GATE – 16

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Considering how last week ended, one would think we’d be in store for some adventures with the party of Inami, Tuka, Rory, Lelei and Yao, right? Wrong. We only see them for less than five minutes this week. The rest of the episode somewhat disappointingly checks in numerous other plotlines, darting from one place to another for the apparent purpose of making GATE as complicated as possible.

We see more Yanagida than Itami this week, as he explains Itami’s actions to the General, then convinces another one (far easier than he expected) to mobilize a unit to support Itami. Then he meets with the old dude who gave Itami advice last week, who turns out to be a king, and negotiates a deal for tax-free non-currency mining rights. If this all sounds a bit dry, you’re not alone.

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Things get a little spicier when Yanagida’s various dealings intersect with Tyuule’s order for her spy in Arnus, Delilah, to assassinate Noriko, who has learned her family is missing and presumed dead and isn’t that upset when an assassin crawls out of the shadows.

Yanagida stops Delilah, but her being an extremely adept warrior, she’s able to dodge his bullets and plunge her knife into his side. He responds by emptying his clip into her. I suppose this is some kind of commentary on the combat prowess (or lack thereof) of “administrative” soldiers like Yanagida. In any case, Tyuule’s plot is foiled. I wonder what she’ll try next.

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I’ll admit, while it’s kinda random, I still enjoyed watching the pair of F-4 Phantoms messing around with the Fire Dragon, whom they intercept without much trouble, test its speed, maneuverability, and intelligence, then duck out before it barbecues them.

I know, Itami needs the dragon alive so he can show Tuka the thing that kill her father and hopefully snap her out of her psychosis, but wouldn’t it have been more prudent to simply fully arm those fighters, sortie a couple more, and take the big guy (or gal) out? I guess they’re not willing to risk losing a plane or a pilot on a dragon that, at the end of the day, isn’t threatening JSDF assets…yet.

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The five minutes of the core gang go by far too quickly, but they’re an exciting five minutes, as the dragon comes before them, Rory and Lelei do their thing to keep him busy, and Inami puts an RPG launcher in Tuka’s hands and tells her to fire. She misses, and the dragon skedaddles, but perhaps the experience will make her more lucid?

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GATE – 15

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My first thought as to why Tuka is crying? Why, because she and the other two main girls have barely been in this second season. And what we have seen – her wandering around, looking for her dead father – was troubling.

When Itami finally has time to visit the trio, he learns that Yao Haa Dushi told her the flat-out truth – that her father was killed by the fire dragon – and Tuka just couldn’t handle it. The result is a state of psychosis in which she searches the camp endlessly for her father, forgetting about food and sleep; it’s so bad Lelei has had to sedate her periodically.

When Tuka sees Itami after waking up from one such sedation, she sees him as her father and embraces him accordingly, much to everyone’s dismay.

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Yao freely admits to “breaking” Tuka, something she did to force the hand of Itami, someone she believes will be able to help her slay the fire dragon and avenge her people. Yao is as fanatical as Tuka in this desire, only she hasn’t succumbed to as deep a madness as Tuka has. It’s cruel manipulation of our blonde elf, but you can’t fault Yao, who had been refused by everyone else in the JSDF.

Now, as she sees it, in order for Tuka to be healed Itami must make sure she gets the same thing Yao wants: revenge. Only then can she accept her father’s death and move forward. Unfortunately, the only way to get that revenge is by slaying the fire dragon, a foe Itami isn’t keen on facing off against anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Pina informs Diabo that Zolzal has been named their father’s heir. I’m not sure if he’s on Zolzal’s side or Pina’s, but he lets Pina know Zolzal told him to pick a side, that he doesn’t think Zolzal’s reign will last long, and that he’ll bring everyone down with him if he can. If Pina wants peace with Japan, she may have to do something about Zolzal, which would mean defying her father.

Finally, we see Tyuule’s true colors, as she’s been manipulating Zolzal into a pliable, unstable state of supreme arrogance, and is now confident he’ll do whatever she says, she tells an informant who sneaks in to make a delivery in exchange for being allowed to lick her leg. Tyuule hopes to incite a war that will destroy the empire, using Misako as the match to light the fire. Tyuule remains an interesting wild card; on no one’s side but her own, herself fueled by revenge.

