||This article may require copy editing for not distinguishing fact from opinion. (May 2014)|
Japanese cover of Akira Volume 1
|Genre||Cyberpunk, Apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, Political thriller |
|Written by||Katsuhiro Otomo|
|Illustrated by||Katsuhiro Otomo
Satoshi Kon (uncredited)
|English publisher||Epic Comics (1988-1995)
Dark Horse Comics (2000-2009)
Kodansha USA/Random House (2009-present)
|Original run||December 6, 1982 – June 11, 1990|
Akira (often stylized as AKIRA) is a Japanese manga series, written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo. Set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, the work uses conventions of the cyberpunk genre to detail a saga of turmoil. Initially serialized in the pages of Young Magazine from 1982 until 1990, the work was collected into six volumes by its publisher Kodansha. The work was first published in an English-language version by the Marvel Comics imprint Epic Comics, one of the first manga works to be translated in its entirety. Otomo's art on the series is considered outstanding, and a breakthrough for both Otomo and the manga form. Through the breadth of the work, Otomo explicates themes of social isolation, corruption and power.
An animated film adaptation was released in 1988, shortening the plot, but with its structure and scenes heavily informed by the manga and its serial origins. The manga takes place in a vastly larger timeframe than the film and involves a far wider array of characters and subplots. Otomo's Akira projects – the manga and its animated film adaptation – marked his transition from a career primarily in the creation and design of printed manga to one almost exclusively in the creation, direction and design of anime for television and film.
On December 6, 1982, an apparent nuclear explosion destroys Tokyo and starts World War III. By 2019, a new city called Neo-Tokyo has been built on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, but is gripped by anti-government terrorism and gang violence. While riding in the ruins of old Tokyo, Tetsuo, a member of the bōsōzoku gang led by Kaneda, is injured when his bike explodes after Takashi—a child Esper with wizened features—blocks his path. This incident awakens psychic powers in Tetsuo, attracting the attention of a secret government project directed by the Colonel. These increasing powers unhinge Tetsuo's mind, exacerbating his inferiority complex about Kaneda and leading him to assume leadership of the rival Clown gang.
Meanwhile, Kaneda becomes involved with Kei, a member of the terrorist organization which stages attacks against the government. The terrorists, led by Ryu and opposition parliament leader Nezu, get wind of the Colonel's project and a mysterious figure connected with it known as "Akira". They hope to use this leaked information, and try to restrict Kaneda's movements after he becomes too involved with their activities. However, when Tetsuo and the Clowns begin a violent city-wide turf war, Kaneda instigates a counter-attack that unites all of Neo-Tokyo's biker gangs against Tetsuo. The Clowns are easily defeated, but Tetsuo is nearly invincible because of his powers. Tetsuo kills Yamagata, a member of his former gang, and astonishingly survives after being shot by Kaneda. The Colonel arrives with the powerful drugs needed to suppress Tetsuo's violent headaches, extending an offer to join the project.
Kaneda, Kei, and Tetsuo are taken into military custody after the climax of Volume 1. They are held in a highly-secure skyscraper in Neo-Tokyo, but Kei soon escapes after becoming possessed as a medium by another Esper, Kiyoko. Kei/Kiyoko briefly does battle with Tetsuo and frees Kaneda. After rapidly healing from his wounds, Tetsuo inquires about Akira, and forces the Doctor, a project scientist, to take him to the others Espers, Takashi, Kiyoko, and Masaru. There, a violent showdown unfolds between Tetsuo, Kaneda, Kei, and the Espers. The Doctor decides to try to let Tetsuo harness Akira—the project's test subject that destroyed Tokyo—despite Tetsuo's disturbed personality. Upon learning that Akira is being stored in a cryogenic chamber beneath Neo-Tokyo's new Olympic Stadium, Tetsuo escapes the skyscraper with the intent of releasing Akira.
The following day, Tetsuo enters the secret military base at the Olympic site, gruesomely killing any soldiers that get in his way. The Colonel comes to the base and tries to talk Tetsuo out of his plan; Kaneda and Kei enter the base through the sewers and witness the unfolding situation. Tetsuo breaks open the underground cryogenic chamber and frees Akira, who turns out to be an ordinary-looking little boy. The terror of seeing Akira causes one of the Colonel's men to declare a state of emergency that causes massive panic in Neo-Tokyo. The Colonel himself tries to use a laser satellite called SOL to kill Tetsuo and Akira, but only succeeds in severing Tetsuo's arm.
