It’s not technically “surfing the web,” but it’s close enough.
The episode opens on what appears to be a flashback to the beginning of the series: Swindler clocks out of her shift at the Seal Center, rescues the cat from getting run over, and then heads over to the takoyaki stand where she met Courier for the first time. However, something seems… off here, as the two simply walk away from each other without clashing over the dropped 500 yen coin. The sequence extends further to show Swindler arriving at her home and ignoring a call from her boss as she walks around the house and trips over her bag… with Hacker’s drone strangely falling out of it. At this point, the two begin to jump through distorted perceptions of their own memories, including flashbacks to a younger Courier witnessing his mother being shot by a violent intruder and multiple variations of the takoyaki encounter. Eventually, the “flashbacks” are interrupted by the duo of Shark & Bunny who speak of the events in a very cryptic manner as they begin to pop all over the place, but eventually the surroundings mysteriously glitch out, with Swindler perceiving the digital landscape around her. The setting fades away, with Courier and Swindler back in the passenger car of the Shinkansen as they’re suddenly approached by Hacker’s drone who begins speaking to the two of them.
Hacker begins explaining what just happened: as it turns out, what our protagonists just experienced was effectively the truth of the “decontamination zone.” The train uses a program to separate one’s mind from their physical body as passengers enter Kanto, with Hacker only being able to stop it due to our protagonists’ shared memory of the 500 yen keeping them firmly in reality. Swindler notices that Sister has disappeared from their sight, eventually seeing that the vault has been removed from the front of the Shinkansen. The two of them (plus Hacker’s drone) exit the front of the train and witnessing an incredibly surprising sight outside:
Instead of an expected paradise, the characters witnessed a surreal ruined cityscape, with debris from destroyed buildings floating about in midair, along with the seeming absence of any gravity in the region. Standing out amidst the wreckage is a floating shapeshifting mass high above, which according to Hacker is “the true Kanto.” According to his explanation, in the aftermath of the war the citizens of Kanto became concerned about their mortality, so they began converting their minds into data to eternally store themselves inside of a quantum supercomputer (the shapeshifting mass). Hacker finally displays a projection of himself through the drone, stating that he was able to protect his mental state before getting absorbed into Kanto, with the group eventually discovering that Brother and Sister are trapped in a mass of wires feeding into Kanto. As it turns out, the intention with the two of them was to serve as an immortal vessel for the population of Kanto to upload themselves into, thus achieving a true everlasting utopia. Utterly disgusted by these revelations, Swindler attempts to rescue the siblings, but there’s a defense system in place that repeatedly pushes her away. As a favor for returning his drone, Hacker attempts to free the siblings from the inside as he dives into the virtual Kanto.
The firewall of the Kanto supercomputer launches an attack against the invading Hacker, taking out parts of his body and inflicting pain as he finds himself more motivated to fight past these defenses. While on his last legs, he notices the siblings within the computer expelling the essences of their fellow experimental subjects outward, reaching close enough to break the defense system and free the two as Swindler makes one more leap and successfully grabs the siblings. Despite the happy reunion that shortly follows, Hacker is on his last legs, programming the train to head back to Kansai before fully fading away. He leaves one last message behind for Swindler: some coordinates he found from a piece of pre-war literature leading to some kind of mysterious location. As Courier, Swindler, and the siblings discuss their next potential moves with this information, the episode cuts to an ending scene that shows the Shinkansen heading back into Kansai… as the Executioners manage to fire an explosive weapon and destroy the train.
(The following paragraph contains endgame spoilers for Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair)
At the risk of repeating myself, it’s interesting that even though Danganronpa series writer Kazutaka Kodaka is only credited with the original story concept and not the episodic screenplays, there’s so much of that franchise’s creative DNA running through Akudama Drive. With the opening of this episode in particular, however, it’s hard to not wonder if he had a more direct involvement with some of the writing. Specifically, the sequence with the glitchy memory simulations shared by Swindler and Courier are a direct nod to one of Kodaka’s favorite narrative motifs: dueling layers of reality forcing the protagonists to question what is real and what is not. This popped up in Too Kyo Games’ first officially released project, the choose-your-own-adventure game Death Come True, and the specific framing here feels like a deliberate callback to the climax of Goodbye Despair in which it’s revealed that the cast of that game have had their minds and bodies preserved within a malicious virtual simulation. Having Shark & Bunny interrupt these “memories” oozes a similar energy to Monokuma tormenting the students of Hopes Peak Academy, even if it’s not as memorably over-the-top. The aforementioned climax also feels like it’s being deliberately referenced with the reveal of the Kanto supercomputer, not just because of the expository information we’re given, but also a more specific nod. During the sequence of Hacker attempting to free the siblings, it’s visualized as him diving into a virtual tunnel that almost deliberately invokes the “logic dive” minigames from Goodbye Despair’s class trials. Hacker’s dialogue even has a passing reference to surfing, just to make the reference even more obvious.
The highlight of the episode easily has to be its visuals, as the return of Hacker into the narrative brings in a lot of technological virtual elements into the events of the episode. The flow and editing of the memory sequences is incredibly delirious and surreal, especially when Shark & Bunny begin popping up in the background and foreground in random places and at strange scenes, like with Courier’s childhood. It also helps illuminate a bit about Courier’s past, showing that even at a young age he was active as an Akudama (although given the context of these scenes, it’s hard to tell how much of this is true). The digital landscape of the virtual Kanto is incredibly detailed and vibrant, conveying the vibe of an advanced computer entity while still making it feel like a tangible threat as Hacker explores the inside. The reveal of Kanto’s true state is incredibly unsettling, as the image of ruined buildings weightlessly floating in space feels strangely apocalyptic in a sense. The visualization of the supercomputer as a shapeshifting geometric mass amidst the rubble also contributes to this “end-of-the-world” feeling, invoking the imagery of the Angels from the eternal classic Neon Genesis Evangelion, specifically Ramiel. While on the subject of apocalypses and Evangelion, the narrative undercurrents of the episode really dig at the brain in a way that once again drives how surreal a lot of the story is. In particular, despite the technological cyberpunk framework of the story and setting up to now, the revelations present in this episode have oddly religious connotations. To wit: a populace is entranced by hypnotic bright lights which promise to take them to salvation, and as they reach their destination, their minds and spirits are ripped from their physical bodies in order to ascend to a higher and everlasting plane of existence in paradise. There is quite a bit to process and think about with this episode, and that’s even before considering that there’s one last episode left, and pretty much anything’s fair game at this point, especially after that surprising ending tease.
New episodes of Akudama Drive premiere every Thursday and can be streamed exclusively on Funimation.