Akudama Drive ‒ Episode 5

3 weeks ago 16

The Akudama have upgraded their gainful employment from hijackers to babysitters, and that's not even the wildest swerve this week's installment takes. But after last episode's nonstop high octane action absurdity, I think we all needed a little cooldown, so this transition-focused segment of the narrative feels like a good place to rest and set up the next leg of Akudama Drive's journey. Both our heroes and our villains (however you want to define those) find themselves in uncertain places, faced with unfamiliar convictions. The path forward is sure to be occluded with blood. Nevertheless, although the train has stopped, nobody in this story has the luxury of staying put.

Hacker, for instance, doesn't even possess the patience to double back to Kansai, and he instead takes his leave towards Kanto and/or certain death. I can't say I was expecting the gang to splinter so soon, but I also can't be surprised with a Kodaka character taking a mysterious detour for murky reasons that will almost certainly prove instrumental to the story's conclusion. And to its credit, Akudama Drive set this up well by revealing more of Hacker's interiority than of any other character, and it also uses this moment to establish Swindler's own internal conflict this week. She cannot, at first, reconcile Hacker's longing for a better world with the danger standing in his way. She can't imagine being that frustrated about anything. However, his actions clearly rub off on her, as she later steps into danger's way to shield the children from Doctor's poison-tipped bullying. The Akudama might be criminals and murderers, but more fundamentally, they're people who follow their passions irrespective of how society condemns them. They are, in essence, Akudama because of their drive.

Brawler is definitely the loudest example, gleefully voicing how much his near-death battle with the Executioner Master made him feel alive. He is, to put it kindly, a simple man, but the purity of his love for fighting is infectious, if not even admirable. This will probably come to a head next week, and Swindler might have to confront the uglier side of a life lived on the edge. For now, however, I love seeing his big dumb face whenever I can. Even as tensions run a bit high across the board due to the sudden change in circumstances, all the Akudama remain surprisingly civil with each other and work through their issues. Nobody stops Hacker from going his own way. Doctor backs down after Swindler's intervention. Courier has no intention of not seeing a job through, regardless of the cargo. You could argue that the bombs around their throats are the only things keeping them from going after each other's, but I just think they're a genuinely complementary team comprised of people who love their work. While that's never going to be completely frictionless, that's not an easy thing to find even in the most mundane of occupations.

It's also no mistake that Akudama Drive depicts genuine teamwork and camaraderie amidst its eccentric conglomeration of criminals. Otherwise, it wouldn't be so pointed about contrasting the Akudama's conflicts with those of the law enforcement. Although Master and Pupil both make it out of the fallout zone alive, their boss gets reamed out by her mysteriously masked Kanto superiors (who, I'd be remiss to ignore, aesthetically and thematically resemble No Guns Life's main villains), and she in turn chastises and suspends them for failing to kill the Akudama. This top-to-bottom chain is authoritative, punitive, and analogous to any number of corporate or government hierarchies. It chews up the people doing the work, just to appease and assuage those in power. The Akudama, meanwhile, are all on relatively equivalent footing—even the aggressively normal Swindler finds herself welcome in their absurdly powerful ranks. The Brother and Sister might be calling the shots, but in their current situation, they're all mired in the same struggle against authority. I also need to point out the specific reason they have all been handed a death sentence by the Executioners: they stole from the Shinkansen. It has nothing to do with the people they killed. It's purely due to theft—theft which, might I also remind you, amounts to rescuing a pair of children who were being trafficked against their will through a death bubble.

In other words: I don't believe Akudama Drive likes cops very much.

The construction of the show remains solid and evocative. Absent last week's flights of action absurdity, this week's episode instead frames character moments in smart, sometimes goofy, and sometimes gorgeous ways. Hacker decides to stay with the train while the scene emphasizes his lone figure framed by the exit. The monochromatic desolation of the wasteland couldn't be further from the dazzling lights of the city, yet Akudama Drive nevertheless finds some beauty in the sheen of rain, or in the purple-orange glow of sunrise. A deeper sense of warmth also stems from the show's continued willingness to explore weird cul-de-sacs, like the gang experimenting with the children's magic food tin. It's a nice little moment emphasizing their individual quirks (I had a good chuckle at Doctor pulling an entire wine bottle out of the contraption), while further enabling the timeless tradition of bonding over meals. Swindler might not have any special talents, but she's the only one who shares her food. Everyone on this team has something to contribute.

Obviously the big open questions right now are who these kids are and what they expect to find at the Expo Park. They're literally only identified as Brother and Sister in the credits, and the best lead is the episode's obligatory state propaganda interlude, in which the rabbit all but outright says that the Kyushu Plant can manufacture humans. And since that's the kind of answer that would just raise more questions, I have a hunch that might be where we're going. Our immediate future, however, will be taken up by the rematch between Brawler and Master. I know Brawler is excited, but I also have to wonder how much Master was motivated by his sense of justice, and how much he too was simply drawn by the call of a machismo-drenched fight to the death with a worthy adversary. All I know is, I'm excited to watch these big lads punch each other again.

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Akudama Drive is currently streaming on Funimation.

Steve is, most unfortunately, still in vtuber hell over on Twitter. We're all praying for his salvation.

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