Tetsuo goes missing in the explosion, and Kaneda and Kei come across Akira outside of the base. Vaguely aware of who he is, they take him back into Neo-Tokyo. Both the Colonel's soldiers and followers of an Esper named Lady Miyako begin scouring Neo-Tokyo in search for him. Kaneda, Kei, and a third terrorist, Chiyoko, attempt to find refuge with Akira on Nezu's yacht. However, Nezu betrays them and kidnaps Akira for his own use, attempting to have them killed. They survive the attempt, and manage to snatch Akira from Nezu's mansion. The Colonel, desperate to find Akira and fed up with the government's tepid response to the crisis, mounts a coup d'état and puts the city under martial law. The Colonel's men join Lady Miyako's acolytes and Nezu's private army in chasing Kaneda, Kei, Chiyoko, and Akira through the city.
The pursuit ends at a canal, with Kaneda's group surrounded by the Colonel's troops. As Akira is being taken into the Colonel's custody, Nezu attempts to shoot the boy rather than have him be put into government hands; he is immediately fired upon and killed by the Colonel's men. However, Nezu's shot misses Akira and hits Takashi in the head, killing him instantly. The trauma of Takashi's death causes Akira to trigger a second psychic explosion that destroys Neo-Tokyo. Kei, Ryu, Chiyoko, Colonel Shikishima, and the other two Espers survive the catastrophe; Kaneda, however, disappears as he is enveloped by the psionic blast. After the city's destruction, Tetsuo—entirely absent during the volume—accosts Akira.
Some time after the events of Volume 3, an American reconnaissance team led by Lieutenant Yamada covertly arrives in the ruined Neo-Tokyo. Yamada learns that the city has been divided into two factions: the cult of Lady Miyako, which provides food and medicine for the destitute refugees; and the Great Tokyo Empire, a group of zealots led by Tetsuo with Akira as a figurehead, both worshiped as deities for performing "miracles". The Empire constantly harasses Lady Miyako's group and kills any intruders with Tetsuo's psychic shock troops. Kiyoko and Masaru become targets for the Empire's fanatical soldiers; Kei, Chiyoko, the Colonel, and a former gang member named Kai align themselves with Lady Miyako to protect them.
Yamada eventually becomes affiliated with Ryu, and updates the latter on how the world reacted to the events in Neo-Tokyo; they later learn that an American naval fleet lingers nearby. Tetsuo becomes heavily dependent on government-issued pills to quell his headaches. Seeking answers, he visits Lady Miyako at her temple and is given a comprehensive history of the government project that unleashed Akira. Miyako advises Tetsuo to quit the pills in order to become more powerful; Tetsuo begins an agonizing withdrawal. Meanwhile, Tetsuo's aide, the Captain, stages an unsuccessful Empire assault on Miyako's temple. After the Colonel uses SOL to attack the Empire's army, a mysterious event opens a rift in the sky dumping massive debris from Akira's second explosion...as well as Kaneda.
After returning at the conclusion of Volume 4, Kaneda is reunited with Kei and joins Kai and Joker, the former Clown leader, in planning an assault on the Great Tokyo Empire. Meanwhile, an international team of scientists meets up on an American aircraft carrier to study the recent psychic events in Neo-Tokyo, forming Project Juvenile A. Ryu has a falling out with Yamada after learning that he plans to use biological weapons to assassinate Tetsuo and Akira; Yamada later escapes Ryu's confines and meets up with his arriving commando team. Akira and Tetsuo hold a rally at the Olympic Stadium to demonstrate their powers to the Empire faithful, which culminates with Tetsuo tearing a massive hole in the Moon's surface and encircling it with a ring of the debris.
Following the rally, Tetsuo's power begins to contort his physical body, causing it to absorb surrounding objects; he later learns that his abuse of his powers have caused them to expand beyond the confines of his body, giving him the ability to transmute inert matter into flesh and integrate it into his physical form. Tetsuo makes a series of visits on board the aircraft carrier to attack the scientists and do battle with American fighter jets. At one point, Tetsuo actually takes over the ship and launches a nuclear weapon over the ocean. Kei—accepting the role of a medium controlled by Lady Miyako and the Espers—arrives to battle Tetsuo. Meanwhile, Kaneda, Kai, and their small army of bikers arrive at the Olympic Stadium to begin their all-out assault on the Great Tokyo Empire.
