Well, we’ve come to the end of yet another journey here on First Panel – a LONG, intense journey to Neo-Tokyo, ca. 2030, where super-powerful telekinetics rule over a post-apocalyptic megalopolis, whilst being assaulted on all sides by assorted parties who fear their uncontrolled power.
This final chapter in the Akira series – Vol. 6 – is the swan song of Katsuhiro Otomo‘s epic – and I mean EPIC – Manga tour de force. I still find it hard to believe, but Otomo wrote and illustrated this entire series himself. For the record, that’s 2100 excruciatingly detailed pages. It’s not so hard to believe however that he spent 7 1/2 years of his life doing it. Honestly, I’m somewhat surprised it didn’t take longer…
For the record, the version I’ve been reading and reviewing here on First Panel is the recently finished reissue by Random House.
After all my admiration of the scope of this work and the ridiculous dedication and effort that Otomo put forth, the first thing I’m going to do is complain about how long volume 6 was. 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, a lot of very important things transpired in this book (obviously) – I just felt that they probably could have been accomplished in about half as many pages. Allow me to explain…
Most of this volume (and this is the longest volume of the series, at 440 pages) is one big, long, drawn-out slug-fest between the forces of “good” (Kaneda, Kei, Lady Miyako, etc.), and “bad” (Tetsuo, Akira, their disciples). Of course, in the grand tradition of manga (and interesting stories in general, I guess), it’s not quite as simple as good vs. bad, because naturally we’re all pieces of the whole and we all have the potential for both good and evil and blah blah blah – I’ll get into that more in a minute. My point here is that for the longest time it felt like they were fighting in one place, then they’d move somewhere else and fight there, then again, and again, all the while just inflicting massive damage to the already decidedly low-rent condition of the city.
As I was saying, for most of its run Akira seemed like a pretty straight-forward, action-packed, post-apocalyptic, well-executed, sci-fi (is that enough compound modifiers for you?) thriller. But alas, it seems Otomo could not resist the great Manga curse, and toward the end of Vol. 6 he drifts into that stereotypical deep, spiritual, esoteric, what-the-hell-are-we-talking-about-here examination of life, the universe, some force we can assume to be God, etc. If you’ve read any Manga or watched any Anime, you know what I’m talking about.
I say curse, but I’m well aware that I’m fully a dumb American (and an atheist to boot), and that more thoughtful or spiritual readers may find this kind of philosophizing very rewarding. I’m not going to lie, all that fluffy stuff is rather thought-provoking, and it did lend a sense of gravitas to the big finale, but I guess it was just a jarring switch from the thousands of pages of death, destruction, and explosions that immediately preceded it. I think Manga and Anime writers just want you to have some kind of epiphany at the end of their stories, and I guess God bless ’em for that. I capitalized God just for you true believers. 😉
That being said, perhaps all the deep thoughts were necessary to give Tetsuo and Akira the ending that they deserved. Yes, they do ultimately end, but that’s all I’ll say about that, because I don’t want to totally spoil the ending for you. 🙂
Despite the great length, I generally enjoyed the events of Vol. 6 – and the drawn-out, spooky ending didn’t ruin this book or the series in general for me.
Here’s where I would normally wax rhapsodic regarding Katsuhiro Otomo’s brilliant, technical, masterful illustrations, but I think I’ve done plenty of that on this blog already. If you missed it, check out this post and this post.
One thing I will elaborate on is Otomo’s grotesque renderings of Tetsuo’s body as he slowly loses control of the incredible energy flowing through him. You can literally feel the organic bursts, pulses, and explosions of flesh. It’s horrible to think of and even more horrible to see, and we can assume that is exactly what Otomo was shooting for. He succeeded in retching spades…
Akira, Vol. 6 was not my favorite chapter in the Akira series, but it did its job in that it wrapped up this sprawling story in a very satisfying manner. Plus, we saw some of the most impressive scenes of power and destruction of the entire saga, so that was fun. So I’m giving Akira, Vol. 6 a 7 out of 10, but the series as a whole is really a must-read for any comic fan – especially those with even a passing interest in Manga.
Akira. Pick it up. Read it. In the world of comics, it defines the word “classic” – up there with Watchmen, From Hell, V for Vendetta, Sin City, etc. Only Japanese, of course. Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Otomo…