I've read a lot of fantastic fictional manga over my life, and few have I ever wished would actually come true more than this one.
Japan is getting a sales tax hike starting next month. I won't bore you with the details, but basically the people who believe it's necessary, believe it's necessary, the people who believe it isn't, believe it isn't, and the people who believe they're getting shafted up the arse, probably are — though not necessarily by the sales tax hike.
Whenever I feel annoyed by bureaucratic politicians or corporate fat-cats and how messed up the economy is because of them, I think of the manga, アクメツ (Akumetsu).
What It's About
In a nutshell, Akumetsu is about a group of vigilantes who go about killing corrupt politicians and people who are pretty much making money by ruining the lives of ordinary citizens and driving Japan deeper in debt to satisfy their own greed. But in order to really get a taste of what the manga is like, I'm going to have to spoil the first few chapters here. *Warning! If you want to get into the manga with a clean slate, you may want to skip to the Review section below!*
The story begins with the protagonist, Shou Hazama, a seemingly ordinary high school senior and a class clown. One day his classmate and close friend, Shina Nagasawa, bids him farewell out of the blue. It turns out Shina's family has fallen into financial debt and in order to pay for it, she has sold herself to be the plaything for a group of political elite at a secret gathering, like something out of Eyes Wide Shut.
During this secret party, a masked man appears brandishing a pistol and an axe. Shina recognises the masked man as Shou, who identifies himself as "Akumetsu" and confronts one of the highest-ranked bureaucrats there. This Akumetsu proceeds to force the bureaucrat to admit his corruption before planting the axe deep into his brain. Akumetsu then drags the corpse outside where he is fatally shot by the police, after which an explosive device in his mask disintegrates his head.
The next day, Shina returns to school only to find Shou there alive and well. Shou promises Shina that he'll protect her and that he is going to change Japan for the better.
That night, the slain vigilante, Akumetsu, appears again...
Akumetsu is a fantasy romp in wishful thinking with the wanton slaughter of the corrupt wealthy but it is also given a slight edge in that it touches a very real problem in our society — national debt and unchecked corruption. Many of the characters that appear are based on actual people — although their names are slightly changed — which can make their deaths more or less funny depending on how twisted you are.
While the manga is quite morbid and gory, it does not necessarily condone the actions depicted in its pages. The manga makes a specific note that the character of Akumetsu is not a hero and that readers should constantly view his words with a healthy dose of scepticism. Even so, there's something satisfying and primal about seeing people who have made their fortunes by gaming the system for their own greed get their comeuppance.
While serious and grim, Akumetsu also has a healthy dose of comedy and parody to keep things light, although some of the jokes are of their time and are hard to understand if you don't know the trends and social state of Japan in the early 2000's. Also, while the story is fun, it falls prey to what I call "Tenjou Tenge syndrome" — where the plot gets somewhat derailed midway through by an overly long origin story and, while it remains entertaining, never quite fully recovers from the tonal change. Overall, the story is also relatively well-thought-out and does a decent job of addressing the mysteries it raises and tying up loose ends.
At the time of Akumetsu's original publication (2002), Japan's national debt was over 700 trillion yen (roughly US$ 6.8 trillion). That debt is now over 972 trillion yen (roughly US$ 9.5 trillion) and rising. With the upcoming sales tax increase next month and subsequent further increase later this year, there have been a lot of voices back and forth about its necessity and the "real" reasons behind it, which is basically what inspired me to revisit this series. 8 years after its completion, it still manages to suck me in and get my blood boiling.
While it may seem like it at first, Akumetsu isn't just mayhem for mayhem's sake. The story covers all the exits, giving you a fairly solid and entertaining ride through the series. One thing I really appreciated was the fact that the series encourages people not to take everything at face value, including the facts stated in the manga. Things are skewed to force things in favour of the protagonist's point of view, but even so, he continuously states that what he is doing is wrong and he himself faces punishment for his actions.
In the end, while it isn't overly educational and has some flaws, Akumetsu manages to entertain, and makes you think even after you've put the manga down — which gets a thumbs up in my book.
Manga Title: Akumetsu
Authors: Story by Yoshiaki Tabata, Art by Yuuki Yogo
Publisher: Akita Shoten
Note: Apparently the manga has an official French and Italian release, but no official English translation. Scanlations are out there if you look for them.