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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)