Ah, the perfect holiday gift: violent uprising!
Picking up from last week, the Executioners have managed to blow up the Shinkansen entering back into the Kansai region, leaving our surviving protagonists stranded in the wreckage with Swindler’s leg now broken. As they attempt to get themselves back together, the Executioners send their drones to inspect the wreckage for their targets. Swindler devises a plan: she intends to distract them all so that Courier can escape with Brother and Sister to their ultimate destination of Shikoku, according to Hacker’s coordinates. He eventually accepts her proposition, even finally accepting the 500 yen coin as payment for the delivery. She emerges from the rubble, drawing the view of all the Executioners as she tries to talk her way out of the situation by trying to play coy about the fact that she’s an Akudama, trying to pretend that she’s still just an ordinary girl caught up in all this making an impassioned plea for her own life. Unfortunately, this distraction is only temporary as she’s mercilessly killed when one of the Executioners stabs her through the chest, with the results being broadcast to the entirety of the Kansai region as Courier makes his getaway.
Courier makes it into the city with Brother and Sister in tow, but their route is eventually blocked off at the Kansai Station by Boss and a fleet of Executioners and police robots. In the ensuing conflict, Courier manages to fend off their attacks and even kill off some of the enemy forces before finding himself on his back foot, seemingly eyeing death in the face. However, the battle is interrupted when a young girl stumbles into the area, seemingly lost. One of the Executioners attempts to safely guide her away, only for the young girl to pull a gun on the Executioner and kill him. As it turns out, Swindler’s impassioned pleas to the Executioners has stirred up the public who, believing that they have unjustly murdered an ordinary innocent girl, reengage with their violent uprising against the police and the Executioners. An emergency program set up by Hacker is sending out Shark & Bunny messages to encourage the revolt, with the citizens taking out the Executioners as Courier makes his escape, taking out the tower on top of the Kansai Station as the three make their escape to the snowy fields outside the city.
Courier, suffering from a bad stab wound, decides to send the siblings ahead to Shikoku on their own as he offers to stay behind and defend them from an incoming trio of Executioner aircrafts. As the siblings race off in the distance, Courier manages to take down two of the aircrafts before his motorcycle overheats and gives out, leaving him open to getting shot by a beam that exacerbates his injury. Eventually, Hacker’s emergency program fully kicks in and disables all of Kansai’s power, including the last remaining aircraft, giving Courier the opportunity to fire one last beam to take out the aircraft before succumbing to his injuries and passing away. The siblings eventually make their way over the hills and to the entrance leading to their destination of Shikoku, with the series closing on the image of the two walking through a darkened tunnel before reaching whatever lies on the other side.
So we’ve finally arrived at the end of Akudama Drive, and there’s a lot to think about in regards to this last episode and the series as a whole. What’s most immediately striking about this finale is how, for lack of a better term, relentless the events of the episode are. Diving back into the pedigree of Kazutaka Kodaka, his stories are known to be pretty brutal affairs in which only a minimal number of characters from the outset survive into the closing minutes, but this is probably the furthest that a story with his name attached to it has ever gone into fully wiping the slate clean. Not only are all of the titular Akudama dead by the time the credits roll, but the city has devolved into such this chaotic wreck by the end, it’s hard not to imagine that there’s very little survivors in the aftermath. The Executioners, at the very least, get fairly brutally wiped out, including an explicit suicide from the police chief. As far as the Akudama themselves, one could be forgiven for expecting Swindler to potentially have the kind of narrative “armor” that would make an everyman protagonist like her immune from a severe casualty. The second the music kicks on her attempt to draw the attention of the Executioners, it became clear that she really was not going to make it all the way to the end. The soundtrack swells and blares at the viewer with this intensely emotional dramatic cadence, flowing along with a series of back-and-forth edits between her playing the role of the ordinary girl and her explaining the plot to Courier as she now has fully embraced her role as an Akudama in the last seconds of her life. Her closing moments really dive into this visceral mood, as her final words echo through while thinking about the siblings reaching their destiny: “serves you right.” It’s a statement of vengeance against the government and the Executioners, and the emotionality of it all is suddenly shaken up once it jarringly cuts to the moment of impact, with the sound of Swindler’s body slamming against the surface of a stone cross. Given the religious allegory of heavenly ascension to paradise present in the previous episode, it seems only fitting for this episode to get as on the nose as possible with the symbolism: Swindler is effectively crucified, sacrificing herself so that the siblings can have everlasting life in a destined paradise. It’s kind of hard to miss with how much the scene shoves cross shapes into the background of these scenes.
