Thursday, 16 April 2009

Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira.

Perhaps the most popular anime movie of all time to reach a global audience is Akira (アキラ) (1988) by Katsuhiro Otomo. It also continues to generate discussion about the themes use in it as well as the ground breaking, labour intensive hand drawn super fluid cell animation use for the movie. However to truly understand Akira in its entirety, it would be the epic manga of which the movie is based on. First published back in 1982, it completed its serialised run in 1990 and then published as a six volume trade paperbacks the same year. Marvel Comics imprint Epic Comics once published a computer colourised version from 1988 to 1995 under a 38 issues prestige format, then collected into a six volume trade paper backs. These are hard to find nowadays and tend to command premium prices. Thus when Dark Horse Comics re-issue Akira in original Kodansha six volume trade paperback format between 2000 to 2002, translated and in black and white with original layout, I jump with joy.
Akira is an epic running well over 2000 pages in total. Said to be partly inspired by Star Wars and Tetsujin 28 (aka Gigantor), it contains extreme violence, drama, cyberpunk cultural reference as well as humour. Apart from main protagonist Shotaro Kaneda (金田 正太郎 Kaneda Shōtarō) and main antagonist Tetsuo Shima (島 鉄雄 Shima Tetsuo), as well as its main theme of psychokinesis, it also contains many other characters and plenty of sub-plots which are intricately weaved together until the very end. Akira has its beginning in Fireball a short story which Otomo intended to expand upon before abandoning the idea, then briefly revisited in Domu. Like all his work, it is a societal commentary on the urban youth culture, corruption and political machination and manipulation. It took place in Neo-Tokyo, year 2020, which is built over Tokyo Bay after the destruction of the original Tokyo City by a mysterious bomb back in 1992, which sparks off World War Three. The mysterious bomb turn out to be Akira, also known as No. 28, who is part of a group of 40 specially gifted children selected to be part of a secret government project on tapping into the immense and boundless power of psychokinesis. However, Akira went out of control and detonated a psychic energy which wipe out part of the city. Since then, Akira went into a comatose like state and stored within a specially designed cryogenic, deep beneath the newly constructed Neo Tokyo Olympic Stadium. Around the outskirts of Neo Tokyo, on an abandoned expressway, a group of juvenile delinquents led by 15 year old Kaneda is having a fun time riding their bikes along the area when Tetsuo, a brash but suffering from immense inferior complex member and a close friend of Kaneda, crashed and met an accident after overtaking Kaneda to lead the pack. Upon closer inspection, Tetsuo did not just crash, his bike literally exploded on the spot. Kaneda then saw a mysterious kid with No. 26 on his palm. The kid, who turns out to be Takashi (タカシ) one of the three government controlled Espers kept in perpetual childhood state, then eeriely faded away. The police arrived at the scene and took an injured Tetsuo away.
From then on, it would be a roller coaster ride throughout this entire complex epic, from Tetsuo's burgeoning psychokinesis which he uses to massacre The Capsules except for Kaneda and Kai (甲斐), the awakening of Akira by Tetsuo, how his arm was sliced off by the SOL laser satellite due to the intervention of Kaneda and then replaced with inorganic materials via psychokinesis to a disastrous consequence, the participation of terrorist group funded and mastermind by an opposition parliamentary member into the attempt kidnapping of Akira, the second psychic explosion over Neo Tokyo resulting in the emergence of The Great Tokyo Empire led by Tetsuo, his demonstration of his power by destroying half of the moon surface, the reconciliation of all the parties considered protagonists in the storyline, including Joker of the Clown Gang, a former rival of Kaneda, the intervention of American military and its subsequent destruction at the hands of Tetsuo, and finally, the showdown between Kei (ケイ) and a grossly mutated Tetsuo after the final stand of Lady Miyako at the temple ground. Over 2000 pages of intense action, drama and storytelling. Otomo's unique style is very cinematic like and incredibly detailed. Otomo also has enough time to more than flesh out the characters, including supporting roles..thus everyone is as unique as it can be.
Another interesting development is that certain characters may appear bad or good at the introduction but as the story progress, would become vice versa when their motives are revealed. This include Colonel Shikishima (敷島大佐), Nezu (根津), Lady Miyako, Joker, George Yamada and even Tetsuo himself who eventually become sort of anti-hero instead of totally villainous.

No comments: