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Why Did Tetsuo Turn Evil? And Other Questions on Akira

Akira is an epic saga that spans across more than two thousand pages. And while I genuinely believe Katsuhiro Otomo has done a terrific job in presenting and explaining the story. With such a dense story like this, it is inevitable that a reader might have some questions regarding some elements of the story. 

So, after scouring the internet for a while, I’ve found the following questions and decided to answer them as best as I could in this article. 

Keep in mind that these are mainly questions on the manga version of Akira. But I think it should answer the similar questions that you might have on the anime version as well.

Also, it goes without saying that it will be chock full of spoilers. So if you haven’t read or watched Akira before, well, spoiler alert!

1. What is the purpose of the capsule in Akira? 

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There are two kinds of capsules in Akira and both of them look quite similar to each other. The first one appears quite heavily in the first volume of the manga. And it is simply a recreational drug used by the people. Kinda like the drugs in the real world. 

In the early pages of the first chapter, it is shown that Kaneda received the drugs from a nurse that he was having a relationship with. But the widespread appearance of the drugs throughout the volume indicates that it seems to be a relatively easy drug to acquire on the streets. 

The second drug is a stimulant of sorts that was specially made by the military as a way to suppress psychic powers. Tetsuo used these drugs to keep himself at bay. Because otherwise, the power would consume him. 

In the second half of the story, Tetsuo and his followers also used these drugs as a way to awaken psychic powers within regular people. Most of whom die upon consuming the drugs.

2. What exactly is Akira?

Akira is a boy that holds utterly immense psychic powers. He was the one that caused the catastrophic event that caused World War III in the series. 

Just like other psychic children in the series, he used to be a regular child that was brought to the military to be a lab rat. The scientists run all kinds of hideous experiments on them in an attempt to awaken a supernatural power. 

Some of the kids manage to get a hold of those powers but their body has to pay a terrible price for it. Akira is one of those kids. He manages to acquire the strongest power out of them all at the cost of his humanity.

Throughout the story, he was treated more like a dangerous and unstable weapon rather than a child. Because that’s what he has become. An embodiment of colossal destructive power. 

3. Why did Tetsuo turn evil?

Tatsuo, along with Kaneda and the rest of their gang, was already a bunch of delinquents to begin with. So those tendencies towards violence were already there. But it was still mostly a brawl and other minor crimes. 

What pushes him over the edge is his newly acquired psychic power. One day he was just a regular kid, the next day he could destroy buildings with his thoughts. 

As I mentioned earlier, the power put a great strain on his mind. He is barely able to sit tight without the stimulant drugs. So in his pursuit to keep himself together, he turns to the only thing he knows. Violence. 

Unfortunately, the more he relies on his powers for his violent tendencies, the more it corrupts his mind. As he keeps on doing one bad thing after another, he also comes to tolerate it. Killing people has become just another thing he does in his spare time. 

Without realizing it, he has become the symbol of fear and evil. And since he had never been in the spotlight before, he comes to like those feelings of being on top of everybody else. And that’s how he became evil.

4. Why did Akira destroy Tokyo?

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In the manga, Akira destroyed Tokyo twice. Once was thirty years before the event of the series. It was one of the major reasons why World War III happened. 

It was unclear what caused him to unleash that much destructive power at the time. But shortly after that, the military decided to imprison him in a frozen chamber under the city. 

The second time is at the end of the first story arc. The cause is severe shock and trauma. Just minutes after seeing his old friends for the first time in decades, he witnessed one of them getting shot in the head. 

While Akira indeed had lost his personality completely, this scene proves that his memories still somewhat remain. And seeing such a horrifying thing happen to someone he used to hold dear seems to send a jolt deep inside his being and makes him lose control of his power. 

And that triggers the big bang that ravages Tokyo for the second time.

5. How did Tetsuo get powers?

It is never fully explained in the manga how Tetsuo gains that much power. From what I can gather, his accidental meeting with one of the psychic children somehow awakens the supernatural power that lies dormant in him all this time. 

The more he uses the power, the more he consumes the drugs, the greater his power becomes. 

The military did run some research and experiment on him for a short while. But even they seem to be surprised with how he gets his powers and how greater it is compared to the other children. 

6. Is Tetsuo stronger than Akira?

No. As far as I can tell from the manga, Akira is way stronger than Tetsuo. But he is a very close second. The thing that makes Akira so powerful is because he has access to the source of unlimited power at the cost of his humanity. Not that he wanted to, he just somehow did it.

Tetsuo, on the other hand, is still struggling to keep his thoughts and personality together. In a way, he doesn’t want to be like Akira. He still wants to retain his humanity. 

There are moments at the later part of the second story arc where Tetsuo sincerely refers to Akira as his lord. Out of deep fear and respect. 

Near the end of the series, there are times where Tetsuo is almost swallowed by his power. At that time, he acquired a similar amount of power as Akira. But he has to turn into a giant blob of meat baby to do that. 

7. What vehicle did Kaneda ride in Akira?

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Kaneda rides several vehicles throughout the series. Most of them are bikes. Although none of them has any recognizable brand on them. They also never mention the name of the vehicles. 

His most iconic one is of course the big red bike that somehow resembled the combination of a big Harley cruiser bike and a MotoGP bike. It seems to be a custom bike that was specially made for him. He used it heavily in the first volume and later on reunited with it near the end of the series.

The second bike is a dirt bike. Again, no brands. I’m not a motorcycle guy so there might be some recognizable features of it that come from a real-life brand that I’m not aware of. Because the design is obviously inspired by a real dirt bike.

