Akudama Drive

At some point in the future, a conflict known as the Great Civil War divides Japan into two competing regions: Kansai, a sprawling cyberpunk metropolis; and Kanto, a sealed off mystery said to be a kind of paradise on earth. Kanto and Kansai are divided by a contaminated region – a relic from the war – as well as a wall of lethal cybersecurity. Only the mythical shinkansen, venerated by some citizens of Kansai as a deity, connects the two regions.  Kansai is economically dependent on Kanto and nominally under the control of the Kansai Police and their elite corps of enforcers, the Executioners. However, the reality on the ground is different: criminal gangs, known as Akudama (lit. “bad person”), are gradually increasing their control over Kansai. Graphic evidence of this reality comes when four highly skilled Akudama –  Courier, Brawler, Surgeon, and Hacker – are enlisted to rescue a condemned prisoner – Cutthroat – scheduled to be executed in the heart of the Kansai Police Station. They succeed in their mission, but along the way entangle two others: a young woman who has the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and who reluctantly adopts the name Swindler; and Hoodlum, an opportunistic thief who uses the chaos caused by the raid as cover to escape prison. But the group quickly discover that freeing Cutthroat was only the beginning: they are now tasked with liberating a mysterious “treasure” said to be on the shinkansen and much desired by the overlords in Kanto; and they must do so while avoiding the vengeful Executioners who are now hot on their trail…

Created and produced by anime studio Pierrot and games developer Too Kyo Games, “Akudama Drive” aired on Japanese television from October to December 2020. Visually vibrant and littered with homage gestures to various influences from Bladerunner to the works of Quentin Tarantino, “Akudama Drive” proceeds at breakneck speed with little attempt to explain its own backstory or the history of its main characters. Nonetheless, the non-stop action-adventure makes up for any deficiencies in characterisation; and the surprising plot-twists concerning the nature of the “treasure” and the condition of Kanto’s society – ironically mocked by one character as an “overused sci-fi trope” – also lifts this series above the average guns-and-swords battle-fest. The denouement comes as no surprise – and, indeed, is highly visible from a long way before the end – but the relentless pace of the action-driven narrative makes “Akudama Drive” compelling and entertaining viewing, even if it isn’t particularly thoughtful or original. High-octane, gorgeous to look at, and bloodily violent, this is holiday viewing par excellence when you’re not too busy playing Cyberpunk 2077.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.