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Itami is loath to carry out the plan Yao wants, because he wouldn’t be able to secure a large enough group to bring the dragon down (you’re probably talking about sustained air assault with gunships, rockets, and missiles, plus artillery to finish it off). He believes if he goes in with a small group, they’ll get wiped out, and the last thing he wants is to lose anyone in battle, especially for what is essentially a personal mission.

While he ponders the situation, he decides to go all in and pretend he’s Tuka’s father for the time being. Tuka is elated about this, and they hit the town on a father-daughter date, spending every moment of Itami’s R&R together (she even sleeps with him in bed, naked for some reason…)

While it’s nice to see Tuka so happy, it’s a false happiness that cannot be sustained. Eventually Itami will have to tell her the truth, and she’ll go right on denying it, or possibly plunge deeper into madness. Itami himself dealt with the loss of his father (if I’m reading the flashback correctly, his mother, herself mentally unbalanced, killed him and was committed for it, leaving Itami alone), so he can certainly relate to Tuka.

That new tidbit about Itami’s life makes us wonder if he’s ever actually fully processed that loss and moved forward, or if a part of him is still trapped in the past, if not to as extreme degree as Tuka.

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When Itami has to return to the capital to translate – this time a longer-term arrangement, he breaks it to Tuka as best he can, but the pain in her face is plain to see before she replaces it with an understanding smile.

He crosses paths with Yao once more, who reminds him playing house isn’t going to work forever (no shit Shirlock), and even Lelei and particularly Roroy also appear to be concerned about how long the charade should be allowed to go on.

Heck, posing as her father is messing Itami up, to which his comrade Yanagida suggests: why not just go on the damn mission and slay the dragon?

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That night, as he watches the moon to think about whether to do just that, he meets a wizened old man from the special region with an prosthetic arm and leg, things Japan brought that make it possible for him to continue living his normal life. This old man knows what’s eating Itami before he even sits down: he’s worried about the cost of action. His advice is to listen to his heart, which already knows the answer. Sometimes you gotta act even if it’s dangerous.

So on the dawn when he’s about to head back to the capital via helicopter, after saying his goodbyes he spots a tear on Tuka’s face the moment before the cargo door closes, and jumps out of the helicopter to stay with her. The old man gave him a nudge, but it was Itami who made the leap.

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And that, ladies and gentlemen, means Itami won’t be doing any dreary capital duty anytime soon. No, he’s going on an adventure with Tuka to find and destroy the Fire Dragon. Sure, she still thinks he’s her father, but he can sort that out later.

I don’t know why Itami thinks it will just be him and Tuka, but he’s quickly corrected when Rory makes her presence felt, bites his arm, and forms a contract whereby his soul his hers if he dies. Lelei and Yao also join the party.

At this point I was wondering why he didn’t ask his closer subbordinates with whom he’s been in so many scrapes to volunteer to join him; I’m sure they’d come along if offered the choice. But that’s okay. I’m happy with the five-person group, and looking forward to watching them hopefully kick some fire dragon ass.

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GATE – 14

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Here I thought the earthquake would be a major calamity for the Special Region, utterly unequipped to deal with a natural disaster that does plenty of harm even in modern Japan. But it’s “only a 4 or a 5”, by Itami’s reckoning, as he and Sugawara weather it calmly while Pina and her maid are shaking in their nighties.

The quake passes, but Pina knows she’s not the only one of her people who was scared shitless, so she rushes to the palace to meet with her father, bringing Itami and Sugawara along.

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Their coridal meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Prince Zolzal, who wastes no time at all confirming what a woman-hating creep his is by bringing in Noriko, a Japanese hostage from when their armies invaded the Ginza. Noriko looks as beaten-up and beaten-down as the bunny chief from last week, but Itami and Shino waste no time rescuing her from Zolzal’s clutchs and doling out swift punishment.

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When Zolzal orders his men to attack them back, Itami steps back and lets Shino take care of everything. She bayonets all approaching fighters, then guns down those with shields (the bullets go right through them and their primitive armor).