Kaneda and his new gang continue the assault on the stadium that started in Volume 5. Tetsuo returns from his battle with Kei, and starts involuntarily morphing into a fetus like form throughout the volume, losing his robotic arm and regrowing his original. He then faces Yamada's team, but absorbs their biological attacks and temporarily regains control of his powers. Tetsuo kills Yamada and the commandos; he also eludes the Colonel's attempts to kill him by guiding SOL with a laser designator. Kaneda confronts Tetsuo, and the two begin an epic fight; they are joined by Kei. However, the brawl is interrupted when the U.S. Navy—horrified by Tetsuo's previous attack—tries to carpet bomb Neo-Tokyo, then gut it outright with its own laser satellite, Floyd. Tetsuo flies into space and brings down Floyd, causing it to crash down upon the aircraft carrier, killing the navy's fleet admiral and some of the scientists.
After the battle, Tetsuo unsuccessfully tries to resurrect Kaori, a girl he had been acquainted with who was killed in the battle. He heads down to Akira's old cryogenic chamber beneath the stadium, carrying her body. Kaneda and his friends appear to fight Tetsuo once more, but his powers once again transform him into a monstrous mass resembling a fetus, absorbing everything near him, as well as him slowly dying. Tetsuo pulls the cryogenic chamber above-ground and drops it onto Lady Miyako's temple. Lady Miyako dies while defying Tetsuo, but not before guiding Kei into space to fire upon him with SOL. Kei's attack awakens Tetsuo's full powers, triggering a psychic reaction similar to Akira's.
With the help of Kiyoko, Masaru, and a resurrected Takashi, Akira is able to cancel out Tetsuo's explosion with one of his own. They are also able to free Kaneda, who was trapped in Tetsuo's mass, as well as witnessing the truth about the power.
Following the climax, the United Nations sends forces to help the surviving parties of Neo-Tokyo. Kaneda and his friends confront them, declaring the city's sovereignty as the Great Tokyo Empire and warning them that Akira still lives. Kaneda and Kei meet up with the Colonel, and part ways as friends. As Kaneda and Kei ride through Neo-Tokyo, they see ghostly visions of Tetsuo and Yamagata. They also see the city shedding its ruined facade, returning to its former splendor.
- Kaneda (金田)
- Kaneda, full name Shōtarō Kaneda (金田 正太郎 Kaneda Shōtarō), is the main protagonist of Akira. He is a brash, carefree teenage delinquent and the leader of a motorcycle gang. Kaneda is best friends with Tetsuo, a member whom he's known since childhood, but that friendship is shattered after Tetsuo gains and abuses his psychic powers. He becomes involved with the underground resistance and falls in love with their member Kei. During the events of volume 3, Kaneda is enveloped by the explosion caused by Akira and according to Lady Miyako, he is beyond this world. Kaneda returns at the end of volume 4, and along Joker, Kai and Kei, they take down Tetsuo. Kaneda was listed at #11 on IGN's Top 25 Anime Characters of all time.
- Kei (ケイ)
- Kei, real name unknown, is the secondary protagonist of Akira. She is a member of a terrorist resistance movement led by the government mole Nezu. She claims to be the sister of fellow resistance fighter Ryu, though it is implied that this is not really the case. Kei and Kaneda do not get along when they first meet, and Kei at first seems to view Kaneda with contempt. Later in the story, however, the two become increasingly attracted and fall in love with each other. Kei is a powerful medium who cannot use psychic powers of her own, but can channel the powers of others through her body. She is taken in by Lady Miyako, and plays a critical role in the final battle.
- Tetsuo (鉄雄)
- Tetsuo, full name Tetsuo Shima (島 鉄雄 Shima Tetsuo), is the main antagonist of Akira. He evolves from Kaneda's best friend and gang member to his nemesis. He is involved in an accident at the very beginning of the story, which causes him to display immense psychic powers. He is soon recruited by the Colonel and became a test subject known as No.41 (41号 Yonjūichi-gō). It is mentioned that he is Akira's successor; however, Tetsuo's mental instability increases with the manifestation of his powers, which ultimately drives him insane and shatters his friendship with Kaneda. Later in the story he becomes Akira's second-in-command, before he begins to lose control of his powers. Later Kei attacks Tetsuo unlocking his full power. Akira with the help of others cancel out his explosion with one of his own.
