Psychic apocalypses, overpowered sociopaths and scintillating cyberpunk action sequences; since its creation in the pages of Weekly Youth Magazine in 1982, the revolutionary postmodern epic of Katsuhiro Otomo Akira was hailed as a pioneering triumph not only of the Japanese manga, but science fiction as a whole. Having influenced nearly all major manga artist who succeeded him, with references and tributes littering the pages of Masashi Kishimoto’s book Naruto, Akira Toriyama Dragon ball and Kentaro Miura Berserk among other things, Otomo has created a rare work of art that transcends its medium through the sincere philosophical exposition of the storytelling it involves.
After a diverse cross section of characters in a post-apocalyptic society amid a series of world-ending catastrophes based on secret government experiments on psychic children, Akira is often considered the pinnacle of ‘high concept’ drama. It has been noted by critics as notoriously difficult to sum up in terms of the plot and thematic concepts of the work, a trait he shares with his 1988 film adaptation (made by Otomo himself). However, Screen Rant has you covered, so here’s everything you need to know about Akira, the most influential manga ever written.
A Fever Dream Rabbit Hole To Hell
Akira is a seinen (18+) manga that took place from 1982 to 1990, set in the fictional city of Neo-Tokyo in 2019 where, 37 years before, a mysterious explosion destroyed the original Tokyo, leading to an alternate story in which World War III occurred in the 1980s. The story initially seems to focus on a motorcycle gang known as The Capsules, led by the nominal (albeit brazenly unsympathetic) protagonist of the play, ShÅtarÅ Kaneda, a thinly veiled satirical deconstruction of the typical Japanese children’s hero of the time, being a handsome but stupid teenage thug. His underling, the envious and insecure Tetsuo Shima, a pastiche in some ways of the archetypal “supporting” character takes on greater significance to the overall roster. The Otomo Epic Incident Incident occurs when Tetsuo is discovered to have potential psychic ability and interests the mysterious and ever-present Colonel Shikishima, the leader of a secret government operation that seeks these strange powers in children.
The premise of Akira seems to set up a conflict between the Colonel’s government operation (whose experiences are responsible for the destruction of original Tokyo) and a group of freedom fighters who sometimes include the love interest of Kaneda and the deuteragonist Kei. However, Otomo subverts that expectation through the skillful use of a constant escalation in the action he provides, aided by his unmatched sense of visual sequencing. Instead of this clean and recognizable moral parable, Akira offers a much more cerebral sense of dialectic and depicts an increasingly desperate struggle between the characters as their alliances break amid Tetsuo’s ascension to a nearby deity, his telekinetic powers growing stronger and stronger and more and more destructive. What begins as a futuristic, street-level thread of adventure transforms at breakneck and inexorable speed into a biblical apocalypse as the remaining overpowered psychics clash with Tetsuo, whose powers rival those of the armies of the world, but whose emotional instability and inability to control them powers lead him to commit increasingly horrific acts of violence as well as painful mutations in his body.
An apocalyptic post-apocalypse
At the heart of understanding Akira appreciates the apocalyptic undercurrent of Japanese culture leading up to the manga’s debut in 1982, perhaps no more prevalent than in the manga’s lingering imagery of mass explosions and overturned buildings reminiscent of the nuclear bomb attacks of 1945 which ended World War II. In Otomo’s imagination, these cataclysmic events were just the first in a series of increasingly devastating armageddons, culminating in the emergence of living superweapons and finally Tetsuo himself. Tetsuo is both a haunting personal figure in terms of the depressed life of a disaffected and underprivileged youth growing up in a war-torn society, and a terrifying symbol of the inherent danger of unlimited and uncontrollable power with its ruthlessly destructive and progressively destructive outbursts. more childish volatility.
In many ways, Akira can be immediately understood as the story of Tetsuo, and in that sense the manga is best described as an early and completely contemplative parable about the concept of an evil Superman, with hyperreal brutality and devastating physical realism. Tetsuo, often dressed in a similar cape, is portrayed as the amalgamated nightmarish consequences of a society irresponsible to his children and dominated by war: a violent, drug addict young thug who turns into a mad dictator, an impossible-to-kill monster. so consumed by the narcotic effects of his own power that he subsumes his very identity.
In this sense, Otomo’s story can be read in many ways as a satire on contemporary Japanese children’s entertainment, like the new Gundam mobile suit, which glorified Japan’s past militarization, highlighting a culture that childishly refused to learn from its past. Shot in a fascinating meditation on the inherent nature of the power to corrupt, and how a powerful but neglected child could bring about the end of mankind, Akira becomes a commentary on the dangers to the public of portraying an abusive power fantasy as entertainment.
The stuff that dreams are made of
Akira arrived at the height of the cyberpunk movement in international science fiction, with the manga making its debut alongside films like Mad Max 2: the road warrior and Blade runner with seminal literature such as William Gibson Neuromancer. Many of the more philosophical dilemmas of this subgenre concern the evolution of the human creature and the apparent malleability of reality in the face of technological advancements, such as the development of mind-altering narcotics and artificial intelligence. Otomo combined these emerging sci-fi tropes with his own brand of fantasy, gradually building the elements of magical realism into the subtle displays of his character’s powers until a haunting, even terrifying result.
As a manga, this is further proof of the adage that every aspect of a work of art should be linked into a cohesive unit. What is so remarkable Akira in his example of this discipline are the drastic changes in tone and scale that the narrative entails the reader as the carnage builds up, through savage jet-car chases at secret government facilities and gang wars. defying death amid post-apocalyptic wasteland. Plunging into Otomo’s Neo-Tokyo and its constant and ubiquitous specter of decimation to the capricious whims of divine psychic beings, the reader experiences a sense of immersion that has rarely been matched in any medium, similar to the landmark. Akira film but as a fuller and more complete experience. Otomo believed in fully fleshing out this world on the brink of annihilation, and so no stone is left behind even as the walls and ceilings of Neo-Tokyo’s skyscrapers crumble and crumble. under pure psychic force.
Perhaps the real reason for its influence and longevity is its uncompromising nature as a sprawling, holistic narrative, extending to the grand political spectacle and retreating for more intimate moments of the struggle at a moment, turning on a penny with such style that it continues to be emulated almost 40 years after its debut. It is a composition that holds thanks to the singular vision of the artist Otomo, and, despite its more than 2,000 pages, it is this dedication to balance in its history of abuse, decadence, power and apocalypse that rewards re-readings of the series, regardless of the often bizarre subject. As a unique work of fiction, Akira not only stay the gold standard of manga, but also science fiction.
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