Akame ga Kill: A Reflection on the Futility of Violence?

So, I’ve been watching Akame ga Kill for a while now and I’m starting to wonder if there’s actually more to this show than just extreme violence, no censorship, and an infatuation with grisly deaths. Is it, perhaps, a reflection on the futility of violence as a solution or as a method for change disguising itself as a cheap shounen thrill fest?

I’m well aware that on the surface, this seems an absurd suggestion—I myself, after the first episode, felt that Akame ga Kill did nothing less than glorify bloodshed by “justifying” it through the immorality of those who were being killed. 17 episodes and a few heartbreaks later, I’ve realized that, for all the characters who have died and who have been introduced and died, Akame ga Kill, Night Raid, and the Jaegers are no closer to any sort of resolution to their conflict than they were at the beginning of the story.

Akame ga Kill

Perhaps this is just me trying to project some sort of hope onto the empty feeling after best girl Chelsea was horribly mutilated in Akame ga Kill‘s most recent episode. Perhaps this is just me wanting to believe that there was some purpose at work in her death beyond just making me feel sad. Perhaps this is just me trying to understand Bols’ lethal separation from his wife and child at the hands of that same best girl.

The way I see it, there are two ways to watch Akame ga Kill. 1) You shut down all emotional channels and simply watch for the adrenaline rush of the kill shots and the sensationalization of cold-blooded killers hunting each other down. 2) You allow yourself to get emotionally invested and acquire some sort of twisted catharsis by the constant stream of connecting with characters on both sides of the war and watching them kill each other mercilessly. I don’t really like either of those options, but trying to protect myself with the first strategy honestly left me feeling less human afterwards. So, I’m generally trying for a moderate version of the second method—connecting as my heart’s pulled (usually to the cute girls), but always remembering that these characters are on the verge of being slaughtered and are killers themselves.

Akame ga Kill

She’s super cute! Also super psycho!

But I am emotionally connected, which leads me to search for meaning or some comfort despite the gruesome nature of the deaths that my favorite characters deal out or suffer themselves. Akame ga Kill, for all its faults, has turned out to be shockingly adept at not reducing all its antagonists to totally detestable human beings—the point being that the show wants us to sympathize with individuals on the Capital’s side as well as on the Revolutionary Army’s side, which pretty effectively blurs the lines between pure good and unadulterated evil.

Don’t misunderstand me here. There are truly reprehensible characters floating around on the Capital’s side, the country’s Minister chief among them. But on an individual character level (which is where Akame ga Kill functions most of the time), it’s tough to dismiss the bad guys as just “bad.” Everyone has a story and while their responses to their pasts may not be admirable, those responses are usually at least understandable. On the other side, while Night Raid are the protagonists fighting against an oppressive system, it’s difficult to say that their methods or individual motives are always pure.

Akame ga Kill

RIP Chelsea—you were even more moe than Akame.

All this is to demonstrate that Akame ga Kill at least has laid to groundwork for its story to be more than just a straight good guys vs. bad guys narrative. At this point, pulling back to review the entire motion of the show’s narrative brought me to the observation I made in my introduction: Akame ga Kill is no closer to a resolution now than it was at the beginning of the anime. Typical excuses about long-running manga (perhaps blindly) dismissed, we’re left with a continual cycle of senseless violence between two groups, a cycle that is recursive, self-perpetuating through hate, and ultimately futile. If a member of Night Raid dies, a Jaeger dies—and either can be replaced.

All that’s happened is that the lives of many have been lost, revenge sought, and brutality established as the code of conduct. I’ve seen people complain about the circular nature of the plot and about the way the show connects you to characters just to kill them off. I think those complaints are valid. Examined from a thematic viewpoint, we see that all the killing isn’t solving anything. It’s just perpetuating the cycle of hatred between the two parties and resulting in more of the same.

Akame ga Kill

Obviously, this is an inappropriate time to mention that, to me, Akame will only ever be a more dangerous version of SYD‘s Shino Amakusa.

Whether all this actually results in a reflection or statement on the pointlessness of violence as a method of solving social problems isn’t really certain. But I do think, maybe, it can be read as that. I’ll readily admit that this all could just be me reading far more meaning into the show than it actually possess, me imposing my worldview on the show, or me just being far too generous with a show that’s actually morally repugnant. If the show really intends to make a clear point on this topic, it’s got some work to do. But I do honestly feel that Akame ga Kill has somewhat moved beyond its early juvenile tendencies to gloat over the violence of “righteous” assassinations through humanizing Night Raid’s opponents.

Alternately, I’m just in such deep mourning over Chelsea’s death that I can’t think clearly anymore.

What do you guys think? Is my optimism and desire to find a positive message in Akame ga Kill totally misplaced, or are there really seeds of something bigger here?

(This piece was run as a feature on Crunchyroll News on 11/9/14.)

19 thoughts on “Akame ga Kill: A Reflection on the Futility of Violence?