- The Colonel (大佐 Taisa)
- The Colonel, last name Shikishima (敷島), is the head of the secret government project conducting research on psychic test subjects (including the Esper children, Tetsuo, and formerly Akira). Although he originally appears to be an antagonist, the Colonel is actually an honorable and dedicated soldier committed to protecting Neo-Tokyo from any second onslaught of Akira. Later in the story he appears helping an ill Chiyoko, and working with Kei. He is usually referred to by Kaneda as "The Skinhead", due to his distinctive crew cut.
- The Espers
- The Espers, also known as the Numbers (ナンバーズ Nanbāzu), are three children who are test subjects for the secret project. They have the bodies of children but chronologically are in their late 40's. Their bodies and faces have wizened with age but they haven't physically grown. They are former acquaintances of Akira, and survived his destruction of Tokyo. The Espers include:
- Kiyoko (キヨコ, designated No.25 (25号 Nijūgo-gō))
- Kiyoko is an Esper who is physically so weak she is confined to a bed at all times, which is why her companions Takashi and Masaru are protective of her. She has the ability to use teleportation and precognition. She is the one who predicted the demise of Neo-Tokyo and Tetsuo's involvement with Akira, but did not tell the Colonel the full story right away. She is also shown to be a mother figure and leader to the other Espers when it comes to decision making.
- Takashi (タカシ, designated No.26 (26号 Nijūroku-gō))
- Takashi is the first Esper to be introduced when he causes Tetsuo's accident in self-defense. He has the power to use psychokinesis. Takashi is a quiet, softspoken boy who has conflicting thoughts of the government and the people who had sheltered him and his friends, which was why he had escaped the Colonel's facility; however, Takashi is concerned for Kiyoko's safety, and that leaves him no choice than to stay. Takashi is accidentally killed by Nezu in his attempt to assassinate Akira, and the psychic trauma revolving around it afterwards caused Akira to destroy Neo-Tokyo with his immense powers. He is revived along with the rest of the deceased Espers near the end of the series.
- Masaru (マサル, designated No.27 (27号 Nijūnana-gō))
- Masaru is overweight and is physically confined either to a wheelchair or a special floating chair because of developing polio at a young age. He has the power to use psychokinesis. He is braver than Takashi and is the first to attack Tetsuo when he tries killing Kiyoko. Masaru looks after the well-being of his friends, especially that of Kiyoko who is physically frail.
- Akira (アキラ, designated No.28 (28号 Nijūhachi-gō))
- Akira is the character for whom the story is named. He has immense, almost godlike psychic powers, although from outward appearances he looks like a small, normal child. He is responsible for the destruction of Tokyo and the beginning of World War III. After the war, he was placed in cryogenics not far from the crater created by him, and the future site of the Neo-Tokyo Olympic Games. Shortly after being awoken by Tetsuo, he causes the destruction of Neo-Tokyo during a confrontation between Kaneda and the Colonel's forces. Later in the story he becomes Emperor of the Great Tokyo Empire. When he first appears, Akira has not aged in the decades he was kept frozen. Akira is essentially an empty shell; his powers have overwritten and destroyed his personality, leaving someone who almost never speaks or reacts to external stimuli, with a constant blank expression on his face. In the end he is shot by Ryu while psychically synced with the increasingly unstable Tetsuo. It is at this moment he is reunited with his friends and regains his personality.
- Kai (甲斐)
- Kai is a high-ranking member of Kaneda's gang. He does not play a major role at first, but becomes more prominent later in the story.
- Yamagata (山形)
- Yamagata is a member of Kaneda's biker gang who serves as Kaneda's right-hand-man. He is killed by Tetsuo's powers in the first volume after attempting to shoot him.
- Joker (ジョーカー Jōkā)
- Joker is the leader of the Clown gang, a motorcycle gang made up of junkies and drug addicts. Joker plays a small role in the beginning, but becomes more prominent much later in the story as an ally of Kaneda and Kai. He wears clown face paint and often changes the pattern.
