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Akudama Drive largely felt like all style and not much substance, playing up a fair number of tropes typical of sci-fi dystopian titles with a group of criminals and one unwilling young woman being roped into aiding in a series of missions assigned to them by a robotic cat, while fending off unwanted attention from the corrupt city authorities. All the characters largely have their archetypes they go by and don't get much in the way of fleshing out to a good degree as a result of the anime's typical story setup. Only praise I can the series are its slick visuals and fluid animation, best demonstrated from the anime's action scenes as the gang of Akudama fend off enemy threats and each other at points later in the series. But if you're looking for something that has a bit more substance to its storytelling, this series isn't for you and you'll likely to be left disappointed.
Last updated Tuesday, April 19 2022. Created Tuesday, April 19 2022.
(All episodes watched):|
Oh, Right--a motorcycle that can shoot grappling hooks (more than one set) and ride on vertical surfaces. Yeah, I believe that. And a martial artist who can defeat dozens of robotic opponents without breaking a sweat. And a girl who is so scrupulously honest that she will risk her life to return a 500 Yen coin (around $5) to its rightful owner. Episode one of this show was so over-the-top that I had a hard time taking it seriously. All sorts of whackos are being challenged to rescue someone known as 'Cutthroat'. It gets pretty violent with wholesale slaughter and the mayhem was so wild that at one point I started zoning out. One problem was that early on I hated almost all of the characters. They are apparently sadists and total bastards, after all. The action was of such a you-gotta-be-kidding-me sort that I kind of got angry at this show for taking what might have been a fun premise and turning it into such a screwed-up one. When a cat kept reappearing the thought occurred to me that it would probably start talking at some point. Still, this business with the explosive collars left me curious, a likable girl must pretend to be a flamboyant criminal herself, and I was tempted to watch episode two to (hopefully) see what the basic premise of this show is after the free-for-all in episode one.
Well, the Akudama (demonic criminals, or something like that) weren't as obnoxious in episode two as they had been in number one, which was probably a wise move. We bounce back and forth between so-so humor and violent action. In one fight scene the animation moved so rapidly that my eyes couldn't keep up and I momentarily lost track of what was going on. This red-haired brawler guy doesn't even bother to duck when bullets fly (and yet nobody can hit him)? The cast has a close call after a pair of 'Executioners' (super-martial artist police officers) catch up to them. This seemed fairly intriguing to me, perhaps because these two seemed like honest-to-a-fault policemen rather than the corrupt scum we have seem so far. Sort of like Judge Dredds. The cat (actually, a robot) explains the Mission Impossible-sort of heist these felons have been recruited to pull off. I remained sorta curious where this was going. In episode three they begin the job, and have to deal with super sophisticated security systems at the station where the future shinkansen high speed train stops. There seems to be a theme that these people are rebels against a system which segregates people into their sordid district, Kansai, which is crime and corruption riddled, and an idyllic one, Kanto, for the elite of society. Our true heroes seem to be 'Swindler', as our heroine is now (mistakenly) known, since she isn't a criminal at all, and 'Courier', who is nothing more than a messenger. At any rate, I wondered just what they are trying to steal and where this could all possibly be going.
Episode four frustrated me because it consisted largely of an ongoing fight with the Executioners in which there is great violence but nobody gets actually hurt. Characters sustain numerous injuries which would kill ordinary humans outright (like getting impaled), but they shrug them off (are they cybernetically augmented, or something like that?). I got the impression that these characters were too important to the plot for any of them to get killed or permanently disabled, which in turn means nobody is really in danger and this is all nothing but an act. We learn something about the 'dead zone' between the Kansai and Kanto regions. And the contents of the vault are finally revealed, though they struck me as more bewildering than intriguing. Where will the story possibly go from here? The Akudama (and Swindler) have largely accomplished the goal they were hired/kidnapped for, and the only remaining problem is that the train is still racing through the dead zone and the Executioners are still slugging it out with the toughest members in an irresistible-force-versus-immovable-object contest. I wonder if we will ever get a look at the supposedly idyllic Kanto region (I doubt it).
Sure enough, all but one of the Akudama decide to return to Kansai to deliver two VIPs to a specified destination. Swindler has developed a strange affinity for both these professional criminals and these two children as well. Why these two people were so important remained a complete mystery, which was frustrating. I really didn't sense where this was all going; we were halfway through a season yet I had little idea why any of this mattered. The fights get tiresome (though the main one ends decisively in episode six) and I would rather the plot advance instead. In episode seven we finally learn a good deal of the story behind the children. A lot remains unknown, however; why did Kanto province want or need a 'sacrifice'? Is the story really moving to the moon? Does that make any sense? Is this story now about the children (and Swindler) rather than the remaining Akudama? Has Hacker reached Kanto, and if so, what did he find there? Again, I didn't sense where this was all going.
The rocket-to-the-moon bit quickly fizzles out. The whole idea of a cast of characters who are mostly notorious criminals was strange and I wondered from the start if and how it could be made to work. With time, they have settled into several groups: the truly disturbing, sadistic ones, the stupid one, the sort of laughable one, and the sort of anti-hero one. This makes it possible to like or at least tolerate some of them, and it helps that they separate into several different groups or individuals once their mission is supposedly complete. Things seemed to get somewhat more serious in episode nine as Swindler is forced to defend herself in a fight-to-the-death with a disgusting criminal. I didn't know where things were going, but rather than things being so unpredictable that I could only be confused and frustrated, it seemed as if the story was going somewhere. That is, what is going to happen isn't obvious, but when it does happen, it makes a fair amount of sense.
Or maybe not. I found the uprising of ordinary Kansai region citizens against the government for failing to catch the Akudama to be hard to buy. These people are terrified by the Akudama yet think they could catch and kill them if the government would just get out of the way? Not likely. And the extreme measures the government takes to suppress the revolt made even less sense. It felt like a corner-cutting measure to instill a little anarchy into the plot. Where was the cutting edge security technology on the Shinkansen when the people stormed it? It seemed to welcome them. A major problem is resolved in episode 11--in fact, it almost seemed like the final, climactic episode and I wondered if there would really be an episode 12. But, as is often the case, I didn't completely get it. (Spoiler)The twins are supposed to serve as an arm of the supercomputer which now holds the minds of everyone in Kanto? To protect against some sort of degradation over time? OK, I guess that could be plausible. We do learn what has become of Hacker, which was fun. But the Executioners are still looking for Swindler and Courier, so the story isn't over yet.
Things are wild and crazy in the final episode. It seemed like a poorly stirred mix of mix of truly cool and just plain ridiculous stuff to me. Courier fights a deadly battle of bike versus aircraft--and I had thought it was unlikely that a motorcycle would carry grappling hooks! But the people of Kansai have extremely short memories (Remember what happened the last time you rebelled?) and are easy to persuade, apparently. It all ends in a grim but powerful manner--not all of our heroes are still alive at the end. Still, I was surprised at the high ratings this show got at ANN--it was rated as one of the ten best anime of 2020. It seemed to me to be discordant, often hard to buy, sometimes unfocused, confusing--but also a gritty tale of the underside of society, and justified rebellion against injustice, that was sometimes truly exciting.
Last updated Tuesday, January 05 2021. Created Wednesday, October 14 2020.