Recently in France the Angoulême International Comics Festival honoured The great Katsuhiro Otomo with the grand prix de la ville d’Angoulême (kind of like the Nobel prize for comic books). Otomo is the author of numerous manga including my all time favourite Akira. Akira is a sci-fi post apocalyptic thriller that was originally published 1982- 1986 in Young Magazine (Japan). More than thirty years later the manga still holds up incredibly well. Even when compared to modern epics like Death Note and Fullmetal Alchemist Akira still stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Akira’s art is still amazing to look at. Otomo uses a wide variety of complex angles, perspective and framing. This was done entirely by hand as well. This was before manga artist used computers which makes it even more powerful.
The story is fairly simple. Tetsuo who is a member of a motorcycle gang crashes into a strange child and is then taken away by the government. Tests are done to him and he starts to develop incredible powers. He searches out Akira, a child who has similar powers all the while fighting Government agencies and his old motorcycle gang who turn against him as Tetsuo becomes monstrous with his new destructive powers . The story is simple but the scale is massive. What starts out as a simple story of teenagers screwing around on motorcycles escalates into a huge apocalyptic epic with themes of power, corruption and comments on the flaws of human nature and world institutions.
The characters are a bit simple. Kaneda the main character is okay. The problem is that he’s a product of his times. 1980’s Japan saw a high youth crime rate and Kaneda embodies it to a T. He’s still enjoyable but this stops him from being a timeless manga character like Astro boy, Tomorrow Joe or Goku. Tetsuo is more interesting, his decent into insanity is more engaging and enjoyable. His constant mood and power swings create a character that you can never pin down. One minute he’s calm and collected but then the next he’s blowing up buildings like a maniac. Kei is a good female heroine who at many times is far more capable than Kaneda. The side characters are all enjoyable.
After thirty years Akira is still a massive ride not to be missed. Dark Horse comics hold the rights to the English version of the manga, which can be purchased online. There’s also the infamous Akira movie, based on the Manga. The movie is amazing but I recommend you check out both. The movie leaves out many crucial details and only covers the first half of the manga. The movie is available from Funimation and can be watched online if you have an elite subscription.
If your interested you can check out New York Times Film Critic A.O Scott’s review of the film.
I’ve also made an Akira AMV on my youtube channel.
AKIRA STILL LIVES AMONG US! LONG LIVE THE GREAT TOKYO EMPIRE!