Over the next few weeks I’ll be discussing the ground breaking story of AKIRA – both the manga which is written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo and published in Japan between 1982 to 1990, and the 1988 animated movie adaptation also written and directed by Otomo.
Akira (or AKIRA) was on my radar for almost 10 years before I finally got round to buying the manga and its movie counterpart. Over the course of three weeks and quite a few sleepless nights I slugged through all six volumes, over 2,000 pages of the manga… I suppose the big question is ‘was it worth the sleepless nights?’ and yes, yes it was. I did very little research on Akira before throwing myself into the deep end, so I had no idea what to expect in terms of anything and I think going into with no expectations definitely empowered my experience – Akira blew me away.
The manga carries a large cast of characters and a number of subplots that aren’t featured in the movie adaptation – I’ll go ahead and say that both the manga and movie are fantastic in their own right. If for whatever reason you’re new to Akira, the manga can be broken into two halves:
Volumes 1 – 3: The Search of Akira
In 1982, Tokyo is destroyed by a nuclear explosion which also kick starts World War III. Flash forward to 2019 and we’re in Neo-Tokyo, an artificial island built outside the ruins of Tokyo, the city has since become a, cue Alec Guinness voice, hive of scum and villainy. The reader is introduced to two teenage gang members, Tetsuo Shima and Shotaro Kaneda. After a bike chase with a rival gang, Tetsuo is injured in an accident while trying to avoid a child in the road – the child, Takashi, is a child ESPER resembling an old man.
The result of this begins to awaken Tetsuo’s psychic abilities which start to affect him mentally, making him feel inferior and resentful toward Kaneda. Tetsuo becomes the leader of a rival gang, Kaneda meets Kei becoming involved with a resistance group with both their actions drawing the attention of Colonel Shikishima, referred to as ‘The Colonel’.
Tetsuo, Kaneda and Kei are taken into military custody. Tetsuo meets the other ESPERS including Takashi – here we find out that the nuclear explosion that destroyed Tokyo was caused by Akira who is cryogenically stored underneath the new Olympic Stadium. After a few bloody rampages later, Tetsuo succeeds in releasing Akira who is revealed to be an ordinary looking child. Neo-Tokyo goes into a state of emergency and The Colonel uses the laser satellite, SOL, which vaporises Tetsuo’s arm but fails to kill him and Akira.
This leads to a game of cat and mouse with Kaneda and Kei keeping Akira safe from the military. This half of the story ends with a confrontation between The Colonel, the ESPERS, Akira, Kaneda and Kei. In the chaos, the ESPER Takashi is shot which triggers Akira into a second explosion that destroys Neo-Tokyo – The Colonel, ESPERS and Kei survive the blast while Kaneda disappears in the blast. The final page has Tetsuo reappear alongside Akira.
Volumes 4 – 6: The Great Tokyo Empire
The second half begins sometime after the second explosion with the city being divided into two factions: the Great Akira Empire and the Cult of Lady Miyako.
The Great Akira Empire is led by Tetsuo and uses Akira as a figurehead, the pair are worshipped as Gods.
In the first half of the story the ESPERS are given a government issued pill that suppress their abilities to some degree as well as the side effects such as headaches, it’s shown that Tetsuo has become addicted and heavily dependent on the pills.
The Cult of Lady Miyako act as an opposite to the other faction, offering food and medicine to the civilians of Neo-Tokyo.
At Miyako’s advice, Tetsuo stops taking the pills and begins to suffer withdrawal symptoms, as well as a large increase in power which causes a third event that’s linked to the second explosion and brings around the return of Kaneda.
Tetsuo’s power continues to grow beyond the confines of his physical body which causes him to begin absorbing surrounding objects as a way of coping. Kei under the control of Miyako and the ESPERS begins to fight Tetsuo, while Kaneda leads the fight against The Great Akira Empire. Tetsuo’s body starts transforming in a large mass that absorbs everything that gets near him causing a similar psychic event to Akira.
Akira and the remaining ESPERS cancel out the explosion caused by Tetsuo, disappearing in the process. The story ends with Kaneda and Kei riding through Neo-Tokyo.
To conclude my first post on AKIRA should serve more as a summary and introduction to the story, as well as the themes. AKIRA is an extremely broad piece of work that can be analysed and read in different ways. On the surface it reads as a fast paced, action packed story focusing on adolescence and loss of innocence – but the story carries so much more and can be shown to represent the advance of technology in Japan, post-World War II anxieties and also the representation of identity with many of its characters being orphans.
The next few weeks I’ll be writing about AKIRA referring to the manga, its movie adaptation and how its influence still ripples throughout the entertainment industry.