What Everyone Gets Wrong About Akame ga Kill: Morality of Night Raid, Pt. 1

IMPORTANT NOTE: MAJOR AKAME GA KILL SPOILERS AHEAD.  DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE COMPLETED THE ENTIRE SERIES.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: I HAVEN’T READ THE MANGA OF AKAME GA KILL.  MY ANALYSIS IS SOLELY DERIVED FROM THE ANIME VERSION.

So last month I decided to check out Akame ga Kill! after checking out the abridged parody of it.  I came in with somewhat low expectations–I remember Glass Reflection (aka Arkada) gave it a somewhat lackluster review of it around a year ago, but hey!  It seemed pretty popular so it couldn’t hurt to give it a look-see.  From the surface, it looked like a typical shonen series, but I’ve been surprised before.  It should be pretty good.

Well, it wasn’t.  Akame ga Kill was great.  Twenty-four episodes later, I found myself wanting more, more, more.  Sure, part of the enjoyment was the gory fun, but underneath all of the bloody violence was an intelligent series with something deep to say about morality and justice.  Never have I seen such a thought provoking mainstream shonen since the likes of Fullmetal Alchemist, and yes, I’m dead serious.  I wasn’t sure why Arkada, a guy I’ve come to rely on for recommending me anime, didn’t much care for it.  Surely he was the exception to the rule, right?

I was so pumped for more Akame ga Kill that I googled to see if there was any news of a second season (that may sound confusing to those of you who watched the whole thing, but more on that in another part).  Much to my surprise, there were no release dates, no speculative news articles about it–all I could find was this measly thread on MAL written by someone with a similar enthusiasm for the show.

Unfortunately, the poor guy was laughed off the Internet as people commented how ridiculous he was being.  As I came to learn, Akame ga Kill was not the beloved show that I thought it was–it was more like the show that everyone watched because of hype and ended up disappointed with.  It maintains a fairly average 7.9 score on MAL, and reviewers consistently give it average-to-above-average ratings.  To the majority of the anime fandom, Akame ga Kill was just another mainstream shonen that only casuals would find impressive.

Seeing all this negativity about this show, I began to question my opinion.  Is Akame ga Kill actually a good show, or was I not noticing something that everyone else was?  I took to the Internet to analyze what prominent reviewers had to say about the show.  Common criticisms included the show’s bizarre blend of magic and technology, the strange tonal shifts, the rushed ending, and the boring black and white morality.  Even fans of the series admit that it’s just brainless fun.  Reading all of these criticisms, I came to a surprising conclusion.

Nobody was watching the show correctly.

I understand that this is a controversial statement, on many levels.  After all, who am I, a fellow fan, to say that some one’s interpretation of a work is incorrect?  But I believe that many of the flaws that people point out about this series can be explained by closely analyzing the show’s themes and morals.  I know that I can’t make you like Akame ga Kill, but I can at least hope that you’ll understand why Akame ga Kill is the way that it is by the end.

So without further ado, here’s the first entry in the beginning of a multi-part series of posts called What Everyone Gets Wrong About Akame ga Kill!, which will analyze aspects of the show that I feel are unjustly criticized, or present a unique take on the show that I haven’t seen anyone else develop.

We’ll begin by dissolving the perception of “morality” that people seem to have about the show.  A lot of folks consider Night Raid’s fight against the Empire to be a battle of good vs. evil, or white and black morality.  Usually people point to the fact that the Empire is filled with one-note villains who are so deranged or self-centered that they lack any redeeming qualities to justify this line of thinking.  And since the members of Night Raid are only going after these villainous curs, then they must be purely good.  But I think looking at the members of Night Raid as a group to determine their morality is flawed.

It’s not as if every member of Night Raid was so appalled by the Empire and its atrocities that they gleefully signed up for Night Raid to bring it down and create a new world.  Each member is a part of Night Raid for their own, unique reasons, and they all have their own goals and aspirations.  To ascertain the morality of these characters, we have to look at their motivations and actions individually.

I’m leaving out Tatsumi and Akame because I’m going to be talking about them in the last part of this series.  I also won’t be talking about Susanoo because he’s an Imperial Arms and not a human being.  He lacks human motivations, and is thusly omitted.

