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AKIRA Vol. 4 -- Retro Review

Calling AKIRA "mind-blowing" at this point is woefully insufficient. It makes the movie look like kid's stuff.

Previous Retro Reviews...

As easier as it is to watch something than it is to read something else, most times, print’s got the edge for being able to push an idea as far it’ll go. Especially with serialized stories, it’s the latter volumes in a series - - the ones that have stepped far past the confines of their initial premises - - that more often contain the material that inspires enthusiastic commentary such as this. Movies, though? So often, outside concerns (be they budgetary, proprietary or simply centered on running times) will keep their concepts within familiar parameters.

You know what I’m talking about. The avenger renounces his ways as soon as he’s gotten his revenge. The hero’s transformation plateaus once he’s defeated the bad guy. The science fiction’s parable ties up after it’s made its one allegorical point. Movies are all about clean structures and meeting expectations. They celebrate in it.

I hate to make these reviews an ongoing comparison piece, but it’s really unavoidable since AKIRA the manga has so totally eclipsed AKIRA the anime in my eyes, now. Reading it has proven to be an enthralling reminder of how, indeed, the book’s more often better than the movie; and not least of which for how it’ll take ideas farther. To be precise, it’s the theme of teenage rebellion that's been brought to a realm only fantasies like this have the vision to see.

Picking up at an indeterminate time after Akira’s latest city-leveling outburst, this volume drops us into the anarchic maelstrom of metal and concrete that Neo Tokyo’s become. Survivors straggle in every dry and film spot, but those wanting real protection flock to the new opposing poles of power - - the cults of Lord Akira and Lady Miyako. Kaneda’s been seemingly wiped out of existence, and Kei and the scene-stealing brawler Chiyoko (who’d have figured RPGs were such good bludgeons?) are just trying to survive without any plan to direct them.

Hearsay abounds about how the rest of Japan and the world entire are responding to this catastrophe, and there might even be a few agents of those outside powers sneaking around the wreckage. Frenzied skirmishes happen on every corner. Lootings abound. This sprawling megalopolis has essentially been mutated into a much larger and more terrifying vision of PINOCCHIO’s Pleasure Island. And it’s here where the comic really does the aforementioned pushing of ideas.

Look at this way: the familiar story of the teen rebel’s all about the gap between a kid’s grasp and his reach, right? If only he could live the way he wanted to - - not the way his folks, his teachers, the police and society at large forces him to - - then there wouldn’t be any need for all this conflict. Usually, the story ends with the punk getting taken down in one way or another (falling into that gap, as it were.) Give that kid the power to live the way he wants, though; to make others to live according to his feverish visions. What would happen next? What would it mean?

This part of the AKIRA saga’s illustrating what teen angst and child’s play look like when let loose; not just on some small and secluded jungle island or some faraway Never, Never Land, but on the world entire. It’s gone so far past being just a kickass cyberpunk thriller. AKIRA is youth-themed literature on the level of classics like PETER PAN and LORD OF THE FLIES; a story whose deceptively-simple psychological and philosophical layers can be picked apart for decades (as we’re demonstrating, right here.)

Tetsuo’s continued transformation into something like a personified Id invites so much analysis on is own. I'm especially intrigued by how his drug habit's been agitated into a perverted sort of communion - - one that keeps him from his fullest potential even as it grants his followers spectacular and frightening abilities. The capsules were throwaway gags in the movie, and the mind powers were also limited to explode-y telekinesis. Here, the gamut of psychic abilities, from teleportation to possession to extra-sensory perception, is explored in a fashion that makes "science fiction" feel like an insufficient descriptor.

Indeed, those mind powers gets my mind to thinking that there must have been some powerful currents flowing in comics' collective unconsciousness during the 80's. I never expected this series to evoke WATCHMEN as well (another complex comic sullied by a hamfisted adaptation,) but the visual metaphors that manifest in this volume - - the birth canal sigil, the rocks Akira plays with that foreshadow the skyscrapers Tetsuo throws about later - - are just as powerful and hypnotic as the myriad in that deconstructionist classic. The two works are really in a class that makes one balk at trying to imagine the creative process behind them; and I'm certain I'll re-reading AKIRA just as many times after I'm done in hopes of understanding its complexities more fully.

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

kashif1on March 15, 2012 at 6:54 p.m.

I remember reading the entire manga at once. My jaw dropped at the end of volume three and never came back up through the rest of it. I really have nothing to add on top of your analysis but one thing that really impressed me is that this story would never work as well in anime form, there are very few things I can say that about.

GodLen staff on March 16, 2012 at 8:08 a.m.

I really need to read Akira now

zaldaron March 18, 2012 at 7:59 p.m.

God I need to finish these. THIS is how you do a watch and learn. Can we talk about some of the philosophy here? How the teenage rebel in us all NEEDS to be smacked down or we end up with things like Lord of the Flies?

And yes the Watchman um visual novel (I actually almost called it a manga...but I can't call it a comic, that would be like calling anime cartoons to me) is much better than the movie. But the movie was my introduction to the idea that American Comics could be on the level of good Japanese Manga....I never would have picked up Sandman or other books like it except for watchman.

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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