Previous Retro Reviews...
- MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO *** KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE *** PRINCESS MONONOKE
- HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE *** NAUSICAA *** CASTLE IN THE SKY *** PORCO ROSSO
- AKIRA Vol. 1 *** AKIRA Vol. 2 *** AKIRA Vol. 3 *** AKIRA Vol. 4
- LITTLE NORSE PRINCE VALIANT *** TRIGUN Vol. 1
There was an exchange in the previous volume that warranted more comment. Taking a Gordian knot approach to existential curiosity, Tetsuo teleported straight into Lady Miyako’s temple like a middle-schooler going to his guidance counselor’s office with a bunch of questions in his pocket. While the cult matriarch used the series’ lengthiest monolog to explicate all details regarding the secret government experiment that produced her and the other wrinkly espers, she hadn’t the clearest terms to describe Lord Akira.
Tetsuo was still confused, so he repeated a question.
“I WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING CONCRETE!! WHAT THE HELL IS AKIRA?!?!”
Note the emphasis. On this point, the seemingly all-knowing Miyako fell back on a highfalutin explanation for how she really couldn’t explain this little demigod’s existence. Why, out of 41 test subjects, was he the one to possess this unfathomable power? She couldn’t say. The reason was simply so far beyond anybody’s ken that one could only understand Akira as a natural force existing outside the parameters of reality.
Their dialog came to mind while flipping through this volume’s stand-out showpiece - - the awesome sight of Tetsuo blasting a big ass crater out of the damn moon - - because it articulates why AKIRA’s superorbital leaps of imagination don’t feel like simply the usual goods a science fiction spectacle’s expected to deliver. There’s a visceral sublimity to them; a hyper-extension of the credible tech discussed in earlier volumes which makes these impossible acts feel as close to actual happenings as ink, tones and paper can convey. Just as Akira is a threat from outside reality, so too does this comic feel like it’s seizing powerful elemental currents flowing far beyond the sight of the familiar, affectedly-structured actioner.
In simpler terms, AKIRA achieves that all too rare level of storytelling craft where larger-than-life events feel like they’re unfolding simply as they would happen.
Even the romances hit on a more direct and immediate level. Described outside the story, Tetsuo’s relationship with Kaori is undeniably horrific. Yet, there’s still no denying the tenderness exuded in their tacit scenes together. Here’s this massively destructive entity who’s almost totally eroded any barriers with his Id, but he’s still helplessly dependent on the simple presence of his ever-so-meek companion. There’s something very conceptually profound in even just that simple idea.
There’s rawness and realness to Kaneda’s inelegant courtship of Kei, as well. Penultimate acts like this are so often predicated on the hero making a conscious choice to put himself back in danger in order to save his loved one, but few have ever been driven by such willful defiance. Kaneda’s instinctual decision to round up a posse to kill Tetsuo so Kei doesn’t have to carry out the espers’ sacrificial plan is just such a primal act of youthful willfulness - - an ultimate expression to match Tetsuo’s ultimate teenage angst. He isn’t just unafraid of death and he won’t just do anything to protect his girl; he’s cocky enough to pick a fight with what’s essentially a force of nature.
Which brings us to one of the most rousing, devil-may-care climaxes ever rendered - - the rallying of the malcontents. That is, Kaneda rounding up what’s left of the biker gangs and assorted punks who don’t know any better for a roughhouse sort of Armageddon at the stadium.
AKIRA the manga has a whole pile of chips in its favor against AKIRA the anime, but certainly the most fun one concerns Joker’s vastly expanded role. If you’re riding full-throttle straight into the end of the world, you can’t ask for a better ally in your corner than an asshole grease monkey who stays stingy to the bitter end. So much post-Apocalyptic fiction makes such a somber hoodoo out of man’s pettiness enduring, or even exacerbating, after a catastrophe. Here, there’s something endearingly unapologetic about how this knucklehead's still getting pissed about whether Kaneda will pay him back for a bike, even while reality’s crumbling around all of them.
Amusingly enough, this volume starts with one of the series’ few signs of datedness: that the intellectual consortium assembled on an off-shore aircraft carrier to brainstorm how to handle the “Akira problem” has a Soviet contingent. There's a chuckle or two to be had about how the USSR’s isn’t likely to return in the 2030’s, but the moment actually then draws attention to how this material’s otherwise so timelessly sharp.
Fans so often describe a comic like this as if it's in some unfinished state - - if only it were in color! Just wait 'til it's animated! Close to 1600 pages in, I see that black and white paper's the perfect realization of this story. Nothing else would be as visceral and immediate. Nothing else would infuse this imagery with the silent spookiness only half-tones can convey. Nothing else would be as elemental and timeless.
Once again, whatever “pre-awareness” I have from the flick feels woefully inadequate to prepare me for what’s coming next. We may be in store for the most Earth-shaking dust-up ever. We may see Master Tetsuo pitted against Lord Akira like a cyclone against a typhoon; like furies of myth colliding. Like Miyako said in so many words during her earlier dialog, the impending forces feel like they're beyond my reckoning.