Sheele:

The first important character to get the axe on this series, Sheele was, at first glance, a good person.  Akame called her the kindest among them, and in a way, she was.  She was the only member of Night Raid to comfort Tatsumi following the loss of his friends, acknowledging that it was hard to let go of those you loved. Sheele acted as a tender hand in an otherwise stern group (which is probably why she had to die first).

That is, until it’s killin’ time.  At that point, she’s becomes a ruthless assassin who kills her targets with surgical precision.  Sheele first discovered her ability to kill when she witnessed her friend’s ex-boyfriend strangling her to death.  Taking exception to that, Sheele killed him right then and there and didn’t feel a shred of fear or guilt at taking another life.

There was no doubt that this was a case of self-defense, but let’s examine how Sheele killed that guy–she stabbed a knife right through his neck which “killed him instantly.” In other words, she went for the killshot right away.  It’s not as if she panicked and went to slit his jugular because of an adrenaline rush,  it was clear that she had total control of the situation since she was so “calm” and could have just maimed him to the point where he’d let her go, but nope!  The first and only place her knife went was his neck.  This shows us her first and only solution to a violent situation is killing whoever started it.

After that incident, Sheele never saw her friend again; probably because the incident told her unnamed friend how empty Sheele was inside.  With nowhere else to turn, she became a freelance assassin. Now to be fair, she did claim that she chose that career path because she wanted to help “clean up the trash,” but let’s not forget: she lived in the capital, which, as we see in the series, is filled with the worst kinds of people, and that goes double for anyone who’s rich enough to hire an assassin.  Who knows how long she was working for rich nobles who wanted to take people out to maintain their political power?  This tells us that Sheele didn’t really care who she worked for, just so long as she guaranteed the safety of anyone she deemed a friend.   She was never on some great moral crusade.  Night Raid was just another gig to her–she would have just as likely joined the Jaegers with no complaints.

So while she makes a great friend, she really doesn’t care about making the world a better place for everybody.

Bulat:

Unlike Sheele, Bulat clearly does possess a strong sense of justice and is much harder to call immoral.  His backstory, as far as we know, is that he was an officer in the Imperial Army, until his general, Liver, was arrested for refusing to accept a bribe, and that Bulat was later arrested at the same time for a crime he didn’t commit.  He managed to get away, and presumably ended up joining Night Raid after being disgusted with the same Empire that put his dear General behind bars.  We know nothing of his childhood, why he joined the military in the first place, or anything.  All we get is a vague sense of his military background.

However, during the flashback in episode 7, Liver says an important line to Bulat: “sorry that you had me as your superior.”  Thinking on it, this is sort of an odd apology.  Why is he saying sorry?  Certainly not because he knew that Bulat would be arrested as well–that didn’t happen until his trial.  After all, it’s clear that the Empire didn’t punish everyone under Liver’s command–that would be far too excessive, even by their standards.  No, I believe that Liver is apologizing directly to Bulat because of the profound impact that he had on him.  After all, as far as we can see, Bulat was the only one who visited the general following his arrest.  He was also, ostensibly, the only one of the general’s inferiors to be framed for a crime.  Bulat was likely the General’s right hand man, or at least, his biggest supporter.  The two were likely very close.

After the trial, however, their paths diverged.  Bulat managed to flee from Imperial custody while Liver, unable to escape, was locked in a cell.  This allowed Liver to be swayed by Esdeath into joining her ranks, offering him a full pardon.  To Liver, it was like being visited by a guardian angel, giving him power over the spineless politicians that he so resented.  In contrast, Bulat was free from Imperial influence.  He had plenty of time to mourn Liver, join Night Raid, forge new bonds with his companions, and move on.  By the time Bulat meets the General again, he’s already been committed to Night Raid, with Liver already committed to Esdeath.

But what if Bulat did get captured?  What would happen to him?   What if Esdeath approached him as well as Liver to join her army?  Well, he’d most likely side with his beloved commanding officer, and would wind up working for Esdeath.  Think about it.  Bulat looked up to General Liver, and had a similar moral code.  We have no reason to believe that his morality wouldn’t allow him to do so–in fact, we KNOW that for a fact.  Look back at the flashback in episode 7.  Bulat was specifically angry at the Empire for ascertaining the general’s value based on how willing he’d be to take bribes, rather than merit.  And why does Esdeath let Liver back in the ranks?  Because of merit!  Bulat would have every reason to accept Esdeath’s offer if he had been captured on that fateful day.

