In 1988, Otomo Katsuhiro changed a whole genre with its anime adaptation of Akira (based on the eponymous manga). Cyberpunk was now a vision shared in the East too. It was not just about that future the West had imagined, with its environment inspired by the Japan of the 70s-80s, its exotic alphabet unreadable for westerners and the bright neon lights found in Hong-Kong at night. Several cyberpunk anime/manga (such as Ghost in the Shell, Alita or Akira) had a major influence on Hollywood with movies like Matrix, Inception or Dark City. Even the video game industry cannot escape its grip: Deus Ex, Oni, the Metal Gear series or the recent Cyberpunk 2077 are visual homages to the genre and the inspiration found in Otomo’s work. In recent years, Japanese cyberpunk found solace in Psycho Pass and Akudama Drive. The latter is the most recent and already the question about Akudama Drive Season 2 is on several lips: will it happen?
What happened so far in Akudama Drive
In a dystopian Japan, the foulest and most skilled criminals (Akudama) have centuries worth of conviction time waiting for them if they ever get caught. The Dotonbori area in Kansai and its back alleys are well acquainted with this sort, and so are The Executioners from the Kansai Police Headquarters. Until that one fateful day, when a message is sent to all those criminals: for a nifty reward, they are asked to storm the Kansai Police Headquarters to free the deranged Akudama Cutthroat before his execution. Four Akudama rise to the challenge and in the chaos ensuing, free another criminal and rope an -falsely accused on a minor charge- innocent bystander in.
It is then revealed that the mysterious entity behind the message had a bigger plan in mind: their updated task is now to infiltrate the Shinkansen to steal some precious cargo. And they have no say in this as the collar around their neck is actually a bomb. With no choice left, the bystander (a young woman with upstanding morals) decides to play the role of the Akudama “Swindler” to avoid getting killed by the real criminals she is forced to partner with. The newly formed motley crew now has to push forward. And who knows what is waiting for them at the front of that train.
What is going on with Pierrot?
Akudama Drive premiered on October 8, 2020 and ended on December 24, 2020 after 12 episodes. The anime is directed by Tomohisa Taguchi, written by Norimitsu Kaihou and Taguchi. Aida Shigekazu and Maiko Iuchi composed the score. Kazutaka Kodaka (of Danganronpa fame) is the one behind the whole conceptualization of that project.
Akudama Drive was one of the most anticipated anime of 2020 and the duo studio Pierrot/Kodaka delivered everything the public was expecting and more. In this age of anime being mostly based on light novels and manga, starting a story from scratch is quite a bet. Thankfully, the project was coming from Kazutaka Kodaka, a name all Danganronpa fans know very well. The man is known for his intricate stories, populated by vivacious characters and a tense atmosphere that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Coupled with the expertise of the veteran studio Pierrot, we were in for a treat! In addition, Kodaka went for a cyberpunk aesthetic/genre and nothing could have suited Akudama Drive better. We find the “high tech, low life” motto defining the general theme in cyberpunk, used as an umbrella term for sub-themes like class uprising, gang, corruption and transhumanism. And, boy oh boy, do we get our revolution! The context is resolutely anti-establishment, through its depiction of traditional institutions like the police and the government itself, its bubbling civil rage against the dystopian hierarchy or the patchwork of anti-heroes we follow.
The world is skillfully introduced and explained throughout the episodes: we discover the underbelly of Kansai with Swindler and we look at their society through the Akudama’s eyes, as natural and everyday instances. And you can clearly see that the world building has been thoroughly crafted. Everything points at the authoritarian nature of it and the gap between classes with a police more worried about its blind nationalism than actually “serve and protect”. It is not about rehabilitating the masses here. It is about not sticking out, or taking the risk to be mercilessly slaughtered because second chances are not part of the contract. The Executioners live in a tower surrounded by tall buildings where the rich and famous enjoy privileges and leisure while the rest of the population is closer to the ground, breathing the smog and the pressure. In this context, it feels more like Akudama are the only ones actually living and enforcing their freedom (criminally, but still…). The pace is well balanced serving us a heist-based template in the first episodes, to then quickly take a tangent around episode 6. From now on, every decision matters and will define not only the future, but also each character. The action, which was already madness incarnated, goes up a notch and does not allow us or our protagonists to rest.
Moments looking like a lull are traps and people’s nature and principles continuously clash, covering Kansai in a palette of neon lights and blood. And then here is the last episode and it seems like we have reached the pinnacle of chaos embracing hope. And chaos, we sure got: Akudama Drive is raw and unilaterally adult in its tone. Studio Pierrot did not shy away from the violence and the action scenes are full of gore, eyes popping and head trauma. It had to be censored when on TV, but the uncensored version was released for home media. Listen: Akudama Drive is the perfect love letter to the cyberpunk genre, not only visually but also in its storytelling. With its clear influence coming from western movies such as Blade Runner and japanese cyberpunk à la Akira, we get here the best of both worlds. Studio Pierrot uses the golden rule “show, don’t tell” perfectly, avoiding useless and invasive exposition, succeeding in keeping the momentum high. Bye bye, News Exposition Channel. Sayonara, character X who will be used to summarize a whole bunch of things we should have seen and are not interested in hearing about from you.
The characters are deliciously fleshed out as we revel in the direction they each decide to adopt and the way they choose to be seen and acknowledged. Blood-thirsty Akudama, drunk on the power elite, near fanatic Executioners, innocent bystander forced to change her moral compass to survive…The cast is diverse and no one is forgotten. Let’s start with the fact that no one has a name. In this society where human nature and its nuances are silenced, the characters are all identified by their occupation. This is their identity. That is all other people need to know. That is how much humanity is now detached. Or is it? Behind all the craziness, violent streaks, and disdain for life and freedom, their self cannot help but still shine. Not always positively, but it goes with the game. The build-up is subtle, hinted at, in visuals and dialogues and that is something that is applied on both sides: the Executioners also get to show who they really are, a way to humanize them and understand their motivations without taking away the facts that they represent something outrageous. Pupil, Master, and Junior reach the end of their respective arc, and if you think Pupil’s did not, watch it again and keep in mind the fact that this is what she found enough worth in to pin her life on.