We’ve seen Shino-As-One-Girl-Wrecking-Crew before, but having her do her thing in the middle of the Imperial throne room sets a new high for audaciousness. It’s also never not fun to watch her go on a spree, even if, again, I’m not so sure SDF protocol is being followed here.

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But while it’s fun, and I’m glad Zolzal quickly gets his just desserts for all the shitty slimy stuff he’s done (and I’m sure he’s done much more we’re not privy to), and Shino’s fists carry with them all the manifest despair and loathing and suffering of Zolzal’s victims, being brought down upon him, it’s also a bit, well, easy. 

I mean, of course this guy is a loathsome little shitstain, and of course when someone actually fight starts whaling on him, he crumbles into a crybaby.

But I’m going to call this scene exactly what it is—Tarantino-esque revenge porn—and while I considered Shino’s actions justified (if a little over-the-top), it would have been more satisfying if there was a little more moral ambiguity to the exchange. The stark black-and-whiteness sapped the scene some of its power.

Interestingly, it’s Tyuule the bunny chief who stands between the prince and Itami, begging the LT not to kill her abuser. I’m thinking perhaps she has her own plans for him, plans for which she’s endured much suffering, and they won’t work if he’s dead. I look forward to the time she can repay him for everything he’s done, but with her people’s safety to consider, she’s playing the long game.

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The Japanese government acts swiftly upon news of Japanese hostages in the Special Region – by bombing the Imperial Senate, sending the message that they’d better release the others if they don’t want to lose anymore buildings.

We learn of the existence of another brother of Pina and Zolzal’s—Diabo, which sounds kinda like “diablo”, only he seems like less of a devil than Zolly…though he may just be better at hiding it. Zolzal also calls his sister a traitor, opening up the possibility he takes her prisoner, stripping her down and beating her, as is his M.O. with captive women.

They have a little chat about how Zolly knows he’ll be named emperor over Diabo, even though his father won’t actually give up all his power. Tyuule’s presence by his side and in his bed is starting to make more sense if she is indeed plotting against him, it’s best to keep your enemies close. And as we know with that tan elf chick who hasn’t shown up yet (Ducy), the warriors of other races resolve to do whatever they can to protect their people.

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Mochizuki Noriko is brought back to base and her injuries are treated. You can feel the traumas she endured in her eyes and the sound of her voice (not sure who the seiyu is, but she does a fine job); but also her relief and joy at being free, something she probably gave up on when she was one of Zolzal’s sex slave. But her troubles aren’t over; it’s heavily implied her family was killed in a Special Region raid while they were distributing flyers about her disappearance. Talk about a rough hand to be dealt.

And speaking of those missing family, Tuka spends the entire episode looking for her father, though again we only see her for a couple of beats. Next week’s episode is titled “Tuka Luna Marceau”, which bodes well for getting her more involved in a show that for the last two weeks has seriously snubbed her, Rory and Lelei.

However, I see that it did that for a pretty good reason: to remind us quite unambiguously that the SG isn’t just some charmingly primitive fantasy land. It’s brutal, and cruel, and dark, and sometimes the only way to deal with it is by knocking out a couple of its teeth.

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GATE – 13

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After a brief stop at Princess Pina’s diplomatic banquet where she and Sugawara prepare to negotiate with various ambassadors and senators, in the episode’s first few minutes we’re subjected to her brother Zolzal having rough sex and slapping around a captive bunny warrior girl, who doesn’t seem that into it.

I know, the show wants to quickly and categorically establish that this guy is scum, but there’s this thing called subtlety. There’s also a thing called boredom, and it exudes from the shallow, evil-for-the-sake-of-evil bad guys like Zolzal.

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Finally meeting Pina’s awful brother makes me sympathize even more she has to be this guy’s sister, after all. As far as I can tell, she’s the only good member of the whole rotten imperial family. As for Zolzal liking the Japanese food and leaving the banquet as quickly as he arrived with a hefty supply in tow…what, was that meant to humanize this abuser of women?

I must say, if we have to deal with this guy on a regular basis, I’m not going to be happy. I can understand Pina’s reluctance to kinslay, but can’t someone accidentally blow him up with a mortar or something?