The next one is an original flying chariot that was developed by the military. It is one of the most futuristic vehicles in the series. It could hold several people at the same time and it also has machine guns attached to it.

The last one is a modified autonomous military peacekeeper robot. It was dismantled and redesigned to be able to hold more passengers inside. It has six legs with tires underneath each one. 

This unique design makes it possible for it to maneuver around every kind of terrain. But the control is somewhat similar to that of a gaming console. Which is both cool and weird at the same time.

8. What happens to Tetsuo in Akira?

There are lots of things that happened at the end of the story that not only involved Tetsuo and Kaneda, but also Akira, Kei, and the psychic children as well. 

Some of them died while others managed to live. As for Tetsuo, he simply vanishes. His physical body is long gone by this point but his thought and personality have somehow remained. Until it suddenly vanished without a trace.

As to where he was going, I can’t say for sure. He could simply be dead or he may finally be a part of the stream of universal force that has been their source of power all this time. One thing for sure is he’s no longer alive on earth by the end of the series.

9. Who is the villain in Akira?

There are several answers to this question. One of the things that makes Akira great is how the story unfolds over time to the point that everything is simply inevitable. 

If we talk about pure killing and destruction, then Akira and Tetsuo are surely the villains. But none of them wants the powers to begin with. And when they get that power, Akira loses himself while Tetsuo constantly lives on the edge of a nervous breakdown. 

If we talk about bad intentions, then the government and the military are the real villains here. They are the ones who started the whole experiment with the children decades before. All in the hope of creating a weapon of mass destruction. 

And when Akira proves to be too dangerous and Tetsuo is too unpredictable, they still hold on to them. Hoping they could somehow control them and use them as they see fit.

None of the events in the story would’ve happened if they simply kill Akira while he is still frozen or Tetsuo while he is still not strong enough. Their refusal to do so is what sets the whole event in motion.

Or we could simply say all of them are the villain. 

10. Why is Akira so popular?

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There are two reasons that I could think of that are responsible for the massive popularity of Akira. The first one is the genre and the second one is the animated movie. 

Akira is one of the pioneers of what is now known as Cyberpunk, a subgenre of Science fiction. Published in 1982, Akira even predates something that most people considered to be the granddaddy of cyberpunk, a novel called Neuromancer that was published in 1984.

As something that was seen as new and fresh at the time, lots of people were excited about the work. Many people, manga readers or not, began to read the manga just to see what the fuss was all about. Which in turn propels the popularity of Akira even further. The fact that it is also a great story on its own right certainly made it easier for people to recommend it to others.

The second reason is the anime film with the same name. Released in 1988, the movie Akira is a condensed and somewhat modified version of the manga. It used lots of animation techniques that were considered to be groundbreaking at the time. Truly one of the best anime movies ever made.

But what launched it to stardom was the popularity it gained from western audiences, especially the US. The 1980s were the decades when two of the original Star Wars movie trilogy graced the big screen. People were crazy about science fiction then. So Akira really came at the perfect time.

So all of those things combined are what I think contributes to the immense popularity that Akira enjoys even to this day.

11. What is the point of Akira?

Just like any other manga, or even any kind of storytelling medium for that matter, the main point of Akira is simply entertainment for the masses. That is of course if we talk only from a real-life perspective.

If we talk about it from a sort of philosophical point of view, then the answers could be a lot of things. What the story means could be different from one reader to the next. 

I can’t talk about it from a purely academic standpoint since I don’t have any background in that matter. But multiple works have been published talking about this kind of thing. Such as the books by Jenny Kwok Wah Lau or Susan J. Napier. You can click on those affiliate links to see their works on Amazon.

You can check them out if you’re interested in that sort of thing. Or if you’re a lazy bum like me, you could simply glance into the excerpt of those books in this Wikipedia page where they talk specifically about Akira. Quite insightful stuff.

12. What do Akira, Kaneda, and Tetsuo mean?

Again, just like the question above, I don’t have the knowledge to answer this because I can’t speak Japanese. What I can do, however, is perform a quick google search.

So, according to this Wikipedia page, Akira in Japanese means “the light coming from the sun”, “sunlight and moonlight”, “bright”, “intelligent”, “wisdom” or “truth”. It is a unisex name but it is mostly used by men.

According to this website, Kaneda in Japanese means “Golden field”. Some other translations from around the web also mention “rich” or “wealthy” as potential alternative translations.

As for Tetsuo, this website says that it means “clear (thinking) man” or “Iron man”. I also found another website that mentions “wisdom” and “wise man” as a possible translation. 

I feel like there’s some degree of unreliability to these translations. I also think some of the website sources have a questionable translation. But unfortunately, this is the best I can give you at the moment.

So if any Japanese person is reading this, or at least somebody fluent in Japanese, please let me know the right translation in the comment section below. 

13. What is the message of Akira?

This is a somewhat similar question to the previous one about what’s the point of Akira. I talked about how different people might interpret the story differently in that question. So, here’s my take about what I think is the message of Akira.

To me, Akira is the embodiment of the quote by Sir John Dalberg-Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Most of the roots of the problem in the series come from those who wish to acquire powers and those who are unwillingly bestowed with great powers. Both of these people try to control something that they do not fully understand and they pay a high price for it. Dragging everybody else with them.

To me, that is the main message of Akira. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

That’s it. Those are some of the most frequently asked questions about Akira that I could find on the internet. If I stumble upon any other questions on this topic, I’ll be sure to update this list accordingly. 

Click here to read the story arcs review on Akira and here for article about the art. Up next: 10 most shocking moments in Akira.

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