Tatsumi, a spunky swordsman with the skill-set to show for it, is on a quest to make a name for himself in the Imperial Army. As is so often the impetus for pseudo-fantasy set shows, he dreams of the capital city, but the reality is so far removed from the illusion. His country-bumpkin enthusiasm is frequently left at odds, as he’s taken advantage of and surprised by the result.
The city setting evokes the strong historical influence of, say, Attack on Titan’s walled community with the whimsical bent of Fairy Tail, but it feels inconsistent, and morphs with the changing needs of the narratives. One consistency, however, is that the faces of its inhabitants are mired in misery, and oppression hangs in the air like smoke. Within this quagmire of gloominess, one name printed on the wanted posters is a patsy for the nation’s fear – Night Raid, a band of professional assassins.
The entrapment of the city folk is orchestrated by the ironically titled Prime Minister Honest, a vulgarian puppeteer whispering in the boy emperor’s ear. And these political machinations steep the series in themes of exploitation, the mistrust of authority and the nature of justice. Although assassins’ bumping off baddies for freedom seems pretty passé, therein lies the continued appeal. If the city is black and white, then Night Raid are the shades of grey.
We find out that Tatsumi is trying to save his village from starvation by enlisting in the army as a means of making money. He set out with his two closest friends, and was separated from both, but knew they were due to meet at the city. After finding them dead and dying, respectively, he comes face to face with the city’s ugly underbelly. Knowing the political system needs changing, he winds up more of a soldier of circumstance than fortune by joining up with Night Raid, who, he discovers, are an offshoot of the revolutionary army.
Night Raid are an oddball bunch, curveball quirks augment archetypes for a group that grow organically, as if the viewer themselves had joined their ranks. Akame herself is deadly moé, with a voracious appetite and a vast depth of emotion. Bulat (or Bro) is a gay character that both conforms to and shatters stereotypes, and the group’s leader, Najenda, has all the power and presence of a jungle cat. Each of their personalities is given form in their weapons – imperial arms, alchemically forged from supernatural danger beasts. Their match is met in the Jaegers, a special police force headed up by General Esdeath, considered one of the most powerful individuals in the Empire. In many ways, they’re a more interesting and archetype-busting group than Night Raid purports to be.
The fight scenes have an immense physicality and fluid sense of motion, paired with beautifully detailed backdrops, splashed in the frequent splatterpunk violence. There are bursts of painterly, if manic, inserts which blush with vivacious colour and intensely scribbled line art that emphasise the brutality of the conflict or, occasionally, a gag.
In conforming so shamefully to the wanton lust of its demographic, some of the series is problematic at best. But the Middle Eastern and cinematic feel of its soundtrack give it a great swagger and, coupled with its intense fight scenes, it’s a stylistic statement of intent. The interactions might leave the viewer wanting something more substantial, but within the exposition dumps is some astute and poignant character back-story leaving the viewer hungry for the second collection.
Extras: English dub; Japanese promos; clean opening and closing animation; also available and Akakill!