The saga of Akira begins with an accident. Kaneda, Tetsuo, and the rest of their biker gang are on their usual night run when they encounter Takashi, a boy with an old man face who wield massive supernatural powers.
After that night, Tetsuo slowly turns into a pill-popping, supernatural powerhouse with a violent tendency, while Kaneda finds himself at the forefront of a revolutionary group that plans on overthrowing the government.
From then on, both childhood friends become a vital part of opposing entities.
And in the middle of all of them is a catastrophic threat called Akira. Sitting in silence while still emitting menace to everybody as if he’s constantly watching over them from afar with a sniper rifle.
Moving outward, there’s also the military and the religious cult. Two juggernauts that although differ in their approach to things, they’re similar in the way that both command respect, power, and resource that no man should ever be allowed to possess.
Somewhere in the middle of that chaotic, post-world war III, Japan is where the story blooms.
Akira is a lot of things. It’s a cyberpunk story, it’s a military story, it’s a supernatural and horror story. It’s also a story about friendship and bonds between fellow men and a philosophical story about what an unchecked power could do to you, both figuratively and metaphorically
But the real charm of Akira lies in the characters. This is a story about people and their choices.
Just like people in the real-life, no one is pure good or pure evil here. They’re a complex human being with contradictory behaviors and would do questionable things when they’re desperate.
Tetsuo is not somebody who’s born to be a sadistic criminal. He was just a teenage kid who likes bikes and hanging around with his friends. And Kaneda is not a righteous person with a strong sense of justice since he came out of his mother’s womb. No, he’ a prick, he’s a drug addict, and he is one of the most punchable main characters in the history of manga.
Both of them are far from perfect and what happened to them and their decisions shape who they are as a person. You’ll find moments where you want to cheer and sympathize with them both and at the next moment, you’d want them dead.
Tetsuo, Kaneda, and every other character in Akira, even the minor ones, undergo growth and development throughout the story. Who they are at the end is not the same person as the ones at the beginning.
And that’s what makes them so relatable. Even amidst the chaotic development that the author threw at us on every page, we’d still manage to find something to connect to with the characters.
And that is good storytelling.
Akira takes place in urban Tokyo and the year is 2030. But even with its flying chariots and laser guns, there’s a thick sense of despair hanging in the air. The scar of World war III is still visibly open to the people of Tokyo
The feeble state of the government and the massive crater in the heart of the city act as a glaring reminder of the terrible war that happened there 38 years ago.
Skyscrapers are blocking the view no matter where you go, yet the slumps, gangs, and drugs still scattered throughout the city. Despite one downfall after another, Japan, and especially Tokyo, always manage to gets back on its feet. Yet some people still fighting for scraps as if they’re living in the middle of a war.
The rich and powerful fly with their private jets and choppers. The biker gangs pierce through the night with their heavily modified bikes. The revolutionaries creep through the sewers to plant bombs and sabotage supply lines.
All the while Akira sleeps in his solitary chamber, deep under the metropolitan city of Tokyo. Waiting for the time of his awakening.
Akira is unmistakably a dystopian tale. The shape and form of the city may change throughout the story, but the feeling of desolation always remains.
As a black and white comic book, manga tends to have a light and easy-going atmosphere to it. But Katsuhiro Otomo, the author of Akira, is one of the masters at turning the trademark lightness of the medium into something ominous.
He uses lights, or the lack thereof, to enhance the sense of dread in his scenes. Well-placed darkness would instantly turn what usually is a lighthearted situation into something serious and gloomy.
Do it over and over again, and you’ll end up with the bleak atmosphere in Akira. You can feel the despair and helplessness of the city and the characters from every page. Each panel ooze with the feeling of impending doom that might happen at any moment.
The fact that he could maintain the tone and the atmosphere of the story for over two thousand pages is nothing short of miraculous.
There are a lot of elements that blend in Akira and it always seems like it walks between the line of chaos and order. What ties all of those disparate components together is the tight story, three-dimensional characters, and delicate artworks.
Different people might pick up different parts of it that they like more than others. Whether it’s the colliding of the genre, the grand concepts and ideas, the mindblowing art direction, or the flawless executions, every reader would surely found something that they could admire.
And that is what makes Akira so great. That is what makes Akira one of the best manga ever made.
This is the first out of five featured articles on Akira. Up next is the ten things you should know before reading Akira.