One of the most renown mangas of all times (at least in the Seinen department) is Akira. Specially due to the feature animation movie Akira of 1988, obviously based on tha’ manga. As I mentioned in the past review, Akira is one of the mangas you HAVE to read as a manga fan. It’s your duty and homework. And now you’ll know why.

All images are used for educational purposes to show how much of a badass Katsuhiro Otomo is (author of Akira).

So here it comes, Mr. Towelhead reviews:

akira cover

AKIRA

Akira was written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo between 1982 and 1988. Its a seinen genre (mangas for young adults), which at this point basically means blood and gore, and a semi childish story. On the other hand its genre is cyberpunk. But what is cyberpunk? Well, according to the wikipedia its a “postmodern science fiction genre with two main characteristics, high tec and low life”. So basically you have futuristic technology coupled with a decaying society.

There is a lot to read about the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an influence of Akira and other mangas (as well as Japanese books, films and songs). If you are interest I encourage you to research, for the purpose of the review we will concentrate on the manga for its entertainment value. But this historical fact should at least be mentioned. * Side note or not, you WILL notice the trauma of nuclear war and the fear of mutation in the manga.

Giant baby monsters made out of human flesh and human limbs. Sure why not?

akira-baby

STORY

The story deals, mainly, with the apparition of Akira. A thing, human, creature that comprises the power/memories of our human evolution history through our genes. This Akira blew up half of Tokyo and a new anarchic society rises from the ashes.

During the first part of the story we follow a motorbike gang of young thugs, the leader (Kaneda) and his protégé (Tetsuo) are best’ies (best friends) until Tetsuo accidentally becomes a “second” Akira with immense powers and snaps into a crazed antagonist. Then the story turns for a prolonged time into a post-apocalyptical wasteland scenario of mad max gangs fighting for domination of what’s left of Japan. And finally, as the end approaches Tetsuo becomes a threat to humanity, or time-space as we know it, or simply is bad (something, something). Arranging everything for a final confrontation of former best’ies, now sworn enemies.

The use of drugs even by the “protagonists” is a common (and realistic) scenario in a decaying society

akira-pills

Amidst the chaos, the author explores (superficially if you like) social, religious and political topics of friendship, drub abuse, gangs and the feeling of belonging, survival in an evil world, leadership, faith-blinding-worship and oppression… Add some pseudo scientific evolution/gene memory to the mix, et voilà. Regardless, the story remains intense despite its length. It’s a balanced taking and regaining of terrain between the “good” guys and the “bad” guys, while the bad guys keep slightly the upper hand providing a decent amount of challenge.

People being gathered like sheeps to worship the antagonist, led by blind faith on promises of a better tomorrow and demonstrations of power

akira-reunion

ILLUSTRATIONS

The style of Mr. Otomo takes some time to get used to, it’s a fun mix of realistic and manga-ish. The vehicle and weapon design are sometimes crude and realistic, other times futuristic and quite cool. The story is gory, bloody and messy as hell. Sometimes violence goes pretty smoothly, almost like in the background and other times people are blown to pieces right in your face. However the story IS what will drive you forward and not the violence, nor the action.

This part of the illustrations department has a lot to tell about the actual story. The point of Akira (I would dare to say) is not to design cool monsters or robots, but to show a realistic take of a world in anarchy where humans of immense power exist. This constitutes a highlight of the Akira experience. The protagonist, the hero, has ABSOLUTELY NO POWERS and fights the most powerful creature in the universe. Just like that. But does he do it to save humanity? Na ah! Kaneda fights Tetsuo to teach him motherf* lesson. While this may sound shallow from the outside, the story and the drawings, do a good job or telling how Tetsuo was able to survive, even as a weak and whimsy kid thanks to the care of Kaneda; and how Kaneda, as an older kid, takes it upon himself to help/save this whimsy kid he’s grown to call a friend.

Oh Kaneda, oh Tetsuo. So innocent at childhood. Who would know that one day you would be fighting as gang leader vs cyborg monstrosity :(

akira-friendship

THEME

The story portrays a fun dilemma of the protagonist having to fight the kid he once had to protect (and felt compelled to), and why he fights the antagonist because he feels it his duty as a former friend. And how the antagonist, who’s life depended on his friend, grows through power (which in reality could be money, popularity or fame) into a selfish person and finally a monster. Power corrupts.

DIALOGUES

Perhaps because I read a translation I was unimpressed by the dialogues. Nothing around the dialogues indicates of a true artistic value in this department (but maybe I’m wrong, if you read japanese you will know better). Dialogues are quite realistic tough, they rarely fall to stupid clichés like “I will save you my princess!” or “We fight for freedom!” Akira is as real as it gets in a science fiction, post apocalyptical, cyberpunk, anarchic future… In Japan. Among thugs.

VERDICT

The nation of Japan, with all of its virtues and flaws resents the nuclear bombings and has a (semi legitimate) fear of foreigners. The ending of Akira is a GREAT TOKYO EMPIRE free and indipendent

akira-ending

If you like clichés, happy endings, predictable stories where you can safely turn off your brain. You may not like Akira or maybe you will, its actually that good. If you like action with a well thought and balanced story, cool concepts that have shaped modern manga and anime and even a brush stroke of social “realities”. Akira is definitely worth checking. If you consider yourself a manga lover YOU HAVE TO READ IT, to at least be able to say. “Yes I have read Akira”. It’s a moral obligations to the world. Like a fantasy fan who better read Lord of the Rings, or a Sci-Fi nerd, better have seen Blade Runner.

So the final note is

10 / 10

For a younger audience it will look dated, but Akira gains a special charm of originality as many concepts of modern anime, manga and even film are recognized in the pages. Just like when you hear the original version of a popular song and you realize: “Damn! Now I understand why this song is so good”.

If you HATE mangas, you may give it a 7 / 10. ;D

P.D. What I didn’t like was the take on Americans. They are portrayed as trigger-happy red necks who have nothing better to do, all day, than drop bombs on Japan. I can, never the less, understand such take on Americans since the Japanese had to actually face the horrors of nuclear war like no other people in the history of humanity. At least in the form of manga, their shame shall be eternal (the Americans that is).

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