Ok this one is a little weird.
But I had a dream about it, and you can’t just ignore that. Or maybe you can! Quick! Read this article I wrote about Katsuhiro Otomo’s “Akira!”
A brief preface…
My introduction to Akira was the movie and like many people I was struck by the brutality and overall darkness of the movie. What can I say? It’s a bummer of a story where lots of people die horrible deaths and hardly anyone is happy for more than a few seconds.
I more or less wrote it off because I tend to prefer less depressing entertainment, And yet? Over the years I found myself returning to the movie in spite of my best efforts to be done with it. What was it about Akira that was so irresistible?
Finally a couple weeks back I was lucky to find that my favorite library carried ALL of the original books. So I hunkered down to resolve the question – What’s so great about Akira, and which is better? the movie or the books?
Naturally I was surprised by the manga – there’s was so much more than I anticipated – and I was surprised to find twice the amount of characters than what ended up in the movie.
Without giving anything away, the Akira books felt like trying to race through a labyrinth to stop a bomb from going off in time – but having no idea which way to go. As the books progress so does the pace, until the final book seems like it’s going 120 miles per page.
Not that they were flawless. There were a number of elongated monologues about theoretical metaphysics which were rather tedious to read – not to mention a foreign military force who’s presence/characters is as dull as it is cliche.
Nevertheless at the beginning of the books I found myself saying “I’ll bet the movie is better,” but at the end? I shut the hell up.
As a Feminist I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were plenty of female characters in the manga with prominent roles who actively changed the story without waiting for permission. Probably my favorite among them was a woman named “Chiyoko” who initially felt somewhat like a walking punchline – but then turns out to be one of the heroes of the story.
Chiyoko is basically an unstoppable warrior and holy shit if you fuck with her or her friend Kei?
You’re gonna pay. And not down the line either, you’re going to pay right there and then.
There were a couple of disappointing scenes involving sexual slavery – but honestly since I had been bracing myself for much worse (or much more) I was relatively relieved. For the most part all the women of Akira are powerful (with perhaps the exception of “Kaori” but that’s debatable) and you can’t say that about a LOT of science fiction comics.
Finally? The art? The art made we want to cry and never make comics again. I wish I had as firm a grasp on perspective and detail. Shit. Shit.
The Movie (in Comparison):
So with any movie adaptation there’s going to be some trimming down – that’s unavoidable. I admit I felt loyalty to the movie, but I found myself resolved – I prefer the manga.
Not to say that the movie is bad. The art and score are both powerhouses that set themselves apart from most animation to this day – but the condensed story was hard to swallow after having read 2000+ pages of Akira.
Due to the quality of animation the movie is actually more violent than the book. It’s one thing to see a frame in a comic of a shooting, it’s another to watch it happen. In that sense I found the movie to be a touch darker than the manga at least in tone.
One thing I felt the movie actually did better at portraying than the manga was the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo. It’s pretty late in the manga that we learn about their childhood together, their brotherly relationship, and Tetsuo’s inferiority complex with Kaneda. In the manga Kaneda loses all compassion for Tetsuo the moment he feels betrayed – whereas in the movie Kaneda’s emotional turmoil over the loss of his friend is much more intricately explored.
For the most part many of the characters in the books only get cameos in the movie. The Joker makes a brief appearance in the movie, Nezu and Ryu’s role are abridged nearly to nonexistence, even Akira himself hardly shows up.
Sad to say though the women of the Akira manga get shit on the most. If they aren’t taken out of the movie completely (Chiyoko, Sakaki, Mozu etc) then they get demoted. Lady Miyako (a wise religious leader) becomes a crazed street bum (and voiced by a man, no less!) Kaori’s story is altered so that she gets sexually brutalized, and even Kei (arguably the third main character) seems indecisive and fragile compared to how she was in the books.
So yeah – I prefer the manga.
Later through my DVD’s special features I learned that Katsuhiro Otomo had never intended to make a movie out of Akira – unlike Hayao Miyazaki who only wrote the “Princess Nausicaa” books because movie producers didn’t want to make the movie first. I think Otomo was put in an awkward position and did the best he could – frankly I doubt if the demotions of his female characters were his idea. Maybe I’m wrong though.
I can’t say that the movie was a disappointment since I already knew what I was going to see, and it still holds up from an animation perspective. But I think the manga is better – not simply for political reasons – there is just a lot more it fleshes out.
Either way Akira is a rich, bleak, fascinating ride. I get why it’s a big deal.