Ok, in spite of 3 kids and a job (and an ever-ongoing freelance job), I finally finished reading Akira: Volume 4, and found some time to sit down and write about it. I know, I know – waah waah waah. Anyway, thank you for hanging in there; and without further ado…
First, let’s have a little background: the Akira story has actually been around for a while. It was initially published in serial form in Young Magazine (some Japanese manga mag, I assume) from 1982 to 1990. It was then collected in 6 volumes and later translated into English, but the version I’ve been working my way through is a brand new reissue by Kodansha Comics. In fact, the final volume of the reissue just came out 2 weeks ago.
Now, if you were in college (and maybe smoked herb) in the 90’s, then you might be familiar with the 1988 anime film adaptation of Akira. That movie was actually written and directed by the book’s creator, the freakishly talented Katsuhiro Otomo. If you’ve seen the movie, it should be noted that, while the plot generally follows the events of the books, the story is greatly shortened for the screen. What I’m saying is, there’s a lot more to discover in the books.
I know it might be a little weird to review a book that falls in the middle of a series, without having reviewed the preceding volumes. Well, I wasn’t a talented and prolific blogger back when I read the previous volumes, so LAY OFF. Aw honey, that’s just jokes. Anyway, do let me be clear that I highly recommend the Akira series, and I of course recommend that you start at the beginning with Volume 1. However, for the purposes of today’s review, I’ll be focusing on Volume 4. So let’s get to it!
Akira is set in Neo Tokyo, a massive post-WWIII megalopolis of the not-too-distant future, where the streets are policed by deadly giant spiderbots, biker gangs battle for control of the highways, and the military conducts covert psychic/telekinetic weapon experiments. Pretty cool, huh?
I won’t get into too many specifics of the actual events of Volume 4, because I don’t want to spoil the fun for the uninitiated. Suffice to say that if you have any interest in science fiction, manga, post-apocalyptic settings, destruction on a massive scale, fantastical technology, or just cool shit in general, then you’ll find something here to love. Also, these books are a roller coaster ride of action and more action. There’s plenty here that will make your eyes pop, and very little that will bore you.
In addition, Otomo’s wide cast of characters are often funny and always appealing, and richly developed. The emotional investment that is necessary for maximum enjoyment of a story comes easily between these pages.
It should be mentioned that in Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo follows in the grand tradition of manga/anime writers who’s stories lean heavily upon underlying themes of the human condition and even more things esoteric. There is some kind of lesson to be learned here, although as a dumb American, it has more or less escaped me. Did I mention that it’s SUPER COOL?
Quite simply, the illustrations in Akira amaze me. The first thing you’ll notice is the incredible technicality of Otomo’s pen. His lines are the exacting paths of an architect’s – in fact it’s obvious that he actually employs the tools and techniques of a draftsman. Perspective is perfect, texture is tactile, and the textual “sound effects” are delightful. Also, emotion is expertly conveyed. Otomo’s characters are Oscar-worthy actors, who need no lines to communicate exactly what they’re thinking and feeling.
It also struck me that the influence of traditional Japanese art is definitely at play here, famous works like The Great Wave off Kanagawa, and Sudden Shower at the Atake Bridge. The Japanese have long been practicing, perfecting, and appreciating the art of the line, whether in Ukiyo-e paintings or calligraphy. And that’s alright with me. If I remember correctly from Art History 101, Japanese art had a direct influence on the Art Nouveau of the early 20th century, which is one of my favorite styles, and in my opinion this aesthetic can be traced directly to modern day graffiti art.
As I said earlier, I thoroughly enjoyed Akira, Volume 4. When judged in a bubble, it suffers just a bit from being somewhat of a transitional episode of the grander Akira tale – but still, it’s a fine comic with plenty of action to keep you engaged (not to mention the incredible art). While the Akira story in general is probably a 9 out of 10 in my opinion, I’d place this particular volume at about a 7 out of 10. I’m definitely looking forward to filling you in on volumes 5 & 6 in the (hopefully) near future. At any rate, pick volume 4 up (after you’ve read volumes 1, 2, & 3), and you will surely not be disappointed.
Get your essential manga on, and happy reading!