- Nezu (根津)
- Nezu is a parliament member who is also the leader of the terrorist resistance movement against the government. He seems to be the mentor of Kei and Ryu, and purports to be saving the nation from the corrupt and ineffective bureaucrats in power. It soon becomes evident, however, that Nezu is just as corrupt, and that all he seeks to do is to seize power for himself. He later betrays Lady Miyako, as well as various other characters, as he attempts to take control of Akira. After losing Akira, he finds Ryu in a dark corridor with the boy in tow. He attempts to kill Ryu, thinking he is a member of Lady Miyako's group all along. Ryu, however, shoots Nezu. Nezu later tries to shoot Akira before he can be taken into the Colonel's custody. He misses and shoots Takashi in the head, instantly killing him. He was in turn shot and killed by the Colonel's men.
- Ryu (竜 Ryū)
- Ryu, short for Ryusaku (竜作 Ryūsaku), is a comrade of Kei's in the resistance movement. As the story progresses, Ryu abandons his terrorist roots and becomes more heroic, working with Yamada and guiding Kaneda to Akira's chamber where Tetsuo is held up, but battles with alcoholism. In the final volume, Ryu shoots and "kills" Akira; but he is killed by falling elevator debris shortly afterwards.
- Chiyoko (チヨコ)
- Chiyoko is a tough, heavyset woman and weapons expert who is involved in the resistance and eventually becomes a key supporting character. She acts as a mother figure to Kei.
- The Doctor (ドクター Dokutā)
- The Doctor, last name Onishi (大西 Ōnishi), is the head scientist of the secret psychic research project who also serves as the Colonel's scientific advisor. He belonged to the second generation of scientists overseeing the project after Akira killed the last. It is his curiosity and negligence for anyone's well-being that unlocks and nurtures Tetsuo's destructive power in the first place. When Akira is freed by Tetsuo from his cryogenic lair, the Doctor fails to get inside the shelter and freezes to death.
- Lady Miyako (ミヤコ様 Miyako-sama)
- Lady Miyako is a former test subject known as No.19. She is the high priestess of a temple in Neo-Tokyo and a major ally of Kaneda and Kei as the story progresses. Lady Miyako is also an initial ally of Nezu and gives Tetsuo a lecture on his powers. She plays an instrumental role in the final battle with Tetsuo at the cost of her own life.
- Sakaki (サカキ, also 榊)
- Sakaki is an empowered and fond disciple of Lady Miyako. She is an unseemingly fast and strong girl, tomboyish in appearance, who is sent to battle the Espers, the military, Kaneda and Nezu in order to recover Akira. Sakaki only appears in the third volume, in which she is killed by the military.
- Mozu (モズ)
- Mozu is a girl, plump in appearance, who is an empowered and fond disciple of Lady Miyako. She later teams with Sakaki and Miki to recover Akira. Mozu only appears in the third volume, in which she is killed by Takashi.
- Miki (ミキ)
- Miki is an empowered girl, gaunt in appearance and third fond disciple of Lady Miyako. She only appears and in the third volume, in which she is killed by Nezu's henchmen.
- The Great Tokyo Empire (大東京帝国 Dai Tōkyō Teikoku)
- The Great Tokyo Empire is a small army which rises amid the ruins of Neo-Tokyo after its destruction at the hands of Akira, made up of crazed zealots who worship Akira as an Emperor for the "miracles" he performs, though the power lies squarely with his so-called Prime Minister, Tetsuo. Disorganized and unruly, the army rejects outside aid and wars with Lady Miyako's followers. Tetsuo secretly drugs the rations distributed to its members. At the end of the story, Kaneda and friends take the Empire's name and declare Neo-Tokyo a sovereign nation, expelling the American and United Nations forces that land in the city.
- Kaori (カオリ)
- Kaori is a young girl who appears late in the story and is recruited as one of Tetsuo's sex slaves. She is later becoming an object of his sincere affections. Kaori also serves as Akira's babysitter. She is later shot in the back by the Captain. Tetsuo attempts to resurrect her but fails.
- The Captain (隊長 Taichō)
- The Captain is an opportunist posing as a fanatical devotee of Tetsuo who serves him as his aide-de-camp late in the story but secretly desires control of the Great Tokyo Empire. During the confrontation between Tetsuo and the U.S. Marines, he is caught in the crossfire and is killed by the bacterial gas Yamada uses.
- The Birdman (鳥男 Tori Otoko)
- The Birdman is one of Tetsuo's elite psychic shocktroops. He wears a blindfold and is frequently standing atop ruined buildings and rafters, observing and reporting on the goings-on within the Empire's turf, and essentially acting as a security system. It is implied that his psychic powers allow him to sense sights and sounds from a great distance, further embodied by the all-seeing eye drawn on his forehead. Birdman dies when Yamada knocks him from his perch, causing him to fall to his death.
