Investigative thrillers are great. The subgenre has loads of mystery. It gives an insight into the human psyche. If it’s a solo act, it allows you to follow the trajectory of the investigator and how each case is changing them. But if it’s a couple of investigators, things get a little more interesting, especially if their techniques are wildly different from each other, because conflict breeds entertainment. They offer action, emotions, and maybe even a solid and relevant commentary on the world we are living in. Now, it can seem like two mortals diving into a world of crime is the pinnacle of investigative thrillers. However, as soon as you throw in literal demons, angels, or any other element from the realm of fantasy and sci-fi into the mix, it gets infinitely better. That’s why Supernatural and X-Men are two of my favorite shows of all time. And I am certain that Akuma Kun is going to become the third one.
Based on Shigeru Mizuki’s manga series, Akuma Kun follows Ichiro and his partner, Mephisto III. Apparently, “Akuma Kun” is a title that is passed down from one generation of demonology experts to another, and “Mephisto” is also a title that is passed down from one generation of an assistant of the Akuma Kun to another. So, Shingo was the previous Akuma Kun, and Mephisto II (a demon) was Shingo’s assistant. Mephisto II married Shingo’s sister, Etsuko, and they had Mephisto III. Shingo adopted Ichiro, and Mephisto III was given the assignment to be Ichiro’s assistant from a very young age. In the present day, Ichiro and Mephisto III live in a library-esque space atop the Odeon Cinema, which is owned and looked after by Sanae and her daughter Mio. Ichiro and Mephisto III’s main task is to achieve something called the Millennium Kingdom, which is where all demons and humans can coexist peacefully. But since that’s not a salaried job, they take up cases of demonic possessions in order to pay their rent and put food on the table. Amidst all this, there’s a demon called Gremory, who is after Ichiro’s heart, and Strophaia, who is after Ichiro’s soul.
Akuma Kun takes the good old “fear, anger, hate, and suffering are entry points into the dark side” (I am purposefully paraphrasing here) approach to explain why literal demons exist in this fictional world. Screenwriter Hiroshi Ohnogi portrays humans as the flawed and complex beings that they are and how their doubts and pangs of desperation can have disastrous consequences. He could have taken the easy way out by simply showing that whenever a human being is at their lowest, a demon takes over their body and does despicable things. But that would’ve removed the onus from the human and put the blame squarely on a supernatural entity, which is something that a lot of horror movies and shows do. That’s why Ohnogi tells us that, even if a demon is coming up with dark thoughts, it’s not the instigator. That decision is still being taken by humans, thereby making them as prone to accountability as the demon. It’s a neat way of elevating the theatricality of the scenarios while keeping the messages grounded in reality. In addition to that, the episodes talk about love, brotherhood, parenthood, friendship, and, of course, the power of cinema. The avenue where it falters is in the writing of the female characters, as they are either irredeemable or way too docile, while the male characters, regardless of their actions, usually get a second chance.
The overall look of Akuma Kun is unlike anything I have seen before. I’ll admit that I don’t see as much anime as a dedicated anime lover (shonen anime, if we want to get specific). So, it’s possible that there are other shows that look like this. But the crude, hand-drawn quality of the visuals really impressed me. I know that this is sketching or animation 101, but if you have seen anyone draw anything, you’ll see how they first do a pencil sketch. Then they use some form of ink to draw the primary outline, and then they color it, and so on and so forth. But after drawing the outlines, they erase all the unnecessary pencil sketch marks to make it look clean. The animators, character designers, art directors, color designers, composers, background artists, etc. in this show don’t exactly do that, and that gives almost every frame an anxiety-inducing vibe because you never know what lies in those dark, sketchy shadows. The action sequences are great and so dynamic. The quieter moments are equally amazing. There’s a whole episode dedicated to a discussion on pancakes and hotcakes between Ichiro and Mephisto III that’s so calming and flows so easily that the episode is over before you know it. That’s a roundabout way of saying that all 12 of the episodes are paced exquisitely well.
Coming to the voice acting in Akuma Kun, everyone is fantastic. Yuki Kaji is so emo that it’s hilarious. His deadpan delivery is simply perfect. That’s why, when certain moments in the show break the character, and Kaji has to walk this line where Ichiro wants to appear emotionless while also trying to express everything that he feels, it really gets to you. Even though Kaji plays the titular character, I think Toshio Furukawa is the backbone of the show, much like Mephisto III is integral to the journey to the Millennium Kingdom. His sense of frustration, affection, and bursts of disdain at Ichiro’s bluntness are very palpable. Every time he tries to make up for Ichiro’s unprofessional behavior, he makes me laugh. If it’s not obvious, let me state it explicitly: Kaji and Furukawa’s chemistry is excellent. Ai Fairouz’s work as Gremory is fantastic, even though I have some issues with her character design. Yumiri Hanamori, as the adorable Mio, is, well, adorable. Yuko Mita brings forth Shingo’s poise and warmth with such ease. Hiro Shimono is excellent as the diabolical Strophaia. Although they don’t get a lot of screen time, Rie Hikisaka and Keiichi Namba are amazing as Hyakume and Komorineko, respectively. Every episode has a separate set of voice actors, and hence, I’ll be here all day if I start listing down all of their names. But trust me when I say that every single one of them has knocked it out of the park with their vocal performance.
Even though each episode of Akuma Kun is just over 20 minutes long, I’ll say that it’s best enjoyed if you space them out. I am not one to judge anybody’s binge-watching abilities, but speaking from experience, each of these episodes is heavy and slow-paced, and there are 12 of them. So, if you watch 3 or 4 of them per day, or even 6 per day, I feel that it’ll be an enjoyable viewing experience. If you try to do 12 in one sitting, it can feel a tad bit tedious. That said, the story, the characters, the twists, and the world-building are so phenomenal that you’ll be thinking about what the show has said about humanity for a long time, which in and of itself is a huge win. The Netflix series does end on a cliffhanger. So, I am guessing there will be more seasons of Akuma Kun. And if that is the case, they need to improve the writing around the female characters. Everything else is great, and it’s all set to be one of the best supernatural investigative thrillers of all time, but in order to achieve perfection, they have to put a little more effort in the writers’ room.