Akame ga KILL! Zero
アカメが斬る! 零 (Akame ga Kiru! Rei)
Takahiro (story), TORU Kei (art)
Seinen – Action, ecchi, fantasy, mature, tragedy, war
10 Volumes (complete)
Akame, her sister Kurome, and their friends are not your average group of teens. They’re assassins, raised to eliminate anyone who gets in the Empire’s way. Akame isn’t thrilled about taking lives, but as long as the citizens can live in peace, she’ll do her job. But while Akame treasures her extended family, she can’t help but sense something is amiss in the Empire…
Warning: this review is of a series that is recommended for ages 18+ and is not safe for work!
So, prequels. They take place before a story, but for newbies to a series, there’s a dilemma. Should it be read in chronological order or release order? On one hand, the first approach shows a story as it happened. On the other hand, the latter allows you to better spot connections between the series as well as any retcons.
Well, I can see both sides in the debate over whether to read Akame ga KILL! Zero before or after Akame ga KILL! The two series are similar in terms of the overall story: a group of assassins, which includes the meat-loving Akame, use magical weapons to defeat their enemies over the fate of the Empire. Between the two, I lean toward Zero first because if you read the original series, you can just about figure what happened to the people you have never seen or heard about. If you read Zero first, there’s always going to be a thought in the back of your mind like, “Okay, they’re in a terrible position… but maybe they can be saved or pulled through?”
However, there is one aspect that will be a huge shock between the two manga: the sexual content. Zero is a seinen series, so it targets older male readers versus Akame ga KILL! You may be surprised that both series have similar levels of violent content, but all you have to do is read the first chapter of Akame ga KILL! to know it’s a dark, bloody adventure. But Zero loves to find any and all excuses for the ladies to lose their clothing. So if you start with this series, the original manga is not going to have all these titillating scenes, including some heavy girl x girl content. On the other hand, as I started with Akame ga KILL!, I was shocked to see how pornographic this manga is compared to the original. Akame ga KILL! had a good amount of fanservice, don’t get me wrong. But Zero takes it to a whole other level. It’s not just seeing babes in bathes; we’re talking full-blown depictions of sexual assault here. Physical volumes were shrinkwrapped for a good reason. So fair warning.
But back to Akame ga KILL! Zero.
As the title suggests, the manga centers around a girl named Akame. She’s one of many children/teen warriors raised to defend the Empire. Her sister is also one but is a part of another squad. Akame’s group includes the cheerful Tsukushi, big sister-like Corey, analytic Green, and more. Stoic Najasho leads them, and their father figure Gozuki is in charge. As the narration explains, the Empire has become corrupted, and commanders like Gozuki convince children that the Empire would be at peace if it weren’t for rebels. So they think they’re allies of justice even though it’s the Empire’s cruel treatment of its citizens that cause anti-Empire sentiment to be at an all-time high.
Akame and her friends (and they are very close, no doubt about that) have special weapons called Shingu. Not quite as powerful as the Teigu class of items, Shingu all have special properties that can grant the user immense power. However, they can have serious side effects. For example, Najasho’s Water Dragon Sword will make him strong for three minutes then deplete his energy, making him open for attacks. With these weapons, Gozuki gives his Elite Seven targets to hunt down. But while most of Akame’s fellow soldiers have absolute faith in Gozuki and the Empire, Akame can’t help but have an uneasy feeling gnawing at her as she takes on her missions to strike down rebels. But she tries to suppress those thoughts since all she wants is to join back up with Kurome, who is in another group. And unbeknownst to Akame, Kurome is receiving a special drug to enhance her fighting skills.
So the series takes you through Akame officially becoming an Empire assassin to the setup of Akame ga KILL! It’s a bloody journey filled with hard-fought battles against those who are fighting against the Empire. Unlike a lot of other manga, not every battle has an outcome good for the main cast. Again, being a prequel, it isn’t hard to figure out why many strong warriors on either side wouldn’t have reappeared during the original series, but there is still some shock value as to their ultimate fates. Either way, if you’ve read Akame ga KILL! or not, Zero is not just one of those “I’ll just give up” or “I’ll just render them unable to fight” manga. It’s not even one where blind faith pulls the characters through. This gives the story more realism instead of that fictionalized idealism in a war story.
Several of these Shingu are just off-brand Teigu, so their effects may be familiar with series veterans. Still, they have some cool effects like a gun whose bullets can change trajectory. As you would expect considering the protagonist’s situation, there are a lot of battles in this manga. Lots, and against opponents with their own — often depraved — reasons to fight. I guess this was to help give Akame and the others reasons to believe they were the good guys, but man, at times maybe the whole country should have just been taken over by a neighboring nation in hopes that it would be better off. I mean, war isn’t pretty, but at times, it was like, sheesh. One word: tentacles. Plus I think Tsukushi fights in a towel at about the same rate as her regular uniform/outfit.
If you are looking for blood and violence, yeah, Akame ga KILL! Zero won’t disappoint. But the art is not that great. It’s a significant step down from Akame ga KILL!, but even if you haven’t read that one yet, it’s very often on the weak side. Action sequences can be a mess with no clear indication of what is actually happening, and characters can be off-model and/or off-balance. Eyes can be at two different levels, and Akame’s face will suddenly put on weight. The manga also relies a lot on dialogue to explain the characters’ weapons’ powers or how exhausted they are.
However, if you want unabashed horror and shocking depravity, then yeah, Akame ga KILL! Zero will be up your alley. Opponents gleefully celebrate the idea of torture in its various forms, and even if they are stopped before their plans are put into action, you are still going to see a lot of death. But from a technical standpoint, Zero doesn’t do a good job of showing how each character is brought to the brink in a battle. The abundance of sound effects and narration, the short length of most encounters, and the fast pace means that readers will often be doing a double-take to see if they missed anything. I know I was. The bright side is that the characters look a lot better here than in Hinowa ga CRUSH!
The characters themselves are okay. Most of the main cast is motivated by Gozuki and/or the Empire, so they’re pretty resistant to Akame’s voiced and unvoiced concerns. It’s the life they’ve always known, the story they’ve always been told, and that’s that. It’s not quite as strong as most group action stories since they usually have characters with a range of backgrounds. The members of Kurome’s troop have a little more of this dynamic because of the issue with the doping. There are many times where I felt the manga was boxed in because of the prequel. As the heroine debates whether to stay or go, at times, it seems hard to believe she would question either way. Akame is strong and sly enough to have grabbed Kurome in advance, but Akame is also devoted to her friends — not to mention her own sister — enough that she could have fought just for them. The strength of her bonds here, especially when combined with some anti-Empire opponents who are hardly champions of justice, makes it sometimes hard to believe that Akame would even consider defecting. On the other hand, with how their caretakers act, it’s hard to believe that more of these teens wouldn’t at least question whether this really is normal. Teens are rebellious, after all. So in the end, I’m not quite sure if Akame’s fate accurately reflects the backstory reflected here in Akame ga KILL! Zero.
The series was handle by the second translator of Akame ga KILL!, so most of the localization choices remain the same. Honorifics are used.
Akame ga KILL! fans are likely to flock to this series to get more Akame, but for most readers, it’s an average — at best — outing. The art and the middling action scenes are the biggest factors in this, but even the closeness of the “enemies” and the warpness of the “good guys” sometimes seems at adds with what the narration says.
Takahiro’s Akame ga KILL! and Hinowa ga CRUSH! are available from Yen Press. Toru drew the Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers manga, which is also available from Yen Press.
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