate to say that, and as I noted above there wasn’t any happy possible outcome to this battle, but the stroke itself is amazingly well done by the artists. I can’t imagine a better end to this fight, and it is fantastic to watch.

I will argue up and down that the impossibility of these battle movements in anime are often the source of confusion in battles and so detract from the quality not only of the animation itself but often a show as a whole. But as I mentioned, it’s also a traditional anime feature, and so has an important role in action anime. Akame ga Kill! doesn’t quite reach Demon Slayer levels of epic in battle artwork, but until Demon Slayer came out it could be argued Akame ga Kill! was the best out there at depicting this.

Story

Rating: 7

As this anime is character-driven, the story takes a backseat mostly. But it does a good job of simply being there without trying to be something it isn’t. From the start, we find the Imperial Capitol is unjust and broken, and Night Raid and the Revolutionary Army are out to set things right. Nothing about this changes in the entire 24 episodes of S1 (will there ever be a S2?), and that’s important. It’s all that matters to the characters on both sides. There’s no great revelations about any of the characters, no great twist to make us wonder if we’ve chosen the right side, no late introduction of some new storyline, nothing like that to get in the way of showcasing these wonderful characters.

I mentioned the characters’ deaths. That’s a very effective part of this story. Tragedy can be mishandled in any tragic tale, and very often is. But as this story unfolds, each new death is never predictable. As you watch and see how events are unfolding, even though we’d seen the unhappy deaths of Tatsumi’s two friends in the first episode, we had no reason to expect Sheele to die. But after it happens, it plants the seed in our minds. When Bulat is killed, we can see the path the show is taking, but we still have no way to expect when or where or how any of the characters will die. I suppose you could say that by the time we get to Akame and Kurome’s duel, you pretty much know how that’s going to turn out. The same could be said for Akame and Esdeath’s duel, although you’re so accustomed to Esdeath’s overwhelming strength at that point that creates some uncertainty in your mind. How in the world can Akame overcome that? Well, it gets a little too convenient with Akame’s transformation, but as I noted above, it makes for the argument that she’s kind of dead too. The deaths are handled effectively in this show, and that’s the highpoint of how this story is handled.

Overall: 9

This is certainly a top 5 favorite show all time for me. The beauty of the characters, the power of the tragedy, and the inspiration of the heroism are quite profound. I’m not one to be easily impressed, even among great anime. This show is impressive. Only a handful of shows I’ve ever seen do well in the ways Akame ga Kill! does well. This is a must-see for any serious anime fan. I would recommend some maturity however. While it’s not overly gross, the bloodlust and wounds and gore are not for young hearts. Nor is the exposure to death. No one should have to go through what these characters endure, and young minds and hearts are best left to view it in their own freedom when they’re ready.

I should note the music in this show. Most anime music is an afterthought, even relatively speaking. But from memorable opening themes to all the snippets scattered through every action scene and every sad moment, the music is amazingly appropriate. Taku Iwasaki does a masterful job capturing the power of the fights, the sadness of the tragedy, the twisted horror of the evil, and the depression of the power of fate on the lives of our characters. “Le chant de Roma” pretty much characterizes this entire series through music. Go spend a few minutes reliving your memories of this show, and that rising feeling in your heart and the pain of these losses, as you listen to that piece.

If there’s any knock on this show it’s that, with all the epic nature of everything in this show, I feel like even more could have been done with it. That’s pretty hard to say, but I think that even is part of the effectiveness of this series. It’s so good in so many ways, I almost expect more of it! It’s hard to describe. When I compare it to how satisfying experiences like Monogatari or Tokyo Ghoul are, it doesn’t seem quite the same, despite being superlative in so many ways. Perhaps that says more about the extreme quality of those shows rather than any deficiency in Akame ga Kill! And, maybe, that I should compare it to those shows at all speaks to the quality of Akame ga Kill! more than anything else. You absolutely can compare it with anyone’s idea of a top-tier in anime, and it almost certainly will make the cut. It is among the best all time, and I would have to be supremely impressed any number of times to displace it from that pedestal.

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