12 Sep 2012

Wednesday New Comics Day - Akira

I’m sitting in the comic shop and I see the label Akira. It’s 1995 and I saw a brilliant animated film called Akira and I wondered if this label referred to the same story. The books were tall, colour format and were published by Epic Comics.

I was shocked to see that the animated film that I fell in love with was only a shadow of the real story in print.

In 2000, I was one of many who flocked to the comic shops and picked up Dark Horse Comics’ collected 6 volume series Akira.

Akira is one of the greatest tales woven in the comic/manga format.

Pause for Akira influenced music.
Katsuhiro Otomo took eight years and 2000 pages to create his Magnum Opus; Akira. In 1988 he took it to film and created the Anime.

I locked myself up and read the whole story in one sitting. I was gone for hours reading about Kaneda and Tetsuo, fighting over the child god Akira. I was taken to a whole new world.

Now when you read Book 1, know this: the world will not be the same world once you finish Book 6. I’m not talking your perception changes and your understanding of the world develops. No, the world is physically different, re-shaped more then once through the story.

Few stories try or can make such changes, let alone successfully or well. Akira does it better then I’ve ever seen in the past. Change and evolution are themes of the story and they come across through every aspect of the comic.

The art is a brilliant mix of realistic and classical anime/manga. That means more rounded faces, larger prominent eyes and unique details, like hair, clothes and scars to distinguish characters. Technical details are given time and attention creating a contrast between organic and inorganic subjects.

This style is very much in-between the classics of; Osamu Tezuka (Zimba the White Lion, Black Jack and Astro Boy), Leiji Matsumoto (Battleship Yamamoto, Galaxy Express 999 and Interstella 5555), Hayao Miyazaki (Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke) and the new styles of Kenichi Sonoda (Gunsmith Cats, Riding Bean and character design for Bubble Gun Crisis), Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku, InuYasha), Hiroaki Samura (Blade of the Immortal) and Kentaro Miura (Berzerk). Otomo is the bridge between eras.

A example of the color art from the series
Not your typical looking Anime/Manga

All of the above mentioned works are great reads/videos. If you are an Anime fan and you are not familiar with the above, fix that sooner rather then later and enjoy some of the best Japan has to offer in animated and comic storytelling.

The story in Akira is episodic, allowing for Otomo to spend time with each character. Rounding them out and working multiple intertwined story arcs. Each one gets enough attention to make you come to fully understand them, but you never get bored with them and you never feel like the story is too focused on a few characters making the other characters seem less important. Everyone is critical and important to the story and not a single character is used in a way that makes you feel like their potential is never wasted.

This is just one successful aspect of the epic that is Akira. Akira is a huge story and while reading it, you never feel like you’re chewing the fat or going through a level of filler in order to reach the next level of interesting action. The story is trimmed and well paced never taxing the reader yet allowing them to read it parts at a time. My wife took a few months to read through the six volumes of Akira without getting lost. Others who’ve I’ve lent out the series to have taken long periods of time to read it or shorter lengths as they blitz the series.

Akira is something people who enjoy comics must read. It's rare when we get to enjoy a game changer that is so recent to our pop culture. Fans of the medium are born before the changes that Akira inspired, a rare thing as time ebbs away. 

I’m not going to give Akira a rating as per the sidebar. Akira changed the way Anime was seen. It was the modern injection that is responsible for the current trends that have survived the late 90’s boom and the fall from grace that’s followed to the current levelling of quality of Anime and Manga. Everything that came after Akira was influenced by Akira.

Nothing could ignore it.