- The Eggman (ホーズキ男 Hōzuki Otoko)
- The Eggman is a member of Tetsuo's shock troops. The Eggman is described as a fat, short man with glasses who encounters Yamada and the Marines at Olympic Stadium. He was friends with "Birdman", and managed to use his power to crush a Marine's heart before being executed by Yamada.
- Lieutenant Yamada (山田中尉 Yamada-chūi)
- Lieutenant Yamada, full name George Yamada (ジョージ 山田 Jōji Yamada), is a Japanese-American soldier who is sent on a mission to assassinate Akira and Tetsuo in the latter-half of the story, after Akira has levelled Neo-Tokyo. Yamada plans to kill the two powerful psychics with darts containing a biological poison. He is later joined by a team of U.S. Marines to carry out the mission at the Olympic Stadium after it becomes the headquarters for Akira and Tetsuo's Great Tokyo Empire. However, the biochemical weapons fail to harm Tetsuo, instead giving him temporary control of his expanding powers again, who proceeds to kill Yamada.
- Juvenile A (ジュヴィナイルA Juvinairu Ē)
- Juvenile A was an international team of scientists who are appointed to investigate psychic events in Neo-Tokyo in the latter-half of the story. Project members include Dr. Dubrovsky (ドブロフスキー博士 Doburofusukī-hakase), Dr. Simmons (シモンズ博士 Shimonzu-hakase), Dr. Jorris (ジョリス博士 Jorisu-hakase), Dr. Hock (ホック博士 Hokku-hakase), Professor Bernardi (ベルナルディ教授 Berunarudi-kyōju), and Karma Tangi (カルマ・タンギ Karuma Tangi).
Katsuhiro Otomo had previously created Fireball (1979), an unfinished series in which he disregarded accepted manga art styles and which established his interest in science fiction as a setting. Fireball anticipated a number of plot elements of Akira, with its story of young freedom fighters trying to rescue one of the group's older brother who was being used by the government in psychic experiments, with the older brother eventually unleashing a destructive "fireball" of energy (the story may have drawn inspiration from the Alfred Bester's 1953 novel The Demolished Man). The setting was again used the following year in Domu, which was awarded the Science Fiction Grand Prix and became a bestseller. Otomo then began work on his most ambitious work to date, Akira. While Akira came to be viewed as part of the emerging cyberpunk genre, Otomo was not aware of the seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer when he began serializing the story, as it was not translated into Japanese until 1985. Instead, he cited as influences such works as the movie Star Wars, the comics of Moebius, the manga Tetsujin 28-go, and the science fiction of Seishi Yokomizo which dealt with "new breeds" of humanity. Famed manga artist and film director Satoshi Kon acted as an uncredited assistant artist for the series.
Akira launched in 1982, serialized in Japan's Young Magazine, and concluded in 1990. The work, totaling more than 2,000 pages, was collected and released in six volumes by Kodansha. Concurrently with working on the series, Otomo agreed to an anime adaptation of the work provided he retained creative control. This insistence was based on his experiences working on Harmagedon. The film was released theatrically in Japan in 1988, and followed by limited theatrical releases in various Western territories from 1989 to 1991.
In 1988, the manga was published in the United States by Epic Comics, an imprint of Marvel Comics. This colorized version ended its 38-issue run in 1995. The coloring was by Steve Oliff, hand-picked for the role by Otomo. Oliff persuaded Marvel to use computer coloring, and Akira became the first ongoing comic book to feature computer coloring. The coloring was more subtle than that seen before and far beyond the capabilities of Japanese technology of the time. It played an important part in Akira 's success in Western markets, and revolutionized the way comics were colorized. Delays in the publication were caused by Otomo's retouching of artwork for the Japanese collections. It was these works which formed the basis for translation, rather than the initial serialization. The Epic edition suffered significant delays toward the end of the serial, requiring several years to publish the final 8 issues. Marvel planned to collect the colorized versions as a 13-volume paperback series, and teamed with Graphitti Designs to release six limited-edition hardcover volumes; however, the collected editions ceased in 1993, so the final 3 paperbacks and planned sixth hardcover volume were never published. A partially colorized version was serialized in British comic/magazine Manga Mania in the early to mid '90s.
