What eventually became a landmark film in Japanese animation started off as this, the Akira manga by Katsuhiro Otomo. Needless to say, this is a manga classic.
Akira features a world after World War III. The Japanese government becomes obsessed with funding research into espers, humans who have psychic powers. Their research proves successful with the awakening of a number of espers.
Enter Tetsuo Shima. After getting injured by an explosion caused by an escaped esper he starts to develop powers himself. His powers change him into a cold killer whose gripes with his once friend, Shotaro Kaneda, become magnified into hate. Now the both of them become tangled in a fight between not just two teenagers, but the government and the resistance, esper verses human.
This was the winner of the 1984 Kodansha Manga Award for best general manga.
Otomo-sensei’s art work is simply phenomenal. Considering how old this manga is, (it was released between 1982-1990) it is easy to say that this is what pioneered the modern look of manga.
Different from the movie, the manga takes place over a longer time frame and includes many more characters and subplots. These subplots add a huge amount of material to the manga. At first, I thought that the length would take away from the chaotic feeling of the movie, but I was wrong. Somehow the manga manages the chaos while adding characterization and depth.
Prevalent throughout the series are the numerous themes. This manga didn’t become a classic because it was action packed, but because it reflected ideas that people cared about. The secret government projects represent corruption and inefficiency while the bike gangs represent youth alienation. Overlaying themes include societal pressure, us vs. them, good vs. evil and the gray in between and numerous other motifs.
I cannot give this manga enough praise. What seems to be a simple action thriller is actually a deep and complicated art work that deserves its place in history.
GO Rating: 5/5