An ordinary citizen becomes involved in a prison break when she unwittingly finds herself in the path of several Akudama – wanted criminals with particular skillsets and massive bounties on their heads. With nowhere to run, she pretends to be one of them to protect herself, donning the moniker Swindler. But “Swindler’s” quick thinking causes her to be swept up in the ensuing prison heist, as the rest of the Akudama race to free a fellow Akudama slated for execution in order to claim a reward advertised by an unknown client. Upon rescuing the Akudama on death row, Swindler and her “fellow” Akudama are forcefully recruited by a mysterious black cat who has a mission for the chaotic team, with a quick death promised to anyone who refuse to cooperate.
Akudama Drive is an original anime series from Pierrot co-produced with Too Kyo Games and conceptualised by Kazutaka Kodaka (best known as the creator of the Danganronpa series). The series has the best kind of premise – it is absolutely and ridiculously anime, hyperbolic, stylised, and over the top but delivered with complete conviction. The series takes place in the dystopian Kansai, Japan, now a vassal state of Kanto following a great war. It follows the Akudama (literally “bad person”) Swindler, Courier, Brawler, Hacker, Doctor, Hoodlum and Cutthroat as they undertake a dangerous road trip to complete a series of jobs forced upon them by a talking cat, who holds them hostage with explosive collars and is enigmatic about the purpose of the jobs he forces the Akudama to undertake. It’s an engaging premise and an intriguing mystery, with the stakes high as Swindler tries to survive the deadly jobs and keep up the facade of being an Akudama, all while trying to evade the Executioners who have been sent to hunt the Akudama down.
Those familiar with Danganronpa will recognise a number of elements in its sibling series Akudama Drive – larger than life characters that are initially defined by a specific role or skillset, viscerally stylised hyper-violence, and an omnipresent sense of dread and optimism that sees the series regularly pivoting between themes of crime and justice, trust and betrayal, and survival and death. But this isn’t to say that Akudama Drive is derivative of Danganronpa. The series has its own distinct and hyperbolic identity, delivering a fantastic balance of character drama, mystery, action, and deliberation of its dystopian setting with such enthusiasm and sincerity that is profoundly refreshing.
Akudama Drive is fascinating because it uses its criminal cast and setting in some really interesting ways. The series depicts over the top anime violence and the crimes committed by the Akudama and then unapologetically raises questions about the meaning of crime and justice, as well as how the misuse of authority can harm everyday people. How Swindler was essentially forced into assuming her role as an Akudama, systems that push ordinary people into being classed as Akudama and hunted down, the ease at which an Akudama status can be imparted or revoked, and the fascinating narrative decision to not give any of its characters names in lieu of titles (Swindler, Courier, Brawler or Hacker) that are only bestowed by the government once a person commits a crime warranting attention, are all topics that Akudama Drive engages with through its dystopian setting. It’s refreshing to see a series engage with dystopia in a way where the theme is so intrinsic to the narrative and setting, as opposed to simply being used as an aesthetic.
Of course, Akudama Drive is not all dystopian doom and gloom. The characters living within this dystopia, particularly the Akudama, are vibrant, arrogant, desperate, clever, stand-offish, cold and larger than life. These contrasting individuals are basically placed on the group project from hell and have to try and get along so they aren’t killed by the Executioners or the bombs around their necks. The result is a mixing pot of weird and wonderful relationships, with Swindler and Courier badmouthing each other at every opportunity, Brawler and Hoodlum becoming the sincerest of bros, and great character scenarios as jobs require the group to split up in teams and solve problems based on their different skillsets. Akudama Drive is also unapologetically weird and entertaining, from the talking cat to Courier riding his motorbike literally everywhere (literally, everywhere). This contrast works incredibly well with the dystopian setting, delivering a perfectly existential experience that is both entertaining and melancholic.
I love anime and every now and again I am reminded very strongly of exactly why when a series like Akudama Drive comes along and is so profoundly larger than life and comedic, but also reflective and, dare I say, genre-defining. The series, its ideas and its characters will stick with you long after the final episode’s credits have come to an end. This is not a series to miss out on.
©Pierrot,TooKyoGames/Akudama Drive Production Committee
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.