Akira

tetsuo

AKIRA is a manga series by Katsuhiro Otomo. Set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, the work uses conventions of the cyberpunk genre to detail a saga of turmoil. Initially serialized in the pages of Young Magazine from 1982 until 1990, the work was collected in six volumes by Japanese publisher Kodansha. Otomo’s art on the series is considered outstanding, and the work is a breakthrough for both Otomo and the manga form.

An identically titled anime film adaptation was released in 1988, shortening the plot, but with its structure and scenes heavily informed by the manga and its serial origins. The manga takes place in a vastly larger time frame than the film and involves a far wider array of characters and subplots. Through the breadth of the work, Otomo explicates themes of social isolation, corruption and power.

AKIRA, like Otomo’s other works (such as Domu), revolves around the basic idea of individuals with superhuman powers, especially psychokinetic abilities. However, these are not central to the story, which instead concerns itself with character, societal pressures and political machination. Motifs common in the manga include youth alienation, government corruption and inefficiency, and a military grounded in old-fashioned Japanese honor, displeased with the compromises of modern society.

Akira is an outgrowth of war and postwar experiences. Otomo grounds the work in recent Japanese history and culture, using the atomic bombing of Japan during World War II, alongside the economic resurgence and issues relating to over-crowding as inspirations and underlying issues. Thematically the work centres on the nature of youth to rebel against authority, control methods, community building and the transformation experienced in adolescent passage.

The work is also seen as an attack on the Japanese establishment, arguing that Otomo satirizes aspects of Japanese culture, in particular schooling and the rush for new technology. AKIRA’s central images, of characters aimlessly roaming the streets on motor bikes is seen to represent the futility of the quest for self-knowledge. The work also focuses on loss, with all characters in some form orphaned and having no sense of history. The landscapes depicted are ruinous, with old Tokyo represented only by a dark crater. The nihilistic nature of the work is felt by Napier to tie into a wider theme present in Japanese literature of the time.

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