3 Episode Rule is a series in which I watch the first three episodes of a new anime and decide whether to stick with it or drop it based on those three episodes alone.
It might be me jumping the gun, but I’m already starting to think this anime season has been the best one of the year. I get that COVID has messed up a lot of production and release schedules for studios, even this show was originally due to air in July. But I’m just glad that it feels like we’re ending 2020 on a high.
Of course, that’s just based off me watching the first three episodes of these shows. Said gun jumping seems to have happened anyway, there’s still plenty of time for them to all muck it up.
Maaaan, this show has a LOOK. Full disclosure; I’m a super easy mark for Cyberpunk and Neo-Noir settings. And Akudama Drive set out to make an impression right away and there’s definitely an impact crater been left squarely between my eyes.
Another anime original series on Funimation this year; Akudama Drive takes place in a dystopian, cyberpunk version of Japan, one in which the police are struggling to contain the criminal element, whose power and influence seems to be on the rise exponentially. Right off the bat, I adore how this show looks. The sheer volume of neon pinks and blues pops out of the screen and carries a super defined style that is strongly present throughout.
The flashy character introductions and stylised scene transitions show that visuals and creating an identity are super important to this series. Not to mention that it carries its inspirations on its sleeve, I mean, the episode titles so far have all been movie titles from western action and crime movies. The first episode is straight-up called “Se7en”, there’s no misinterpreting that.
Within that first episode, we’re introduced to our seven main, unnamed characters, all thrown together by a mysterious benefactor for the sake of performing a highly dangerous heist. The characters are all strong personalities, called Akudama by the characters in the show’s world. The concept of Akudama gives me strong “Vault Hunter” vibes from the Borderlands video game franchise, in that on their own they seem like pretty normal people, but by giving them a title they somehow become something more.
Akudama are all criminals, ones who are well known to the system and have rap sheets long enough to throw them behind bars for hundreds of years. Each of which are brought together for some different speciality, which is helpfully painted out by the alias each of them goes by throughout the series.
We’ve got our stoic “Courier” on his Akira looking motorcycle, the superhumanly strong and superhumanly stupid “Brawler”, the drone manipulating “Hacker”, the seductive and seemingly immortal “Doctor” and the final character is the childlike, psychotic murderer “Cutthroat”, whose rescue from execution brings the others together during the events of the first episode.
While the mysterious orchestrator brings this group together in order to offer them the heist job by the end of the first episode, two other characters get dragged along for the ride. First is the “Hoodlum” a boastful delinquent who seems to get by purely on believing his own BS, and also quickly latching onto the “Brawler” to become his new hype man. The final member of this motley crew is a normal, innocent young girl who just so happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Acting as the audience surrogate for this cavalcade of crazy.
Arrested for a minor misdemeanour thanks to a disgruntled shop owner that only takes cash, the girl is in the police station when the rest of the Akudama break in to liberate the Cutthroat. Before she can really get explain herself she finds herself with a bomb collar around her neck and and being put on the spot to justify herself or having her head blown from her shoulders. Thus she takes on the name a police robot used on her earlier and becomes the “Swindler”. A role she unintentionally compounds with every word she utters.
A lot of trouble to get into over a 500 yen coin.
Once the gang’s all together, the benefactor, talking through a robot cat offer the Akudama a job they cannot refuse, although none of them seem to want to refuse based on how much money/fun is up for grabs. This dystopic is split Japan in two, with the characters living in the poorer areas while the eastern region is where the ultra rich live. The only route between the two being a high guarded, highly dangerous bullet train. One which our group are tasked to steal something from.
It’s a cool setup and while I’m nut sure if this heist is going to carry the whole series, enjoy what I see. I Like I said before, this series wears all of its influences on its sleeve. Between the Blade Runner looking setting, the aforementioned Akira looking bike (which obviously does the thing you expect it to do) and the Judge Dredd inspired role of the “Executioner” department of the police force, Akudama Drive is a highly stylistic, action-packed, plot-driven anime. One that wants you to know what its referencing.
The characters, like their names, would imply are mostly archetypes and the series is driven forward by the plot, jumping from explosive action sequence to dynamic fight sequence. And in that regard, I am utterly smitten by this show. Obviously, the general rules is that a lot of anime put more effort into the animation quality of their first couple of episodes to get their hooks into people, but between the substantial style of this show, coupled with the super impressive action set pieces, I’m totally on board. Even if the character work isn’t there. Yet anyway.
Verdict: I got the Cyberpsychosis!
This show has me on board through its visual style an identity alone. It so strongly represents its inspirations throughout practically every shot that its powerful sense of identity is difficult to ignore. I’m not sure what the discourse on this show is, but while you could easily criticise it for being shallow and not having any focus on its characters, I’m happy to watch it just to drink up whatever I’m seeing on the screen at any given moment.
Like I said at the top; I’m a super easy mark for the cyberpunk genre and visual style. And Akudama Drive represents that genre so powerfully in these first three episodes that I’m very willing to see it through and what else it can show me before its over. Sometimes I relish the opportunity to switch my brain off and enjoy some crazy, chaotic (and pretty) nonsense.