Akudama Drive – Episode 9 – “The Shining”

…don’t you mean “The Shinning?”

Picking up from last week, all hell has broken loose throughout the streets of the Kansai region. With news of the Akudama’s presence alarming the public, citizens are banding together in shared animosity for the criminals and forming vigilante groups in response. The Executioners find themselves floored at what’s been going on, as the public response has escalated to the level of vandalism and even public beheadings of low-level criminals. As for what the Akudama are up to during all of this Swindler and Sister are taken to Courier’s safe house where they’re able to think about and plan their next moves to rescue Brother, ultimately settling on a direct attempt to breach the Executioner HQ where he’s being held. Elsewhere, Hoodlum is hold up in a fancy hotel with Doctor, the two having shared an intimate moment together before she begins to undermine the moment by discussing her desires to overcome and control the notions of life and death. As for Cutthroat, he finds himself back in Kansai roaming the back alleys in a delirious state, seemingly only motivated by his love of the color red.

The Executioner Boss, frustrated by everything going on, pays a visit to the police chief to persuade him to take legitimate action against the chaos in the streets, using force to quell the uprising which has been escalated by a menacing public message from Swindler. During this time, the trio manage to break into the HQ and track down Brother’s location, being locked downstairs as he’s set to be carried away by helicopter in 30 minutes. The three of them continue to explore the hallways of the HQ in an effort to find their way to Brother’s location, but they come across something that they were not prepared for in the slightest. Courier drives his motorcycle into a massive darkened room punctuated by a putrid scent… and their sights converge on a massive pile of dead bodies, with Cutthroat standing right by its side. He’s been on a killing spree ever since making his way back into Kansai, and now that he’s seemingly wholly detached from any semblance of coherent thought, he lunges at the three of them in his lust towards both the color red and Swindler in particular.

…guess it wouldn’t be a cyberpunk anime without the Akira motorcycle slide.

Cutthroat’s obsession with Swindler has mutated to the point where he wishes to kill her with his hands as opposed to any of his knives, but she manages to escape out into the hallways. The clock is ticking down as the three of them need to find their way to the roof now to intercept the helicopter, but Cutthroat limps his way through the halls of the HQ hunting Swindler down. She attempts to hide out in a bathroom stall, but he effortlessly breaks the door down, forcing her to dodge directly past him and find another hiding spot. She finds a suspicious open safe door that’s her only option at the moment, closing it shut behind her. The lights suddenly turn on, revealing the room to be a weapons storage locker full of beam swords used by the Executioners. The advantage now seems to be hers as Cutthroat begs to be let in, apologizing for his violent instincts as she obliges and lets him in. He immediately launches into attacking her, viciously choking her before she manages to sink a beam sword straight through his chest, killing him near immediately. Courier and Sister drive past the room as Swindler exits, and the three of them make it to the roof of the HQ just in time to witness Brother being flown away by the Executioners.

With the escalating chaos of the Executioners’ pursuits against the Akudama mixed with the public unrest, I can’t say I was expecting the episode to take the turns that it does. While there’s been some narrative shifts in terms of the tone from episode to episode (owing to the various cues the series has taken from predominantly western films), everything still felt like it fit cohesively within the context of a cyberpunk crime thriller. However, the focus on Cutthroat throughout the episode causes the style to swerve hard into full-on horror/slasher film territory. It feels expected given the generally unhinged nature of the character, but it’s still quite a shock just how much it commits to the idea. It’s immediately evident the first time he shows up in the episode: a low camera angle aiming upward at a horrifically blood-red sky as Cutthroat drags himself through an alley obscured by fog, with the music turning into this unnerving noise reminiscent of Akira Yamaoka’s work on Silent Hill.

The fear and tension only ramps up further from there. With every scene featuring Cutthroat, the visuals shift to incorporate dim lighting and ominous shadows as the dead bodies begin to pile up, accompanied with appropriately menacing horror film music cues. The facial animation work is top notch all throughout, as his face contorts itself into a multitude of nightmarish visages, reflecting his perverted obsession with blood and the color red. Some of the most horrifying moments are when the episode shifts into Cutthroat’s perspective, specifically in regards to how he views Swindler. He has this bizarre idolization of her as an angel of some kind, showing flashback images where he sees her with a large blood red halo that’s been the source of his infatuation with her, to the point where when he chokes her towards the end, we get one last shift into his eyes that shows her body and surrounding aura turn a saturated distorted shade of red (think something akin to Giygas from Earthbound). The way the tension is crafted feels vaguely reminiscent of a story like James Cameron’s The Terminator i.e. an ordinary woman forced to run away/confront a seemingly unstoppable superhuman entity. A huge amount of props have to go to voice actor Takahiro Sakurai (known for a multitude of roles such as Rohan Kishibe in Diamond Is Unbreakable, Griffith in the recent film and TV adaptations of Berserk, and of course Leon Kuwata in Danganronpa, among many others) who’s been generally excellent at portraying the off-kilter personality of the character up to now, but he really cranks things up to 11 here. The mix of violent lust and unhinged delusion adds up to one of the most genuinely menacing performances I’ve seen in… well anything I’ve watched all year. And as a darkly humorous cherry on the sundae, as the episode’s title implies, the scene of Swindler hiding in the bathroom shows Cutthroat barging through the door in a manner that deliberately calls back to the still-iconic scene “Here’s Johnny” scene in the most on-the-nose manner possible, only missing an actual axe in order to complete the image.

With how focused the episode is on the conflict with Cutthroat, it can be easy to miss the other worldbuilding and character details that pop up throughout. Most interesting is the scene with Doctor and Hoodlum in the hotel, and not necessarily because of the sexual implications (although the fact that she would do it with him is… certainly unexpected). Her seeming immortality and underlying desires are clarified to a decent extent, conveying her wishes to gain a god-like control over the concepts of life and death, even pulling the curtain back just a touch on her own existence. In the most unusual turn of the conversation, she asks Hoodlum a few strangely out-of-place questions in regards to how he perceives her age and even general identity, implying that the Doctor we see now is a far cry from… whoever she was in a past life. Given how obscured in mystery the pasts of these characters are, this is a pretty significant insight, even if still a bit shrouded. Other minor character details are peppered throughout to help flesh out certain elements, such as the existence of Courier’s safe house or the knowledge of where Swindler used to work before getting caught up in this mess. The public unrest makes for a chaotic backdrop for the late-game action of the plot, and it’s conveyed with extremely graphic and vivid detail to the extent where, to invoke another Danganronpa comparison, it feels like a deliberate callback to The Biggest, Most Awful, Most Tragic Event in Human History. It’s anyone guess where the story’s going to go in these last three episodes, but if this week was any indication, then all bets are off and anything is possible.

New episodes of Akudama Drive premiere every Thursday and can be streamed exclusively on Funimation.

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