Akame ga KILL!
アカメが斬る! (Akame ga Kiru!)
Takahiro (story), TASHIRO Tetsuya (art)
Shounen – Action, fantasy, war, tragedy
15 Volumes (complete)
Tatsumi arrives in the capital to raise money for his village. When he learns he’d have to start off as a private, a woman volunteers to help Tatsumi bribe his way into being a captain. She makes off with what money he has, but Tatsumi soon learns that unkind act cannot compare to the true depths of human cruelty in the cold-hearted Empire.
First of all, Akame ga KILL! has some of the biggest manga volumes available (excluding 2-in-1 or 3-in-1s of course). Obviously, if you’re a digital reader, this is less noticeable, but if you head out to your local manga shop, the black volumes will probably stand out. The final volume, for instance, is over 300 pages. Some other volumes are lucky to be half that, and they cost the same! So if you are looking for a series where you can’t breeze through in a matter of minutes, Akame ga KILL! is one to consider.
That is, of course, if you are willing to consider a rather bloody manga with some depraved actions. Other manga deal with rebels taking on a corrupt country (for example, Fullmetal Alchemist), but this is less philosophical debate and more outright action. The series is not afraid to kill off main characters, so there’s always a chance your favorite will kick the bucket long before you’re ready to say goodbye. So not only can this manga be violent, but it can be depressing.
And it is, right from the start. Tatsumi and his two friends head off to raise money for their poor village, but they get separated. Tatsumi is a talented fighter who doesn’t think he should have to start from the lowest ranks in the military. After a series of events, Tatsumi joins Night Raid, an assassination group allied with the rebels hoping to overthrow the Empire.
The story is roughly divided into three main arcs with some overlap: the Night Raid arc, the Jaegers arc, and the path to the final battle.
The first, as the name suggests, introduces the close-knit members of Night Raid, including the titular Akame. Akame and the others all use magical weapons called Teigu which give them special abilities. Meat-loving Akame’s sword curses its target and kills them instantly, tsundere Mine’s gun fires off powerful blasts from long distances, booze-loving Leone is given beast-like abilities, and the other members also have their own quirks and skills.
For me, it’s this arc that is likely to leave the biggest impression on readers. It’s a dynamic opening not afraid of shock impact, of making readers recoil from what they see as Night Raid takes on assignments. At the same time, Night Raid warns Tatsumi that they are not heroes; when it comes down to it, killing is killing no matter what excuses or reasons are given.
Eventually, the focus starts to switch away from Night Raid and to the Empire. First off, there’s Esdeath, known to be the strongest soldier in the Empire. Although Tatsumi wishes she would turn her back on the Empire like Akame did, Esdeath enjoys the thrill of battle. In her eyes, if someone dies, it’s due to their own weakness.
Esdeath is later put in charge of a group known as the Jaegers, but she’s often off on her own missions rather than managing them. As the story explores characters like Wave, an optimistic young man, and Kurome, Akame’s sister, the members of Night Raid often disappear for long periods of time. Again, these are bulky volumes, so even missing one volume could easily be 200 pages of content. Akame in particular often doesn’t live up her status as the titular character, and there were points I wondered why this series wasn’t called Night Raid ga KILL! or something. Even then, I think the author spent a little too much time on the Jaegers.
It isn’t until the Revolutionary Army is ready for one final assault that Tatsumi and friends try to reclaim the narrative. Ultimately, the results are probably closer to what people expected than a surprise or twist ending, with the final chapter serving as an extended epilogue. However, unlike many manga which had a rushed or axed ending, fans of Akame ga KILL! are likely to be satisfied. The battles readers had been waiting for are dramatic and violent, reminding readers of what made Akame ga KILL! so popular in the first place. Author Takahiro provides information on what happened to everyone who survived except one, leaving open the possibility of a sequel.
One of my chief complaints about the series as a whole is the tendency to have narration. I don’t just mean beginning of chapter or background stuff like this:
There’s that too, of course, but there is often explanations right in the middle of battle. What would have been better is to show the characters’ thoughts, to present this type of information in first person point-of-view. I mean, which would you rather have:
- “[Character] is almost out of energy from this long battle. They only have enough power for one final attack, but if it fails, people will die.”
- “Damn! This battle is taking too long. I have to end it with this next shot, because if I don’t, the citizens…”
This is just a made-up example, but the point stands. Sometimes, the manga tells instead of shows, which is disappointing in an action series. Plus, the actual fights are well done, and each injury is a potentially life-ending scar instead of evidence of bragging rights. Pages can be quite busy, but Tashiro lays out the scenes in a way that readers don’t get lost in the melees. (Having a lot of 1-on-1 fights helps as well.) The series uses quite a bit of ink and screentones, which fits the dark nature of the series and reflects the power radiating from the characters and their weapons. Monsters do exist in this world, but fights against Danger Beasts aren’t as common as facing humans (Teigu users or not), but they are large, impressive-looking creatures, if a bit generic.