A new edition of Akira was later published in paperback from 2000 to 2002 by Dark Horse Comics, and in the UK by Titan Books, this time in its original 6-volume black-and-white form with a new translation, although Otomo's painted color pages were used minimally at the start of each book as in the original manga. The English-language rights to Akira are currently held by Kodansha USA, who re-released the manga from 2009 to 2011 through Random House. Kodansha's version is largely identical to the Dark Horse version.
The serial nature of the work influenced the storyline structure, allowing for numerous sub-plots, a large cast and an extended middle sequence. This allowed for a focus on destructive imagery and afforded Otomo the chance to portray a strong sense of movement. He also established a well-realized science fiction setting, and through his art evoked a strong sense of emotion within both character and reader. The work has no consistent main character, but Kaneda and Tetsuo are almost always key characters throughout.
|No.||Title||Japanese release||North American release|
|1||Tetsuo (鉄雄)||September 14, 1984
|December 13, 2000 (Dark Horse)
October 13, 2009 (Kodansha)
ISBN 978-1-56971-498-0 (Dark Horse)
ISBN 978-1-935429-00-5 (Kodansha)
|2||Akira (アキラ)||August 27, 1985
|March 28, 2001 (Dark Horse)
June 22, 2010 (Kodansha)
ISBN 978-1-56971-499-7 (Dark Horse)
ISBN 978-1-935429-02-9 (Kodansha)
|3||Akira II (アキラ II)||August 21, 1986
|June 27, 2001 (Dark Horse)
July 13, 2010 (Kodansha)
ISBN 978-1-56971-525-3 (Dark Horse)
ISBN 978-1-935429-04-3 (Kodansha)
|4||Kei (ケイ)||July 1, 1987
|September 19, 2001 (Dark Horse)
November 30, 2010 (Kodansha)
ISBN 978-1-56971-526-0 (Dark Horse)
ISBN 978-1-935429-06-7 (Kodansha)
|5||Kei II (ケイ II)||November 26, 1990
|December 19, 2001 (Dark Horse)
March 01, 2011 (Kodansha)
ISBN 978-1-56971-527-7 (Dark Horse)
ISBN 978-1-935429-07-4 (Kodansha)
|6||Kaneda (金田)||March 15, 1993
|March 27, 2002 (Dark Horse)
April 12, 2011 (Kodansha)
ISBN 978-1-56971-528-4 (Dark Horse)
ISBN 978-1-935429-08-1 (Kodansha)
Akira, like some of Otomo's other works (such as Domu), revolves around the basic idea of individuals with superhuman powers, especially psychokinetic abilities. However, these are not central to the story, which instead concerns itself with character, societal pressures and political machination. Motifs common in the manga include youth alienation, government corruption and inefficiency, and a military grounded in old-fashioned Japanese honor, displeased with the compromises of modern society.
Jenny Kwok Wah Lau writes in Multiple Modernities that Akira is a "direct outgrowth of war and postwar experiences." She argues that Otomo grounds the work in recent Japanese history and culture, using the atomic bombing of Japan during World War II, alongside the economic resurgence and issues relating to over-crowding as inspirations and underlying issues. Thematically the work centres on the nature of youth to rebel against authority, control methods, community building and the transformation experienced in adolescent passage. The latter is best represented in the work by the morphing experienced by characters.
Susan Napier has identified this morphing and metamorphosis as a factor which marks the work as postmodern; "a genre which suggests that identity is in constant fluctuation." She also sees the work as an attack on the Japanese establishment, arguing that Otomo satirizes aspects of Japanese culture, in particular schooling and the rush for new technology. Akira 's central images, of characters aimlessly roaming the streets on motor bikes is seen to represent the futility of the quest for self-knowledge. The work also focuses on loss, with all characters in some form orphaned and having no sense of history. The landscapes depicted are ruinous, with old Tokyo represented only by a dark crater. The nihilistic nature of the work is felt by Napier to tie into a wider theme present in Japanese literature of the time.
The series has won a great deal of recognition in the industry, including the 1984 Kodansha Manga Award for best general manga. It won the Harvey Award for Best American Edition of Foreign Material in 1993, and was nominated for the Harvey for Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work in 2002. In her book The Fantastic in Japanese Literature, Susan Napier described the work as a "no holds barred enjoyment of fluidity and chaos". The work is credited as having introduced both manga and anime to Western audiences. The translation of the work into French in 1991 by Glénat "opened the floodgates to the Japanese invasion." The imagery in Akira, together with that of Blade Runner formed the blueprint for similar Japanese works of a dystopian nature of the late 1990s. Examples include Ghost in the Shell and Armitage III. Akira cemented Otomo's reputation and the success of the animated feature allowed him to concentrate on film rather than the manga form in which his career began.
