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AKIRA Vol. 2 -- Retro Review

Decompression never felt so good. How is this starting to look next to the movie?

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What’s funny about reading AKIRA, now, is that it offers plenty of perspective on other, familiar parts of pop culture that either happened around its time or occurred, down the line, as a result of it. See, if “decompression” were a measurable property, the needles would be spiking furiously over this particular volume. 300 pages are lavished on plot that essentially breaks down like this…

  1. Tetsuo grows bored in government custody.
  2. Tetsuo gets fixated on finding this mysterious “Akira.”
  3. Tetsuo forces the Colonel and the kids to tell him where Akira is.
  4. Tetsuo rampages to the Olympic stadium.
  5. Tetsuo digs Akira up and heads to surface.
  6. Tetsuo gets maimed by an orbital laser canon.

Basically. And with most of these beats, of course, involving the kid’s seemingly-limitless telekinetic abilities.

An omnibus or a digest (or whatever the proper name is for this collection) isn’t just the ideal format to experience this in - - it might be the essential one. It would be just maddening to get this same content in smaller increments of about, say, 22 pages. Each one would leave you feeling sorely gipped; and I’m speaking from experience.

Actually, let’s back up a little.

“Decompression” might not be a common term in the parlance of manga, but it became a fixture of even casual American comics discussions after Warren Ellis notably described his highly-popular run on THE AUTHORITY as such in the late 90’s. The title was a snarky, modern and very cinematic update of the superhero, with Ellis giving the artist, Bryan Hitch, plenty of space to tell the story with big blockbuster action sequences unencumbered by nonessential dialog, captions or, really, any text at all at times. The style became all the rage for years, with many creators aping the surface elements without the necessary understanding of how or why it worked. It led to a whole mess of poorly-paced comics where nearly nothing happened in a given issue.

Seeing this, it’s clear that AKIRA trickled down into THE AUTHORITY, continuing a circle of influence that spun previously when Otomo took inspiration from Western movies (as his bio in this book says.) It’s doubtful that Otomo was that quick to adapt his ideas to what was playing in theaters at the time, of course, so there really must been something specific swirling in the visual science fiction zeitgeist of the 80’s. I actually just went on about this subject, at length, over at Screened. By my reckoning, a very precise style of mean sci-fi action movies ruled that decade and AKIRA the anime definitely fits into its umbrella.

Hell, wouldn't you know it? AKIRA the comic embodies that wave's qualities even more so. Dare I say, there's such a sense of authority to its storytelling because its world feels so concrete and its tech looks so real. Take the industrial platform that carries Tetsuo down to the underground bunker - - the amount of R&D and “imagineering” Otomo (or his uncredited assistants) must’ve committed to it before drawing a single panel is kind-of staggering. It ain't the window dressing you normally see in science fiction.

The comic's got the sub-genre’s hard-mindedness, too. Oh yes. As callous as it might sound, it’s actually refreshing that Kaneda so quickly accepts that he’s got to use whatever means available to put his former pal down (the cool laser rifle being the most handy.) He’s presented as this rough 'n tumble delinquent, after all; you really wouldn’t expect it’d take more than one nearly-fatal case of his friend trying to crush him with heavy machinery for him to realize this is a “him or me” situation.

Actually, while on the subject of dangerous Master Tetsuo, it’s hard not to read some metaphors into his rampage, specifically those pertaining to Japan's post-war youth culture. C'mon, these punks come of age after another, city-leveling explosion that a fellow kid's awakening caused it! There's something brewing under the fact that Tetsuo's teenage rebellion manifests in frightening powers that allow him to blow adults' heads up and force authority figures to grovel. That, or it could just the coincidentally-evocative byproducts of Otomo's straightforward “blow some shit up” impulse.

For a review that began with a discussion of decompression, it's probably appropriate that I've again run out of space with plenty of points left to spare. I felt like I ought to halt the non-stop stream of effusive praise a little and note that the comics' signature minimalism probably cuts both ways. That is, we're close to 800 pages in without much understanding of who these characters are. But hey - - who gives a shit? I honestly don't need to know if Kaneda's got a worried kid sister waiting at home for him, nor what Tetsuo's relationship with his Mom is like, to get invested here.

There's a lot of manga that doesn’t resonate with me because they share so much visual vocabulary with anime and their own adaptations that reading them is like flipping through a digest-sized storyboard. They feel like preparatory documents, not works to their own end. Even though this incrediubly cinematic, it takes advantages of the silent tension between word and image as only comics can. It's the highly-compressed movie that's starting to look like the preparatory material, now.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of HYBRID BASTARDS! & UNIMAGINABLE. Order them on Amazon here & here. Follow him on Twitter: @tompinchuk

No_name_here staff on March 2, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.

And hey - - much to thanks to my pal, Matt Levin, for lending me these digests!

Falkenon March 3, 2012 at 3:35 a.m.

I just love this manga, is one of my favourite science fiction manga....

Dawfyddon March 4, 2012 at 3:18 a.m.

Oddly enough, I first read Akira in chunks, serialised as it was in Dark Horse's (sadly long dead) UK magazine Manga Mania. There was something quite thrilling about getting each chunk on a monthly basis, and they had a nifty idea that as the series entered it's final stretch they put a countdown on the front cover for the last 12 parts.

I actually dug back through the issues I still have and toady some of the content is laughably bad, full of poor translations in articles and utterly inaccurate assumptions of what would be hits, but what MM did very, very well was present quality reprints of some of wonderful titles that DH had the rights to in the early to mid 90's: Appleseed, Dominion, Black Magic, Fire Tripper, Silent Mobius, Akira, Dirty Pair, Gunsmith Cats , Ghost in the Shell and a few more I'm sure I'm forgetting.....

doublezeroduckon March 4, 2012 at 3:44 a.m.

Gipped? Racist.

But who cares? No one care about the gypsies lol

RobKennoon March 4, 2012 at 10:33 a.m.

Have always said that the Art is excellent in the manga.

csl316on March 4, 2012 at 12:47 p.m.

Ok, now I'm starting to realize that I should read these.

zaldaron March 4, 2012 at 9:56 p.m.

yes the mang is loads better than the movie in that it actually makes sense...much like the novel version of 2001...the movie is a nice acid trip but make sense..no it doesn't really do that.

Dig Deeper into Akira

A secret military project threatens the destruction of Neo-Tokyo when it turns a biker gang member into a rampaging psionic psychopath, who can only be stopped by his best friend, a young woman, and a group of psionic children.

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