Swindler starts as clumsy, stupid and naive, and frankly, this is exactly how she had to be represented considering her background. If episode 8 is an emotional journey done more than just right, the process to get there is something the audience had to go through too. Swindler’s introspection is the result of her tribulations until now and the way she analyzed herself in that specific context. We are the sum of our experiences, right? And episode 8 is when Swindler finally decides to solve her equation. The other Akudama are entertaining right from the start since they are all already pretty taken in by the madness. But that is not all they are or will be and that side goes through changes and is influenced by the world they all live in. Courier is slowly influenced by Swindler, Brawler and Hoodlum develop a friendship, Hacker and Doctor are irresistibly attracted to the idea of controlling people. However, Cutthroat is excluded from that list, but the whole character does not require such: his unstable nature prompts him to take a direction or another randomly right from the start. The interactions behind the characters will remind Tarantino fans of Pulp Fiction, The Hateful 8 or Reservoir Dogs. A bunch of people with no strings attached at all, no common points, but stories and beliefs of their own, and forced to deal with each other. If you have seen those movies, you know where this is going. And you know how good it can be when well written and executed.
A big part of Akudama Drive’s identity has been attributed to its background art. And it is praise well deserved. Yoshio Tanioka took the conscious decision to reinvent the urban side of cyberpunk, creating a world still reminiscent of the genre but that would not resemble productions like Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell aesthetically. Tanioka kept Osaka intact in its visual nature and mixed it with elements from the Showa period (70s-80s) giving the world a futuristic retro vibe to it. He then added his own touch to it, giving birth to tramways on the water or the huge Kansai Chuo Hanko Center and its top strangely looking like a huge pile of giant cigarettes. The city is an ocean of bright neon lights, blinking and changing size and shape, invading every corner, never sleeping, always looking. The bright and flashy colors offer a stark contrast with life in Kansai. The use of 3DCGI is actually a good choice here (we know how touchy the subject is with anime) and it is not visually invasive. It does suit the whole aesthetic and emphasizes the characteristics of the city. The animation is pretty good, not always constant, but for the most part, it stays above average. The action sequences are the best: fluid, feverish and full of gusto. Even when using minimal animation, the staff used it to their advantage. The last episode has a lot of still frames, but the focus to convey the meaning behind the scenes has been put on the lights, the framing of the different elements and a certain symbolism. Kudos for the Danganronpa easter egg with the pop-up way to introduce the characters and to signal a transition in the location.
What do we know about Akudama Drive Season 2 so far?
The anime has not been renewed for a new season. However, the last episode brought a real closure. The story that needed to be told has been told and no loose ends have been left behind.
What are fans saying about Akudama Drive Season 2?
People are obviously wondering if it will happen. Nonetheless, it does not mean that they want it to happen. Most fans agree that the series was able to deliver everything it had to and the ending was proper. A new season would not bring much to the narrative, so the community is satisfied. The subreddit is still active since the series is still new and there is a manga and on Twitter, the title is often cited in recommandations, in lists of favorite anime or in conversations. The official account is still busy too. Akudama Drive received good scores on IMDB, AniList and MAL.
Will there be Akudama Drive Season 2?
Rare occurrence nowadays, Akudawa Drive is an original story from A to Z. The manga is then an iteration of the anime. It is written and illustrated by Rokurou Oogaki and started on July 7, 2020 in the magazine Renta!. It has not been compiled into tankobon for now, but a new chapter of 24 pages is published every two months. Funimation will release the Blu-ray of the complete series in November 2021. In Japan, the DVD/Blu-ray sales were catastrophic, a confusing fact considering the critical praise and steam the anime received.
Surprisingly, Akudama Drive has a huge selection of goodies available. Not that it does not deserve it, but the adult tone of the anime would suggest the opposite. Anyway, fans can boast while showing their Akudama Drive-branded stuff (acrylic stands, badges, keychains, mugs, commuter cases, and even some collab with Danganronpa, etc). The graph on Google Trends really is representative of what is happening: we can see that search queries about a second season were at an all high around the period the anime ended or was about to end. After that, the ratings stay at a low level showing that the audience accepts the fact that the series was a standalone and does not need another season.
In Japan, it is a whole other story: there is not enough data to generate a graph over the last 12 months meaning that the term “Akudama Drive” is not searched at all. However, by adding “manga”, we can see that the Japanese public had some interest in it when the show was on TV, which drastically depleted around March. There was a minor controversy surrounding the violence in the anime, but it did not make much noise. In the context that we are introduced to, how can one be really surprised or shocked at the amount of violence displayed? Or shocked at the dark and adult themes treated?
When will Akudama Drive Season 2 be released?
Season 2 is not in the books for now. Despite his fantastic production value, the cold commercial reception it got from Japan will surely put a damper on any plan for a second season.
What can we expect in Season 2 of Akudama Drive?
Akudama Drive ended masterfully. It brought an end to all the arcs it had created and left us pondering. The ending is quite reminiscent of the movie Snwopiercer: open and pointing at hope, but closed since the story reached its conclusion. They made sure to separate Kanto’s/Kansai’s future and Brother’s and Sister’s. We can infer as to what will happen to the two cities and we know where the siblings are going, but do not need to follow them there. And with a fandom happy and satiated, is there really a need to drag this further?