‘Akudama Drive’ review

Probably my most anticipated anime of Fall 2020, Akudama Drive met and exceeded all of my expectations. Akudama Drive has it all: a unique artstyle, breathtaking animation, intriguing world and incredible characters. Easily my favorite anime to come out of Fall 2020, Akudama Drive is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish and is easily one of the best single-cour anime I have ever seen.

From some of the team behind the Danganronpa video games (Too Kyo Games), Akudama Drive follows an ordinary girl who is roped into a heist mission by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Working alongside criminals, known as Akudama, with sentences ranging in the hundreds of years, she is forced to help hijack the Shinkansen, the only train that travels between Kansai and Kanto. Whatever their employer desires is on the train, and he is more than willing to let members of the team die if it means accomplishing the goal. Along the way, the group are confronted by the Executioners, a group of law enforcers tasked with killing Akudama.

From left to right: Courier, Swindler, Doctor, Hacker, Cutthroat, Brawler and Hoodlum

The ordinary girl (known better by her Akudama name, Swindler), is easily the best protagonist to come out of 2020. Watching her go from an innocent girl bluffing her way through the job to a full-fledged Akudama in her own right is so fulfilling. She is easily my favorite protagonist to come out of 2020 and she isn’t even my favorite character in Akudama Drive.

The majority of the rest of the group of Akudama consist of the worst of the worst. Whether it be the highly murderous Cutthroat, the mischievous Hacker, the near-immortal Doctor, the unstoppable Brawler, or the mysterious Courier, each member of the team brings their own unique flavor to the dynamic. However, the odd one out is Hoodlum, who like Swindler, was roped into the mission due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A low-level Akudama with a measly 4-year sentence, Hoodlum latches onto Brawler to create a sort of symbiotic relationship, with Brawler as the muscle and Hoodlum as the “brains.” The dynamic between each member of the group is remarkably well-written and the amazing voice acting, both in Japanese and English (which I will talk about more later), builds on their chemistry.

Hoodlum talking himself up in front of Brawler in episode 2, “Reservoir Dogs”

The executioners feel like a well-integrated part of this world. Akudama Drive takes place in a dystopian future with rampant crime and with the poor and middle-class members of society living in Kansei and the rich presumably living it up in Kanto. The executioners exist to help deal with that rampant crime, and their ideology is represented in the relationship between Master and Pupil, the two executioners sent after our main characters. Pupil goes through a very similar arc to Swindler and Hoodlum, growing to become independent from those around her and coming into her own. It is obvious to me that the design of Kansei was heavily inspired by Blade Runner and 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd.

The art direction and action throughout this series is spectacular, which should come as no surprise since Pierrot, the studio behind Yu Yu Hakusho and Naruto Shippuden, was at the helm. The animation team did an astounding job representing the characters personalities through their movement. Everything from Hoodlum’s twitchy movements, Brawlers durability, or Cutthroats slasher-like presence makes them feel like fully realized characters. The action animation is spectacular as well, with the obvious stand outs being the fight between Brawler and Master in episode 6, “Brother” and Courier facing the Executioner forces head-on in the final episode, “Akudama Drive.” The effects used for Courier’s motorcycle are particularly amazing, making him stand out in the early episodes before we are given much more information about him.

Brawler fighting Master in episode 6, “Brother”

Akudama Drive‘s score creates the perfect atmosphere for a cyberpunk series. The pieces accompanying the action set pieces especially stood out, with my favorite being the piece that plays during the fight between Brawler and Master. Aida Shigekazu and Maiko Iuchi did a fantastic job with the score for the series. Hopefully it receives a release in the US so I can have the opportunity to listen to it in full.

If you have been following me on Twitter for the past couple months, you’ve likely seen me rave nearly non-stop about how amazing the dub cast for Akudama Drive is. ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) director Brittany Lauda (Hensuki) and scriptwriters Clayton Browning (No Guns Life, Arte) and Matt Shipman (Dr. Stone) did an amazing job producing the dub. The scriptwriters especially improved on what were already amazing scenes by creating more connective tissue in the localization. I would love to list specific examples, but I don’t want to risk spoiling the show.

Macy Anne Johnson was born to voice Swindler. Johnson portrays Swindler’s gradual change in character seamlessly as we see her grow from a cowardly nobody into one of the most intelligent and fearless characters in the show. Her performance in the latter half of the series is easily the best of the season.

Zeno Robinson and Kellen Goff are perfect as Brawler and Hoodlum. Their real-life friendship allows the chemistry between these two characters to truly shine despite them recording remotely apart from each other. Kellen as Hoodlum delivers some of his most emotional voicework yet, with screams that easily rival those of his time voicing Diavolo in Golden Wind.

Cutthroat chasing after Swindler in episode 9, “The Shining”

Brittany Lauda and Matt Shipman voice what may be the two most despicable characters in Akudama Drive (Doctor and Cutthroat), yet they are endlessly entertaining when they are on screen. In fact, they may be their best roles yet. Shipman, especially, delivers some of the most horrifying line delivery I’ve seen in an anime in episode 9, “The Shining.”

Jenny Yokobori further represents the binary Pupil shares with Swindler throughout Akudama Drive with her voicework as well, providing an excellent parallel with a similar, but distinct, sounding voice. She plays off of industry veteran D.C. Douglas incredibly well, while also managing to stand on her own two feet in the final two episodes of the series. Yokobori’s delivery during Pupil’s moment of clarity in the finale is so good. I am excited to hear more of her in the future.

Courier on his motorcycle in episode 12, “Akudama Drive”

Jonah Scott’s performance as Courier is so good that he disappears into the role. The calm-mysterious demeanor Scott gives Courier contrasts greatly with the rest of the Akudama, who all have quite colorful personalities to say the least. The chemistry he has with Johnson’s Swindler is breathtaking, and I cannot imagine anyone else voicing such an awesome character.

Y. Chang’s line delivery as Hacker originally felt emotionless and distant, only to completely change by the end of the series. Chang turns this rather shut-in character into one of pure altruism by the end of the series, bouncing perfectly off of Johnson’s and Scott’s takes on Swindler and Courier. I’m impressed that Chang was able to get genuine emotion out of me through his performance despite my initial distaste for the character.

Last but not least, Daisy Guevara and Laura Stahl, who I originally imagined to be rather unlikable upon first meeting them, become the most sympathetic characters in the series primarily due to the soft and heartfelt performances the two of them give. Nearly every moment with them in the latter half of the show threatened to bring me to tears.

If I haven’t sold you on how amazing the English dub for Akudama Drive is, I don’t know what will. Akudama Drive is easily one of the best anime to come out of 2020 and features what is easily one of my favorite English dubs of all time. Please don’t miss out on this series. You can watch Akudama Drive in its entirety subbed and dubbed on Funimation right now.

Rating: 9.5/10

Published by John Wintroub

Aside from being an aspiring mathematician, I also enjoy writing about all things pop-culture related, especially film, music, anime, and comic books. Killer Queen has already touched this bio and King Crimson has obliterated the rest.

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