Akira: Classic Manga/Anime
written by: SAH
When considering the world of Manga (Japanese comic books) and Anime (Japanese animated films) there is one standard the two are always judged against. That standard is Akira.
Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo, is a complex story of socio-political upheaval and the ultimate results of human interference with nature. The humor in the story is dark, the imagery is graphic and it has set a standard which other manga and anime often try to live up to. And rightly so, it is some of the best I have seen.
The movie is a sparse reinterpretation of the book, which spans over 2000 pages. The book delves deeper into the main characters and their motives as well as expanding on other characters in far greater detail than in the movie. They are, in essence, two different stories with the same central themes. However, if you compare the artwork, they are unmistakably from the same creator. The skill and accuracy with which the movie captures the look and feel of the comic book is quite breathtaking.
In both versions Akira primarily follows Tetsuo Shima and his transformation from mere mortal to... something else. He slowly becomes imbued with psychic powers which allow him to manipulate his environment and destroy anything he puts his mind to. He is followed by his old friends, other children like himself (though not nearly as powerful) and the military. His ultimate goal is a bit of a mystery, but it is more or less to discover what is happening and to ultimately meet the legendary Akira.
Akira himself is a young boy who was in the past much like Tetsuo. Akira’s powers advanced to the point where he destroyed all of Tokyo. He has become a legend and more than that, to some he has become a messiah. The military holds that he was destroyed when along with Tokyo some 30 years before the current storyline takes place. This, as we find out, is not necessarily true (the book and movie differ on this point quite a bit).
The story, in both versions, takes place years after Akira’s destruction of Tokyo. The rebuilt, and aptly named Neo-Tokyo, is a socially shattered version of the once great city. Progress is baing made to rebuild, but the military is simultaneously trying to prevent another Akira incident and bringing that event to fruition.
Those who have seen the movie will probably tell you that it is quite visually impressive, but makes very little sense. This is for two reasons... odd translation to an American audience, and the attempt to squeeze and epic 2000-page story into a 2 hour movie leaves a lot of holes in the story. Recently, Akira was re-released on DVD with new translations, slightly altered footage and an overall better presentation. This re-released version makes more sense than the original because the dialogue has been redone to better reveal the plot and story. If you have not seen it, I strongly encourage you to.
The book has finally reached the end of its re-release (which contains 6 volumes published over the course of the last year or so). It is much more complex than the movie, but just as good. I was surprised to find that the ending, which I knew was different from the movie, was just about as odd as the one found in the movie. You will have to read it to find out the details.
Another thing I have observed about both the book and the movie as an odd marketing choice is that whenever you see a t-shirt, toy, poster, etc. it almost always has Kenada on it (the guy with the cool red motorcycle). This, instead of Tetsuo or Akira. Kenada is a main character in both versions, but he certainly isn’t the main character. More recently I have seen toys and t-shirts with Tetsuo and Akira, but there are outnumbered by Kenada. Odd, but such is the choice they made.
I would recommend everyone read the book version (it’s long, but you can read each volume in just an hour or so depending on how much you are interested in the art). The problem with this is that if you collect all 6 volumes, their price can be a bit intimidating (each being $25-30). I do know that Tony solved this problem by checking them out from a library – not a bad idea and certainly cheaper.
Akira is the standard upon which all other Manga and anime is judged. If you are already into Anime or Manga there is a good chance you have seen or read Akira; if not, then you certainly should – it is well worth your time and money to do so and a great place to start.
For more on Akira, see my review of the DVD.
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