Wanted to get this one in before Enterprise starts taking up all my review time.
Title: Akira, Volume I
Credited To: Katsuhiro Otomo
Original Publication Dates: Comic Book ran from 1981 to 1993
Graphic Novel Publication Date: December 12, 2000
Length: 364 pages
Cover Price: $24.95 ($41.52 CDN)
Buy from: Amazon.com or Amazon.ca
Originally serialized in Japan between 1981 and 1993, Otomo’s 2,000-plus-page science fiction epic Akira was reprinted as a monthly comic book in the U.S. in the early ’90s. This new six-volume series is the first time it’s appeared as an English-language graphic novel. Set in Tokyo 38 years after its destruction in World War III (which, according to this story, happened in 1992), Akira eventually evolves into a philosophical investigation of time. But this first volume is all action, nonstop car chases and gun fights strung together with exaggerated speed lines and lots of gigantic machinery. The complicated plot revolves around two teenagers in a motorbike gang that encounters a strange child with an old man’s features. When one of the young bikers begins manifesting violent, supernatural powers that threaten to destroy him, both bikers find themselves enmeshed in a massive conflict between two sinister agencies (which both believe they’re fighting to save the world) over some unnamed thing so terrifying it’s locked away in a vault and frozen to absolute zero. Akira has been praised for “massively decompressed storytelling” a few seconds of story time can take pages and Otomo’s hyperkinetic black-and-white drawings explode across the page. The translation is sometimes a bit awkward, although it still expresses the story’s visceral force. The book has been adapted into an animated film that’s a favorite among anime fans.
I don’t like Anime. Well, I typically don’t like anime. Visually it’s stunning, but the characters tend to be dull, flat, and predictable. The stories are, lets just say, different. I can accept cultural differences being the cause of some of the problems, but not all. I loved Spirited Away and Final Fantasy, but by and large, it just doesn’t do anything for me. So why did I pick up this book? Curiosity. I’ve never read a Japanese comic before, and I’m open-minded enough to keep trying.
As with all good storytelling, the climax of a plot should be its high point, and this book is no exception. The final fight sequence is tense and powerful, leaving the reader breathless and anxious to flip pages.
Were one to do a sociological study of Japanese teenage males based solely on anime and manga, they would be forced to conclude that they are all mentally retarded sexual deviates with massive Napoleon complexes. This shtick may be popular on the other side of the Pacific, but frankly it’s just irritating to me.
Originality: While the post WWIII bit has been done to death, I can appreciate Japan’s fascination with it (being the only country to be on the receiving end of a nuke and all). I’m also not going to knock it down since the post-apocolyptic theme was new and en vogue in the early 80’s. Otomo also put a unique spin on the whole thing. 5 out of 6.
Artwork: I’d like these more in color, but I guess I’m just spoiled from American comics. Otherwise, the art is clean, evocative, and well-done. 4 out of 6.
Story: While it takes awhile to get going (the opening can get downright dull), it definitely picks up and keeps your attention as it moves forward. 4 out of 6.
Characterization: As I mentioned above, this is where anime breaks down, and this book isn’t much different. The leads are stupid and the villains are one-dimensional. Fortunately the story keeps you coming back for more. 2 out of 6.
Emotional Response: With the lack of characterization, you simply aren’t that motivated to care one way or the other about anyone in the story. It’s the mystery that keep your interest and that does make it worth the effort. 4 out of 6.
Flow: The book flows well from one section to the next. Otomo keeps the pacing just right so you’re not rushing nor are you dragging. 5 out of 6.
Overall: I was surprised I liked the story as much as I did. That being said, I was not surprised by the characters. Will I pick up Volume II? You bet. 4 out of 6.
Total: 28 out of 42
- Katsuhiro Otomo Profile [DarkHorse.com]
- Akira, Volume II
- Akira, Volume III
- Akira, Volume IV
- Akira, Volume V
- Akira, Volume VI
- Akira DVD (Special Edition)