Thursday, September 15, 2011

Manga Review: Akira

A few people here might remember that I reviewed the first volume here back last spring and are probably wondering, why the wait? What happened is that I got through volume four before somebody went ahead and requested the entire series from the school library (one thing I don't like about this library, if someone requests something you have you have a new due date that's MUCH sooner) and already checked out five and six before I returned four. Of course five and six didn't get returned before the school year was over (and of course no one else had checked out these books the entire semester leading up to when I did it) so believe me I wanted finish up this series several months ago. But once I got back to school one of the first things I did was snag volumes four, five and six from the library  (wanted to reread four just in case, thankfully each volume has a pretty detailed "what happened previously" section as well) and finished up this epic sized manga.

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo

Summary: The setting is Neo-Tokyo a few years after World War III destroyed the original Tokyo. Kaneda and Tetsuo are punks in a local motorcycle gang who enjoy causing havoc but ultimately staying out of trouble themselves. But they find a lot more than just trouble one day when they accidentally come across a decades old government experiment involving physic powers in children, Tetsuo becomes a part of the experiment and decides to use his new powers to cause as much havoc as he possibly can, starting with releasing the most powerful of the children of all, Akira.

The Good: The ending of the Akira movie was rather, odd (that darn journey-t0-the-center-of-the-mind sci-fi ending variant) but the ending here was much more solid and enjoyable. Also enjoyable was how Kei, a girl from a resistance group in the early volumes, continued being an important character throughout the series and had a lot awesome moments in the end. I had been afraid that she (and the other prominent female characters, actually all the characters except Kaneda and Tetsuo) would be less important later on but thankfully every important character in the good sized played at least a small part in the ending. It takes real skill to write a climax where it's clear that the final battle will come to just two of the cast but still find a way for every other member make a legitimate contribution.

The Bad: The ending may make more sense than the movie's but it's still a bit, strange. Thematically it makes sense but I couldn't help but feel cynical and couldn't up a lot of enthusiasm for it. Honestly, as interesting as the manga was, I never managed to connect with any of the characters or get really caught up in their struggles. It was like watching a really interesting documentary but not being able to sympathize with the characters since you already know how it ends and there was never any doubt in my mind how this series was going to end. 

The Art: One thing I've noticed is that older manga series tend to have much more detailed (insanely detailed even) and epic artwork that most modern series don't and with very few screentones as well. The level of detail in every panel is astonishing and you really need a few minutes to soak in the many double page spreads. It's no wonder that the manga took nearly ten year to be finished, nearly 2000 pages of that kind of detail takes a while. Impressively, there are no instances when the art looks sloppy or like anything was drawn by a different person (I have no idea if Otomo used assistants at all) and the start of each volume has several full color pages which take even longer to do. The manga is worth a look just to take in all the art, it's on a level that few comics today are (as a warning however, the English edition is flipped which I found irritating). 

In the end, this was a good story but for some reason I just couldn't connect with it and felt a little hollow when it ended. I'll certainly admit that this was an amazingly badass story which I think was better than the film and that plenty of people should check out but I don't think I'll be rereading it anytime soon.  

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