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AKIRA Vol. 3 -- Retro Review

This just turned into one intense, bloody game of capture the flag.

Previous Retro Reviews...

There’s probably no clearer indicator that an adaptation’s “loose” than when it actually goes ahead and reduces the title character to a brain in a jar. To be fair, there is something solidly creepy and evocative about having the omnipotent entity that everybody’s so afraid in the movie turn out to be nothing more than a vivisected cadaver. However, there’s also something just as rich, conceptually, in having that entity be a sleepy little tyke who’s being carried around in a nappy, doped-up state that’s only just barely keeping him from his massively destructive awakening.

We'll leave our choice of which is better for after we’re done with volume six.

As it stands, volume 3 makes up for the slowed story advancement in volume 2 by packing in two or three times as much plot. An almost dizzying amount, actually. Important lil’ Akira more-or-less becomes the object of a frenzied game of capture the flag being played by the rebels, the government and the various splinter factions between them. A crisscross of allegiances quickly hustles into complexities that were only just barely hinted at in the anime and “spy thriller” is unexpectedly appended on to the list of descriptors that apply to this story.

With three more mutant kids, a burly machinegun lady and a double-agent or two added to the fray, it did honestly get a little tough to keep track of who was friendly with whom and whose possession Akira was in at any given moment. I get the sense that was intentional, though - - a choice to convey the frantic confusion of all the involved players.

The shadow of impending annihilation hangs over every single panel in this book, making all the hurried antics feel like an especially fleet-footed and trigger-happy play on the “bargaining” portion of the five stage of grief. The Colonel really has the right idea during his spells of despondency at the beginning - - the demon’s out of the bottle, nobody can put it back in and, now, it’s only a matter of delaying the inevitable.

The movie only briefly touched on the element of holy terror inherent to the return of this moppet antichrist. It does fit that the same pipeline of creative license that turned Akira into a biology specimen likewise turned Lady Miyako into little more than the quirky prop of a single, mood-setting scene. Of the characters who have more prominent role in this comic, she’s proven to be the most intriguing for how her little secret society conflates this top-secret government project with the realization of some mystical prophecy. By the time the throngs of desperate survivors are fleeing to her temple, en masse, it’s clear that these kids’ ascension of power carries more significance than just another case of science run amuck.

Actually, that probably should have been clear from the first painted page. My favorite scene in the anime was the whole sequence where a beam of light shoots down from the sky and blows off Tetsuo’s arm. After he shrieks his heart out, Tetsuo flies right up into orbit and gets some up-close-and-personal payback on the satellite that just took so much from him. Expressions of raw and godly power hardly ever come as visceral as that. The scene isn’t included in this volume, but it the laser maiming is, and the way its rendered seems like something more of mythology than science fiction. Without context, it looks like the heavens themselves are hurling stars down onto this arrogant demigod as punishment for his hubris.

AKIRA doesn't seem likely to explore these Promethean themes much deeper within it minimalistic story, and that's actually preferable. One too many riffs on FRANKENSTEIN have made that particular theme a little too familiar to be exciting for me. It’s to the credit of this seemingly-brash piece of non-stop action that it's able to evoke such themes through stark imagery and scenarios and let the readers infer a lot of the meaning instead of delving too deep into the philosophical gobbledygook.

Coming at this from the “backwards perspective” of somebody who started with the anime, I put down this volume with about the same curious and tentative feeling I had while walking out of the last EVANGELION rebuild.

30-YEAR-OLD SPOILER ALERT - - this ends with a telekinetic explosion reducing Neo Tokyo to rubble.

You’ll recall that that’s what happens at the end of the anime’s Apocalyptic finale; and then you might realize how tough it is to reconcile that with how this volume's still just the halfway point of this comic. Where could they possibly go from here? The batch of silent pages at the end chilling sets up some sort of confrontation between Tetsuo and Akira, but what shape could that take? This isn’t DBZ; they can’t honestly be brawling in the wreckage for the next 900 odd pages, can they?

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

zaldaron March 10, 2012 at 10:34 p.m.

From what I have hard the anime shortened a LOT of stuff and changed the ending. I have only read the first two volumes so I can't say more than that. Those I liked a whole lot more though. To an extent I disagree with your love of minimalism. It works here but something like Lain, Eva, ghost in the shell, or Texnolyze (all stuff you should see) that get into the gobbelygook a little more directly also work amazingly well.

RuthLooseon March 11, 2012 at 4:52 p.m.

Without getting too far into spoiler territory, I highly enjoyed going through the Akira manga for the simple fact that the main plot threads get resolved to a great extent by the end of Book 4. Book 5 is almost completely spent dealing with the catastrophic mess that was created in the first 4 books.

Any time a piece of fiction, science fiction or otherwise, decides to build up a universe and an apocalyptic, world-rending event, and spend any substantial period of time on how that universe will begin to pick up the pieces and soldier on-- I can almost certainly get behind 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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