Kodaka Strikes Again: Akudama Drive is Stylish, Fun, Intriguing, and Absolutely Nuts

My hope last year was to make the optimal top 10 anime of the year list, by not missing anything clearly top 10 worthy. It seems I have failed at that yet again, because Akudama Drive was not on my top 10 anime of 2020.

In 2019, I made a top 10 anime of the year list. I hadn’t watched much that year, so the list wasn’t really a definitive best of the year post. Maybe I should have made it a top 5. The real problem with that list was that I didn’t watch Astra Lost in Space until 2020. If I had, it would easily have been number 2 on my list.

I was hoping to avoid that issue with 2020. At the time I made my top 10 anime of the year post, I was quite satisfied with it. But now that I’ve finished Akudama Drive, I realize yet again that I missed out on an anime that clearly would have made the list. Just like Astra Lost in Space, it would have been number 2.

When I first started Akudama Drive, I thought it was pretty stupid, and I wasn’t enjoying it. My first impressions on it might be the most wrong I’ve ever been about an anime. When the dub finished, I gave the show another chance and watched the whole thing in one day. I loved it.

To be fair, I don’t think I would have liked it as much if I hadn’t watched it in dub. It probably wouldn’t be my real number 2 of last year. This is a testament to how good the dub is. It’s one of the best I’ve ever heard. Everyone sounded fantastic and fit their characters perfectly. Swindler was voiced by Macy Anne Johnson, who I had never heard of prior, but she was easily a standout among an already fantastic dub.

Because the dub didn’t finish until 2021,  I wouldn’t have been able to use it to decide where this show ranks on my favorites of 2020. So  it wasn’t as bad of a blunder as Astra Lost in Space.

I’ve been rambling for quite a while, so lets get on to the important part, why you should watch Akudama Drive.

Akudama Drive is an anime created by Kazutaka Kodaka, the creator of the Danganronpa series. This right here should be a hint that you are about to get something both absurd, but also intriguing.

Akudama Drive takes place in a futuristic Japan after a war between Kanto and Kansai, both separated by a giant contaminated zone that can only be accessed by the Shinkansen, a train that travels through the contamination. The story takes place in the Kansai region, in which it’s people revere the train like a god. There are also criminals, known as Akudama, some of which have extremely long sentences, and are also the characters we follow on this journey.

The protagonist is a nameless, ordinary person, who gets arrested for a crime that wasn’t her fault and ends up getting caught up in a mission given to Akudama to rescue Cutthroat, an Akudama who was about to get executed. They confuse her for an Akudama, so she takes on the fake title of Swindler. Similarly, the other Akudama also don’t have names, such as Brawler or Doctor. After rescuing Cutthroat, Swindler and the others are forced into a mission to procure an item on the Shinkansen, and this is where the story really starts to kick off.

One of the most notable and apparent things you will notice in Akudama Drive is how extravagant it is. It takes the energy and absurdity of Danganronpa and kicks it up a few notches. Akudama Drive is extremely over the top, with a Doctor that can stich herself up from fatal wounds, a Brawler that can fight off an army of robots, a Courier with a bike that can shoot railguns, and more. On top of everything else this show does well, it always remembers to have fun.

 

This is something that is made quite clear with it’s cast of eccentric characters. Their personalities are largely exaggerated, similarly to Danganronpa, which is fine, because it suits the narrative and the style of the show. While there were a few characters that were a bit weaker than the others (Cutthroat), the cast was overall quite enjoyable, while Swindler and Courier were stand-out characters.

Over time, the story starts to go in a very interesting direction, with some really strong political commentary, with criticisms of fascism, oppression, and police violence. What makes a person truly criminal, and who are truly the good and bad guys in a society are very important questions this anime raises. The anime isn’t particularly subtle with these ideas either. Considering some of the recent notable political events in America, the timing of this show is almost too perfect.

Just because the show becomes more serious politically as it goes on, that doesn’t make the anime any less brazen. As you would expect from the writer of Danganronpa, the story has some wild twists that will likely blow you away. I think that is saying a lot, as Danganronpa surprised me a lot. I’ve also played similar games such as Zero Escape, so you’d think that it would be impossible to surprise me anymore. Kodaka knows how to do it though.

The anime towards the end becomes even more bold and audacious. On top of its political commentary, there are references to others games and anime, or at least similarities, such as some notable similarities to Zero Escape (in which Kodaka formed a game company with the creator of, with Akudama Drive being one of the company’s works). Throw in some totally not subtle religious symbolism and some inspiring messages of hope, and you got Danganronpa repackaged with cyberpunk and Evangelion. I’ve even seen people make parallels with others shows I haven’t seen before such as Revolutionary Girl Utena, and I wouldn’t be surprised. I was already enjoying the show quite a lot up until the end, but the last two episodes really submitted this anime among my favorites.

Another thing I need to give credit to is it’s style. This anime certainly isn’t style over substance, but it has a lot of style that can’t be overlooked.

Not only are the backgrounds gorgeous, the colors hella cool, and the animation stellar throughout, it’s all presented in the coolest way possible. The creator clearly took ideas from Danganronpa in regards to presentation. The way the backgrounds pop in look just like how the different locations in Danganronpa pop in. The anime was very ambitious visually and it really paid off. There are certain scenes in the show that stunned me, and I would love to talk about it, but must refrain to avoid spoilers.

The music was also quite good throughout, and some parts actually reminded me of Danganronpa. Not sure if it was intentional, as I’m nowhere near close to being an expert on music, but I did get similar vibes.

I’m always amazed and impressed when anime are able to fully realize an interesting world and flesh out some really cool ideas in such a short time frame. In 12 episodes, Akudama Drive manages to do that. With a glorious presentation and fantastic world-building, it’s able to sell its ideas so effectively. It’s able to balance fun and intrigue so well. While this is something I’ve come to expect from the writer of Danganronpa, I’m impressed he was able to do so in a 12 episode anime, which is quite short compared to the Danganronpa games. I can really appreciate a show that’s able to combine all these elements so confidently without shame. It really feels like the creators cared a lot about this anime.

I really did miss out putting this anime on my top 10 anime of 2020 list, so it was imperative that I made a blog to convince you to watch it. I have no qualms in saying it was one of the best anime of 2020, and I truly believe it’s a show that can appeal to a wide range of people, so you should definitely give it a shot.

We are blessed to be getting so many cool and unique anime original shows. We got a nice amount of good ones in 2020, and 2021 seems to be keeping up the trend. If we can get more stuff like this, the future for anime (as a consumer) is looking bright. I also hope we can get more cool anime like this from Too Kyo games, although I’m also just as excited for the games they have announced.

If you are at all interested in watching Akudama Drive, it’s available in both sub and dub on Funimation.

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