…Also, while I know the intention here is religious allegory, I can’t help but watch this scene while thinking: “I’ve watched enough JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to know where this is going.”
These final moments once again draw focus to the 500 yen coin as a thematic plot device, with Courier finally accepting the coin as payment to make the last stretch of his journey. The dialogue between him, Swindler, and the siblings emphasize two distinct viewpoints on the coin and its role in the story. Courier once again insists on his position from the start that “dropped money is bad luck”, and the events of the series up to this point have reinforced that view: 5 of the 7 Akudama are now dead, the city has erupted into chaotic revolution against the Executioners, and Swindler, an ordinary citizen with nothing remarkable about her, has gotten swept up in the affairs of lethal criminals. While all of this is true, Swindler argues that the coin has had this symbolic ability to change lives, for the worse… but also potentially for the better, as is the case with the siblings and how they’ve survived through so much up to this point. So great is this belief in the coin that Courier even hands it off to the two of them before making his last stand, having taken Swindler’s words to heart and embracing a sense of hope for the siblings.
Of course, a final episode for a show like this has to deliver at least a couple more action setpieces before the credits roll, and much like the first episode of the run, this finale goes out on a high with some stunning action highlights thanks to Courier and his eternally awesome motorcycle. The proud anime tradition of needle-dropping the OP song in the middle of the final episode soundtracks Courier’s motorcycle riding through the collapsing wreckage of the tower atop the Kansai Station, effortlessly weaving his pathway in and out of the metallic structure in a way that’s genuinely thrilling. Courier making his last stand against the Executioner aircrafts is a scene that’s equal parts intense and mournful, the snowy landscapes the backgrounds and the pacing of the action meld together to create a sequence that feels deliberately cold and melancholic in nature (pun partially intended). In particular, Courier’s final moments emphasize that tone most explicitly, trying to muster the strength to generate a final energy beam using the remains of his motorcycle and his own metal arm to create a conduit for the beam, leaving the twins to escape as he peacefully dies: one final sacrifice for Brother and Sister to escape to their destiny.
So with the book closed on this series, where do I ultimately come down on Akudama Drive? It’s probably no surprise to guess that given the tone of my reviews and my admiration for the pedigree of some of the staff involved, my opinion would ultimately be quite enthusiastic and positive. That reminds certainly true here: Akudama Drive is a thrilling and engaging action show with fascinating character dynamics, an eye-catching aesthetic, some pretty wild and idiosyncratic storytelling, and some of the coolest action scenes and choreography of the year, anime or otherwise. The experience is still fresh in my mind trying to fully process the whole of the series, and if there’s one thing I keep coming back to, it’s the storytelling: specifically, I’m thinking about not just what the story chooses to focus on, but what the series chooses not to focus on. Making one last comparison to Danganronpa, the storytelling in those games is incredibly detailed and all-encompassing to the point where there is very little meat left on the bone by the time the credits roll. While Akudama Drive does flesh out quite a bit from the interlocking relationships between the main cast to the culture of these cyberpunk dystopian depictions of Kansai and Kanto, it feels like there’s various details that are only hinted at or left up to the imagination based on throwaway lines of dialogue or scant background details. The storytelling in a sense can be described as incredibly lean and focused in that regard, only incorporating what needs to be there in terms of plot points and character development in a way that doesn’t overburden the viewer with tons and tons of exposition about this or that character/background bit of lore. Some might lament at the details that are omitted or glossed over in this regard, whether it be what lies beyond at the end of the tunnel or even the occasional character whose backstory feels glossed over to a potential fault (Doctor is a prime example of this, in retrospect), but considering everything that the series did accomplish across its run, Akudama Drive stands as an incredibly slick action thriller bolstered by a wildly memorable cast of characters, an offbeat dystopian narrative, and some of the best visuals and action you’re bound to see in any recent anime. Akudama Drive, in conjunction with the debut game release Death Come True, represents a promising start for Too Kyo Games. May their future destiny be as hopeful as whatever lies for Brother and Sister at the end of that tunnel.
Akudama Drive is produced by Studio Pierrot and Too Kyo Games, and the series licensed by Funimation.