The movie led the way for the growing popularity of anime in the West, with Akira considered to have been the trailblazer for the second wave of anime fandom that began in the early 1990s. One of the reasons for the movie's success was the highly advanced quality of its animation. At the time, most anime was notorious for cutting production corners with limited motion, such as having only the characters' mouths move while their faces remained static. Akira broke from this trend with meticulously detailed scenes, exactingly lip-synched dialogue — a first for an anime production (voices were recorded before the animation was completed, rather than the opposite) — and super-fluid motion as realized in the film's more than 160,000 animation cels.
While most of the character designs and basic settings were directly adapted from the original manga, the restructured plot of the movie differs considerably from the print version, pruning much of the second half of the series. The film Akira is regarded by many critics as a landmark anime film, one that influenced much of the art in the anime world that followed its release.
In 2003, Tokyopop published a reverse adaption of sorts in the form of an Akira "cine-manga." The format consists of animation cels from the film version cut up and arranged with word balloons in order to resemble comic book panels.
A graphic adventure game based on the animated movie adaptation was released in 1988 by Taito for the Famicom console. The video game version has the player in the role of Kaneda, with the storyline starting with Kaneda and his motorcycle gang in police custody. In 1994, a British-made action game was released for the Amiga CD32, and in 2002 Bandai released a pinball simulation, Akira Psycho Ball for the PlayStation 2.
In 2002, talks that Warner Bros. had acquired rights to create an American live action film of Akira surfaced. Since the initial announcement, a number of directors, producers and writers have been reported to be attached to the film, starting with Stephen Norrington (writer/director) and Jon Peters (producer). In 2008, Anime News Network reported that Ruairi Robinson would direct, Gary Whitta would write, and Andrew Lazar, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Davisson would produce the film. In late 2009, Gary Whitta stated he was no longer attached to the film, and Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby were rumored to be taking over the script writing. In February 2010, Deadline.com reported that Warner Bros. were in talks with Allen and Albert Hughes to direct the film. On June 17, 2010, Lazar said that a new writer had been hired and that the movie was being fast tracked. He also stated that only Albert Hughes would direct the film, and that the first movie would be based on volumes 1–3 and the second on volumes 4–6. In April 2011, Chris Weston stated he was working on concept art and storyboards for the live action Akira, but the film had not been approved for production yet. On May 26, 2011 it was reported that Albert Hughes had left the project due to creative differences. As of January 6, 2012, production has been "shut down" for the fourth time.
In June 1995, Kodansha released Akira Club, a compilation of various materials related to the production of the series. These include test designs of the paperback volume covers, title pages as they appeared in Young Magazine, and images of various related merchandise. Otomo also shares his commentaries in each page. Dark Horse collaborated with Kodansha to release an English-translated version of the book in 2007.
- In various interviews with the U.S. edition of Shonen Jump, Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto has cited the Akira manga and anime as major influences, particularly as the basis of his own manga career.
- Acclaimed anime director Satoshi Kon was credited for some of the artwork in the Marvel editions of Akira.
- Josh Trank the director of the film Chronicle cited Akira as an influence.
- Sean Lennon has expressed being a fan of the story, since he was a child living in Japan.
- The Akira Class starship from the Star Trek Franchise, and first introduced in Star Trek First Contact, was named after the anime by its designer Alex Jaeger, of Industrial Light & Magic.
- In The King of Fighters 2002, Kusanagi and K9999 have an Akira-esque intro before they fight, since Kusanagi has the same voice as Kaneda and K9999 has the same voice as Tetsuo. For more information, see Akira (film).
- Kanye West has a tribute to the anime film in his Stronger video.
- M83 has created a three-part tribute to Akira (and other influences) with their videos for Midnight City, Reunion and Wait.
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- "Chronicle captures every teen's fantasy of fighting back, say film's creators". Io9.com. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
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- M83. "M83 'Midnight City' Official video". 2011 M83 Recording Inc. Under exclusive license to Mute for North America and to Naïve for the rest of the world. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
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