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Anyway, the JSDF is finally in the capital now, with a small presence in the red light district. They managed to blow away one of the largest gangs, apparently keeping the others away with intimidation, and are distributing health care, including birth control, to the prolific population of half-beast sex workers.

Some shows are slice-of-life; but it would be more appropriate to call GATE slice-of-society, in particular a coming together of two totally different ones. Most of the time, that’s enough to hold my interests.

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But still, with Itami on the periphery and the trio of Rory, Lelei and Tuka barely in this episode, the show put one a hell of a handicap on itself. The episode wasn’t well-served by any frames in which Zolzal appeared, nor any discussion involving the Emperor nor the goofy Japanese politicians back home (ok, we get it; civilian leaders are feckless cowards).

But I’ll admit there’s still much for the JSDF to accomplish, and their progress may be undermined by an impending major earthquake, forewarned by the beast-women who apparently have the same sixth sense that causes Earth animals panic just before a disaster.

Then again, it could also be an opportunity for the JSDF to shine—not as an unstoppable military juggernaut that no power in the special region can ever hope to defeat—but as a force for good.

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Akame ga Kill! – 04

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AGK has been nothing if not consistent, balancing fairly equal measures of exposition, world-building, character dev and action, and keeping me thoroughly entertained. This week is no different, formally introducing us to the forty-eight Imperial Arms, six of which are wielded by Night Raid mebers, while the seventh belongs to the target-of-the-week, Zank the Executioner. Around the time the empire started to rot, Zank was made to take so many heads it became a compulsion, and he started taking heads at random, regardless of whether they were condemned to die.

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This makes Zank notable in that as crazy and murderous a demon as he has become, he was, and one point, just an ordinary overworked executioner, and not necessarily evil. Zank also refrains from rape threats, as he’s only interested in beheading people. Heck, he even thanks Akame for killing him and “silencing the voices of all the people he’s killed, a marked contrast to the previous demons’ last words of protest or contempt.

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His third-eye style sense-augmenting and illusion-creating Imperial Arm makes him the most challenging foe yet, as Tatsumi lacks the strength to defeat him alone. But then that’s why Night Raid was sent out in pairs, and Akame is his partner this week. Zank disguises himself as Sayo to lure Tatsumi away from her, but Tatsumi is able to stay alive lone enough for Akame to find him and clean up the mess.

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When Zank transforms into Akame’s dearest loved one, it backfires on him, as she kills “her” as quickly as possible because she loves her so much. Despite her age, Akame is a hardened assassin who won’t succumb to mind games. And thanks to her Imperial Arm Murasame, it only takes a scratch to kill her opponent, which begs the question: why don’t all the Imperial Arms have that ability?

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Akame’s mindset is not to overestimate the power of her sword; it is a bitch to clean, after all, but they live in a world where just one cut can kill you anyway, regardless of the weapon. Wielders of Imperial Arms are undeniably stronger than those with conventional arms, but they’re still just tools; tools that only sing for the right hands and minds. I imagine Zank’s Arm will pass to Tatsumi, but simply possessing one doesn’t make you invincible.

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Akame ga Kill! – 03

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This episode had a nice air of relevancy and competence to it: all of the scenes had a discernible purpose that aided either our understanding of the characters and the messed-up world they inhabit or both, starting with the cold open, when intruders are on Night Raid’s doorstep.

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It provides some group combat experience for Tatsumi, It shows off all of the members’ unique skills, and it illustrates the constant vigilance required to preserve their operation. The Prime Minister, who has the young emperor wrapped around his little finger, is gunning for Night Raid, and there’s plenty of mercs out there willing to try their hand at capturing them.

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Of course, the focus of this episode was Tatsumi butting heads with the pink-loving master sniper Mine. From the moment he barges in to her room while she’s changing (of course), she wants nothing to do with the newbie, but just as Tatsumi warmed to Akame in the last episode, Mine gradually comes around to acknowledging him “a little bit.”