Surprisingly, the characters themselves aren’t as generic as they may first appear. Akame is neither a cool, standoffish heroine nor someone who lords her skills over others. She cares for her comrades and steps up to assist Tatsumi from early on. She leaves the role of the traditional tsundere to Mine, and I like how things did not play out like I would have assumed. There are a lot of nice, small spins on the traditional Japanese character line-ups, and that keeps an air of freshness around Akame ga KILL! Like, Tatsumi is a nice guy but not an idiot who needs everything explained to him. He also isn’t amazingly powerful or have some super-special ability like most shounen protagonists. Another male character, Bulat, is gay, but he’s not the common archetype of an effeminate man. He’s a seasoned warrior, and Tatsumi looks up to him. Other great characters can be found in the manga, but it can be hard to bond with some of them knowing they could die at any time. Long periods with main characters playing small roles can also make readers feel less connected with them. Akame ga KILL! is better on a reread in this regard, as you will know how long they’ll be around for and can appreciate their personalities.
As for the villains, plenty have screws loose and don’t question what should be considered horrid actions, but mob mentality and acquiescence can be scary. I did wonder at points why, since life is pretty bad, citizens aren’t revolting more, but again, sometimes fear of the known is easier to accept than fear of the unknown.
Now, a few final words on the art. Character designs range from teenagers to old men, but early in the story, all the antagonists’ faces tend to warp into to the same crazed, grotesque expression. With so much story and action in each chapter, there are places where the art quality drops. One scene has Tatsumi with what look like a hands belonging to a PS2-quality NPC. Eventually, Tashiro does hit his stride, and the quality improves. Even the comedic scenes are better placed, which also could be do to Takahiro’s skills improving as a writer.
However, fanservice would most likely have fallen under Tashiro’s umbrella. For a mature series, it’s not a prevalent as you might think. However, when the main cast is a group of assassins trying to avoid detection, they don’t get a lot of vacation time. Even when the girls outnumber the guys, the manga doesn’t descend into full harem with everyone falling in love with Tatsumi or him trying to spy on the girls.
No honorifics are used… at first. About halfway through the series, a new translator comes onto the scene, and honorifics are kept for the rest of the publication. Since this is a fantasy series without heavy Japanese influences, I do think not using honorifics was the better choice, even though this affects nicknames like “Su-san” from “Susanoo”.
The weapons keep their Japanese name as “Teigu”. Some people will find this odd since most other Japanese words are replaced (even Akame’s weapon, which is technically a katana, is just called a sword). Most of the actual text is fine (or even very good), but the biggest issue some people will have with Yen Press’ adaptation is the names of things.
Firstly though, Akame’s catchphrase appears to go through a couple of different versions. The first few volumes she says, “I will send [them] to rest”, but it is also adapted as, “You will be buried”, and then later, “Rest in pieces”. Either way, I think it’s a little wordy since it’s literally one verb in Japanese. Crunchyoll’s subtitles translates this as “eliminate”. In the translator’s defense, “eliminate” is not usually associated with “葬る”, as it refers more to being buried or interring a person. I might have gone with her saying something like, “To oblivion!” or, “Bury them!” to capture the shortness of the phrase.
The material “orichalcum” is adapted incorrectly as “olihalcon”. The translator must not have realized the metal’s Japanese name of オリハルコン is (or was) a real material and just gave a direct pronunciation as its name. While that’s just a material, the names of the weapons are far more significant. All the Teigu (the weapons) in the story have four kanji followed by a word or phrase (most in katakana) for its name. Lubbock’s weapon name, in Japanese, is 千変万化 クローステール. The English name here is “Kaleidoscope Crawstail”. The kanji’s direct translation would be “innumerable changes”, but other sources give this a more natural adaptation as “infinite uses”. As for the second half of the weapon’s name, other sources give its name as “Cross Tail”. I admit I’ve never seen “cross” as クロース, but the dictionaries I consulted did go straight to クロス for “cross”. While I’m torn on that aspect, I have no idea how a thread-like Teigu “has kaleidoscopic abilities such as binding down and amputating”; “has infinite uses such as binding down and amputating” makes much more sense. I mean, kaleidoscopes do change patterns, but I don’t usually think of making thread into different shapes as kaleidoscopic. In addition, ヘカトンケイル is called “Hecatoncheir”. This is the name used in Final Fantasy XIII and other media, but “Hekatonkheir” is the more common version of this Greek name.
Perhaps these sorts of things led to a new translator…? Or maybe they just didn’t have time anymore to do a long-running series.
Otherwise, this is a good adaptation.
Akame ga KILL! goes through some middle volume doldrums, but it’s a series to consider when you want more than the usual “the power of friendship will make everything okay!”-type series.
Crunchyroll and Sentai Filmworks have released the anime. Yen Press is publishing the prequel Akame ga KILL! Zero.