  1. I don’t think you are wrong in looking for a message from AgK. Heck with its case, as you stated, of murder -> revenge -> new members -> repeat, it almost needs subliminal messaging taken from it.

    Of course I am also sure everyone who watches it gets a different message. I can’t say I get any message though because I am in the camp that as you put it just turns off all emotions and watch for the pretty fight scenes. But despite that I can still see where others are coming from with their hidden messages.

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    • Which is totally fine! I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or see the same things in the show that I do (heck, I’m not even sure I see what I just wrote in the show myself!).

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  2. Well every art means something regardless of the content or author intent. There’s always a different angle or point of view to tackle on a work/series whether it was your typical Shonen, LN adaptation, VN etc. So you’re not wrong when you try to find deeper meaning in what seemingly shallow work, if anything its challenging and encouraging.

    Also, in some way, i kinda glad you’re doing this right now. I am getting tired of people going on about how juvenile or grimdark this series is trying to be. Though that’s probably my own naivete and general dislike towards dismissing things for some reason.

    side note: Darn it, why do they always take the moe/pretty one so early 😦

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    • It’s actually interesting that you mention the grimdark, because I’ve seen people complain that it’s too dark, that it’s supposed to be some energetic self-aware murder show or something. In other words, they just want to watch the violence without having to think about it and they’re uncomfortable that the violence is being portrayed in a way that keeps prodding them to consider its weight.

      In that sense, I’m really grateful that White Fox has taken an angle (at least as of late in the show) that is much less “Awesome, blood, dude!” and much more, “This is kind of awful.”

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  3. Personally I believe animes like this are needed to contrast all the slice-of-life shows we have in this era.

    Is there a positive message? The creators really like rebellion and killing; so maybe not haha. Iagree with you though and say that this show highlights both sides being normal people(albeit assassins) and there is no good and bad guys which is relatively uncommon in media these days.

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  4. Well, the current narrative of the show is about the attack of the Revolutionary army on the capital, with Night Raid vs Jaegers as one part of the larger battle. On the Night Raid side there’s hope that they’ll really change the country, and on the Jaeger side they’re fighting for the current system. So there’s a bit more to it than just a death struggle between two groups of morally-gray characters, although that gray-struggle is the focus of the show.

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    • JTAV OMG HIII!

      Right, yeah, there’s definitely more stuff happening, but the show is making a choice to focus on the gray-struggle (as you so aptly put it). So, if it’s making that choice, what’s the reason for that? That’s the question that sort of informs this reflection. The reason may very well just be that it’s where the coolest battles are, but I just wanted to try and interrogate the show at a slightly deeper level.

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  5. “Examined from a thematic viewpoint, we see that all the killing isn’t solving anything.”

    It may be one of the most realistic anime I’ve seen in that regard, but it’s difficult to spin it as a pacifist piece. It’s no “Johnny Got His Gun” but it’s no “Red Dawn” either. A perplecing blend of heartbreak and Fanservice.

    And Happy Halloween! as a Catholic school kid, Friday was the absolute worst day for Halloween to fall. No days off from school and Mass 2 days in a row. (I never said I was a good Catholic school kid.

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    • Yeah, I don’t really see it as a pacifist piece either. But it’s interesting to me to see how the structure of the piece sets up a reflexive situation that can sort of kind of be read like it.

      & Happy Halloween! Man, you really nailed it with the Halloween-themed gif including Maka. I don’t think you could have made a better selection for me! ^_^

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  6. I approve your opinion.
    I keep watching the show from first episode until 17 only to witness Mindless fight between the group.
    And also i kind of dislike how tatsumi being Treated differently from the other character. For example he managed to win most fight with little casualty, having one of the strongest relic with ease, meanwhile the other character having little to zero improvement at all. The most disapponting part is how the violence depicted in this show. I dont know how to explain this, but to be precise, its unnecessary.
    It’s like how you see in episode 17, where the new cast just disappear in the way that you dont want to remember.
    The last one is the show apparently focuses the Violence depicted to young woman(let’s just say the glasses girl,some random girl, even leone too)

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    • I’ve always thought of AkG as pretty free-wheeling as far as who it deals out death and injury to, but it might be a worthwhile exercise to think about the exact ways in which different characters are killed and see who gets the most violent deaths.

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      • Yeah, That’s how akame ga kill roll every single episode.
        We get so many new cast appear and sacrificed, yet none of them are part Of the story.

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  7. I’m so afraid of death that seeing people die in anime, movies, etc. always entertains me in the same way of a scary movie. A type of shock value that never gets old.

    and why are you such a [redacted because why not? :D] and have the comment section based on approval? You need to learn to live more dangerously, that’s where most of the fun is at.

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    • Huh, I don’t really get that. Death on screen is definitely shock value for me, but I don’t really derive a whole lot of entertainment from it.

      & my comments sections are once-approved, always approved. So people who comment a lot & I know don’t have to get approved each time. But I keep it like this to discourage spam. Plus, I like approving things—it’s my blog, so I want POWAHHH

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