But what about that “Hero of the People” line that Bulat spouts at Liver?  Well, he likely only considers himself that because he’s joined Night Raid.  I don’t think he’s always considered himself a hero of the people.  Remember, he fought in a war on the capital’s side.  And if there’s one thing this show likes to emphasize, it’s that people have every reason to hate the capital, and that Bulat was likely putting down a rebellion that had legitimate reasons for uprising.  It’s likely that he didn’t care about “the people” back then.

Bulat’s morality only goes as far as Liver’s–and as we see, it’s not as ironclad as we like to think.

Chelsea:

Chelsea is a bit of an oddball Night Raider.  Although she’s just as experienced as any other member of Night Raid, she maintains the belief that she’s a warrior of justice, rather than a merciless killer.

On the surface, this makes sense–her backstory makes her out to be one of the most moral members of Night Raid.  She was a great student who ended up working under a morally bankrupt viceroy.  So one day, she found an Imperial Arms stored in the castle, and used it to kill him and join an organization dedicated to bringing down people like him.

What a selfless soldier, right?  Except for one thing–we know that she’s two-faced.  When she meets her viceroy for the first time, she acts like a doting, unsuspecting student, until she reveals her thoughts to the audience.  She’s motivated to rise up in the ranks and become a powerful figure in the Empire.  This changes things–she isn’t some innocent soul who believed the system was pure: she was just going to act like a loyal subordinate until she becomes as powerful as the viceroy.  Her initial goal is to secure her own power and influence, first and foremost.  She’s not out to make the world a better place–she’s purely self-interested, and will act like a model subordinate to get to the top. She probably would have done just that if she didn’t have an obviously psychotic boss–in fact, she was so good at bullshitting that she tells Tatsumi that “deception is [her] specialty” in episode 12.

I believe, however, that she is too good at deception, because she was successfully able to fool herself with her own lie: that she’s fighting for justice. I don’t even have to infer this, since we see firsthand how delusional she can be.  Recall the flashback scene in episode 17, in which she looms over the viceroy’s corpse after killing him with a needle.  Some one shouts “the viceroy has been killed,” while people around her are screaming.  It’s a little difficult to tell if people are rejoicing or are terrified of the smirking murderer, but I’m inclined to believe the latter.  Why? Well, the screaming is only audible for a couple seconds before we get a close-up on Chelsea’s face as she thinks to herself, “everyone is relieved… they’re happy.”  When she says this line, the screaming gets muted, as if she’s shutting out the outside world. This indicates that she’s not naive as Tatsumi points out, but rather in denial about the morality of her work.

In fact, I believe that she imagined this incident to go completely different. You can tell by what Chelsea was doing immediately after she made her attack.  She doesn’t hide, is totally undisguised, in broad daylight, with witnesses nearby and a murder weapon in hand.  Although she certainly possessed the capabilities to disguise herself and hide (in fact, thats LITERALLY WHAT HER IMPERIAL ARMS WAS DESIGNED FOR), she didn’t.  This tells me that she thought she’d be able to get away with offing the viceroy because he was an objectively evil man. It’s like she was saying, “look at me, everyone!  I got the bad guy!   Praise me!”  Considering the fact that in every scene she appears in, she acts like a total hotshot who’s either out to impress people or act like she’s the smartest/most talented person in the room, Chelsea believing that that she’d be able to get away with murder seems pretty in line with her line of thinking.  But in reality, she was no different from the viceroy, who killed people because he thought he had the right to.

Okay, so she’s delusional, but does that maker her evil?  Well, yes–she certainly is capable of understanding the truth (as she does in her final moments) but chooses to live a lie because her ego demands it.  That’s a dangerous mentality for a professional killer to have, especially one who’s as accomplished as Chelsea (who apparently has a kill count that rivals Akame’s).  She’s nothing short of a hypocrite, too–after she attempts to kill Kurome, she declares that her fate was befitting of that of a killer.  That’s right–she feels fine with killing Kurome because Kurome is a murderer.  In that regard, she’s no better than Seryu Ubiquitous.  If she’s able to lie to herself like that, she could rationalize killing anybody!  She doesn’t care about justice, or anything like that–she only cares about being perceived as a hero, for the sake of maintaining or her own ego.  If she lived to create a new world, she’d likely end up as a self-important individual that the capital was already full of for the majority of the series.