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But before that comes their mission to “investigate the capital city’s conditions”; in other words, go shopping, as Tatsumi angrily points out. Still, as the intruder raid reminded, any or all members of Night Raid could die tomorrow, so Mine is fully committed to playing as hard as she works, enjoying her time off to the fullest, which makes sense.

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The trip to the capital also allows Tatsumi a chance to see through it’s ornate sheen to the suffering and despair the majority of citizens are going through. as a result of the crummy, brutal government, which holds public crucifixions just ’cause. I will say, the Minister Onest himself is a bit over-the-top evil-wise, promising to “take care” a subordinate’s comely wife as he sends him away to be drawn and quartered.

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The Minister also has relatives, like Iokal, who lives in a garish monstrosity of a mansion with a harem of women he and his guards beat and rape to death when he’s in the mood. You gotta leave it to AGK, it doesn’t leave any room for you to sympathize with the bad guys! They will rape All Of The Women if not stopped. But when dispatching them is as satisfying to watch as it was here, that hardly matters whether there’s any good in them…which there isn’t.

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Mine does the dispatching of Iokal with her trusty Imperial Arm Pumpkin, a sniper rifle on steroids. When the fifth of his five elite guards tries to get the jump on her, Tatsumi is there to be her shield. He holds the guard (another one who threatens rape) down so she can put a big hole in him; Mission Complete, Let’s Go Eat.

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So Tatsumi is two-for-two in proving himself. Leone and Balut seem to already like the guy, so that leaves Lubbock and Sheele. There’s also an Imperial Arm bearer freshly arrived in the Capital who wants to tangle with Akame & Co and loves his killin’. We’ll see how long he lasts.

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Akame ga Kill! – 02

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Tatsumi’s two friends are dead, and he has no other prospects or better ways to make money for his village, so when he learns what Night Raid truly is—a group of elite covert operatives attached to the country’s growing revolutionary army, literally rooting out the evil in the capital in preparation for a future coup—he decides to enter “the life of carnage.”

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Night Raid is a very colorful collection of characters, literally and figuratively, and while some are cordial or even friendly, the fact is, he’s the newbie. If he doesn’t prove himself, he can’t hope to earn their respect, trust, or approval, let alone friendship. The eye-patched boss accepts his enlistment and assigns the titular Akame to train him.

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Akame is a young lady of few words, all of them precise and to-the-point. She also has a penchant for hunting huge ferocious beasts and eating them. Because she tried to kill him so readily, twice, Tatsumi doesn’t quite trust or even like her; she just doesn’t show enough of a hand for him to even get a proper read off her.

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In its first two episodes AGK has had a knack for employing deception in its storytelling that is gradually training us the viewers not to take anything at face value. It’s how assassins must live. Last week’s Evil Samaritans were one example of that; this week we get two: Akame’s initially cold demeanor, and Tatsumi’s strategy for defeating his first target, a crooked cop named Ogre.

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I think I speak for most in saying most excessive infodumping is tiresome drudgery, especially if one’s mind is filled with pointless information, but I didn’t have any problem with how it was apportioned here. Not only do we get a sense of the bigger picture, in which Night Raid plays a crucial role. They also have no illusions about being “assassins of justice” (Tatsumi’s words, met by a burst of laughter by some members); they’re murderers, who could lose their own lives at any second.

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But it makes perfect sense for Tatsumi to want to join, and more importantly, to be up to the task of killing Ogre. Practically speaking, he’s trained for this kind of stuff his whole life. Emotionally speaking, he, Ieyasu and Sayo vowed that they’d die together, fighting for the good of their village. Only Ieyasu and Sayo went before him. Some in Tatsumi’s position may not mind dying sooner rather than later, that he may join them.

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But then who would help the village? Tatsumi isn’t ready to go yet, and before he’s willing and able to contribute to a cause that promotes a better world than the one he entered, with people with diverse pasts all similarly scarred by the evil that stil infects that world. After defeating Ogre (emphatically and with quite a bit of panache, I might add), Akame is almost immediately warmer and kinder to him. The next member he’ll shadow, Mine, however, is a nut he may never crack.

