Some harem series have no pretenses about what kind of manga they want to be. They are open about the fact that they're just there to serve up some fanservice alongside their wish-fulfillment fantasies. Others try to hide their origins in the hope of attractive readers outside of the usual crowd, although this disguise rarely ever works.
AKAME GA KILL! (Red-Eye Kill), written by Takahiro & art by Tetsuya Tashiro. First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2015.
Tatsumi is a country boy who's hoping to make his name as a soldier of fortune in the bustling capital city. Soon enough his boyish dreams are punctured when his money is stolen, he's taken in by a noble girl, and ends up shanghaied by the assassins of Night Raid. Night Raid is a vigilante group determined to hunt down and kill those in the capital who use their unearthly strength, influence, and wealth to kill and exploit as many as possible while perpetuating the civil war that tears their country apart. Now Tatsumi must find a way to use his skills to help Night Raid save their nation.
I'm endlessly amused by the parade of modern harem manga that try to be sneaky about being harems. They try to lure in readers with the promise of action heroes, sci-fi dystopias, or sprawling fantasy, promising that this particular series will be different. In the end, though, it ends up mostly being about no more than six girls who all want to bone the leading man to various degrees. Akame ga Kill! is no exception to this rule. It promises us plenty of bloody grimdark action, but in the end it ends up being nothing but paper-thin characters enacting a preteen's idea of a serious story.
Part of the problem with this series is that the lead has all the faults of your standard shonen hero without any of the charms. I expected him to be dumb and naïve, sure, but what makes him really aggravating is that he's got an ego far greater than any talent he might possess. He's utterly convinced that he's hot shit, even after he joins Night Raid and gets to see the girls' deadly talents firsthand. He's in desperate need of a reality check and until this series provides it, he's never going to stop being annoying.
As for the other members of Night Raid, they tend to fall in line with the usual assortment of otaku fetish types. Do we have a quiet, stoic girl who is inordinately talented? Check. How about a twin-tailed tiny tyrant of a tsundere? Check. What about a busty, lusty, boozy older sister sort? Check, and she's a catgirl to boot! They even include a token gay guy. Of course, he's never considered to be a proper love interest but instead is there to hit on Tatsumi for the sake of a terrible, homophobic running gag. Some of them do get a bit of backstory, but it's delivered in the most ham-handed manner possible: through story-stopping monologue. The only mildly interesting thing about those backstories is the running theme of Night Raid members being former imperial assassins. It makes things a little more interesting. After all, these girls (and guys) not only chose to rise up against their oppressors, but also to wield the skills they taught them against their former masters and maybe earn some forgiveness for their former actions. Sadly, any implications about such motivations has been left for future volumes, so for the moment the girls demonstrate any personality facets beyond their respective stereotypes.
Even the villains are treated like cardboard cut-outs. While some of them are initially presented as normal people like you and I, they end up turning on a dime once confronted with their crimes. At that point, they turn into cackling madmen who revel in their evil acts because...I don't know, evil for the lulz. Instead of exploring their reasons for evil, the writer just piles on more evil by showing them committing random acts of murder, torture, rape and various other forms of abuse. Not even Tatsumi's childhood friends are immune from it, as they are quickly killed off so that Tatsumi will always have a cheap and ready source of motivation. These acts might be horrifying, but they're presented so frequently and in such a casual off-hand manner that all the horror is utterly negated.
Still, it can't be all action all the time. There's plenty of downtime between jobs for Tatsumi to learn about the others, and it starts to feel a bit like a sitcom. We're meant to laugh as Tatsumi is forced to perform menial work or pranked by the others as he yells and grumbles, but most of those jokes are built upon the girls' given stereotypes. Instead of taking this time to build something resembling deeper relationships or to do some well-needed world-building, we get lame otaku jokes. It's a shame because this world is in desperate need of some building, as Takahiro couldn't even be bothered to give proper names to the setting. The country, the capital city, the parties involved in the war, even the Empress that rules over them all doesn't get the courtesy of a name.
This manga just reeks of authorial disinterest from beginning to end. No one and nothing is fleshed out beyond what is absolutely necessary, and every plot point and character never stretches beyond their respective stereotypes as they engage in a childishly sensational battle between good and evil. Akame ga Kill! wants to thrill the reader, but who would be thrilled by such a half-assed story?
That same lack of effort extends to the artwork as well. All throughout the book, I was constantly distracted by the characters - their faces, to be specific. Ostensibly, there's nothing all that special about them. They're all drawn in the same flat, angular, and overly simple manner. Nonetheless they go off-model with shocking frequency, and it bothered me. It also didn't help that all these deadly assassins dress like they cut up pieces from Hot Topic, something that stands in stark contrast to the Ye Olde Fantasy world they inhabit but certainly helps the reader objectify them when and wherever possible.
Worse still, Tashiro cannot draw an action scene to save his life. He tends to blur figures to give the impression of speed and strength, but he went so far with it that it's difficult to distinguish who is fighting whom. He also tends to shift angles wildly during those fights, often settling on high overhead views, and this combined with the poorly drawn character models only adds to the confusion. Sadly, the art here feels like Tashiro just dashed it off as quickly as possible to meet a deadline. He didn't care about the quality or making all the details match, he just wanted done and away from him as soon as possible. If he didn't care and the writer didn't care, why the hell should the reader do so?
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 11 volumes available. The first volume is available, and is currently in print.
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