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Stray Observations:

  • Tatsumi is a bit too shocked that Bulat is gay, but then again Tatsumi is a backwoods yokel, so I’ll forgive him this. Don’t make me regret it, show!
  • It’s pretty clear this weeks two targets were also “demons in human form.” I like how their over-the-top monologues defending their evilness are accompanied by severely-drawn close-ups that make them even less human.
  • This episode also had a painterly “coup-de-grace shot” with 3D blood similar to last week’s. Good to have a consistent visual language.
  • The client paying Night Raid to kill likely sold her body several times to earn the gold. Leone, usually flippant about everything, isn’t so about this. These are dark times…they call for dark heroes.
  • Mine looks like she’s going to be a handful…both for Tatsumi and for me.

Akame ga Kill! – 01

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HMMM…Well, now, that was certainly something. A quick check of MAL indicates this puppy currently stands at 8.27, which is high. Almost as high as Hannah’s top pick, Zankyou no Terror, and certainly higher than anything else I’ve watched so far this Summer. MAL ratings can be as dubious as seemingly kind aristocrats in the Imperial Capital, but in this case, they did not mislead, and now I have some catching up to do.

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Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot here I’ve seen before. In fact, the lands of AGK could easily be a continent over from the lands of Hitsugi no Chaika, which I must admit I’m kind of missing right now, so this really scratches that itch. Like Chaika, it starts strong, as the protagonist Tatsumi—also seemingly plucked from an RPG—brings down a monster that’s actually pretty cool and fearsome-looking (the horse isn’t quite drawn right, but I’m splitting horse hairs).

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Tatsumi comes from a remote mountain village, seeking fame and fortune in the capital with which to help said village, presently suffering from overtaxation. His first interaction with a (busty) citizen of the capital results in him losing all his money, but the kindly young Lady Aria spots him sleeping outside and invites him to her palace, where he is offered every hospitality by Aria and her equally lovely-seeming family.

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Considering all the foreboding things we’ve heard about the capital “rotting with corruption” and “demons in human form”, they do seem to clash with those descriptions. When Aria’s mother is walking down the hall and is suddenly sliced into several pieces by an assassin in a stylish flash of blood, I honestly felt pretty bad for her. Man, was I a bloody idiot!

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The show made an interesting, and I thought clever, choice to portray the week’s villains as the good guys, while Night Raid, the group of assassins who attack them, look like the villains. We see things as Tatsumi sees things, and he’s ready to die to protect his benefactor Aria…until the contents of her family’s creepy-looking storeroom are revealed to him, which…Oh Dear GOD.

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Turns out they’re a ghastly family sadists disguised as Good Samaritans, luring in country folk new to the city and having their way with them. Among their victims are Tatsumi’s own childhood friends and companions, Sayo and Ieyasu. When the jig is up, Aria merely lets off a vicious rant defending her actions, but before the members of Night Raid can kill her, Tatsumi does it for them, without a moment of hesitation.

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Leone, the busty woman who swindled him, is a member of Night Raid, and the one with by far the most screen time and lines among them. Recognizing Tatsumi’s courage, skill, and above all luck (every RPG hero needs it!), she recruits him into their group on the spot. “What’s up with this turn of events?!” exclaims Tatsumi, a babe in Leone’s arms as she soars through the night. I don’t know, m’boy, but it’s a lot of fun so far!

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Stray Observations:

  • There’s blood and gore aplenty here, but without that annoying “half the screen is just black or white or blurred out” censoring that plagues Tokyo Ghoul.
  • There’s a right job lot of characters to keep track of, but Night Raid is thankfully just seven members, including Tatsumi. The show also doesn’t try to squeeze all their stories into this episode; we only get glimpses.
  • There’s a great sense of ruthless, competence about the Night Raid crew. They slash, smash, and shoot hard. And as it turns out, their cause was quite righteous!
  • Was not expecting Tatsumi’s friends to both end up dead. Will they continue to yell at him in his thoughts? I’d be okay with that.
  • It’s never overtly mentioned that Aria and her ilk were those demons wearing human skins, but…well, they really were.
  • The episode is suffused with a great soundtrack as well, with some nice mood-setting non-western influences.
  • My thanks to reader Randophilus for recommending this! I might have to drop DRAMAtical Murder for this…