Bikes, psychic powers, and computers, this twisted manga continues to grip every generation.
In 1987, Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas turned down the chance to bring Akira to the US because they saw it as incomprehensible and unmarketable for western audiences – they were wrong. The six volume, brick-thick, manga that was later turned into an anime film; has been consider by critics to be one of the greatest and most influential animes in Japan's history. Luckily for us, anime nerds out there, the story is still holding up to its reputation even after 30 years from its original release.
Akira is loved by many for being a pioneer in the sci-fi genre cyberpunk. You know, those futuristic dystopian worlds where there's an abundance of technology and a terrible quality of life. It reminds me of the 1973 fiction thriller Soylent, where global warming has eroded nature and people are forced to live in dilapidated houses, surviving on rations produced by the Soylent Corporation. This only source of food available to them is called Soylent and comes in different colors and flavors, flavors you would never expect. I can still hear Charlton Heston screaming, "Soylent is people!" Despite its great popularity and cult following, Akira is not mainstream. While it is beloved by the comic and anime community, it doesn't have such a big following when compared to other post-apocalyptical movie sagas like Matrix, Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. It didn't have a persuasive team of publicists and marketeers, and honestly, it doesn't need it. Akira satisfies the palate of any viewer looking for gritty adventure, horror, and a tiny hint of nihilism.
With compelling visuals and a distinctive style, Akira is a pioneer on sci-fi narratives and once you watch it you'll realize all your favorite films like Metropolis and Blade Runner have been touched one way or another by this dystopian world.
Akira takes place in 2019, which is just around the corner for us. After a massive nuke obliterates the city of Tokyo in 1988, the world is thrown into disarray once more with the start of WWIII. Once the dust settles, it takes 31 years for the city to be rebuilt under a new name, NEO-Tokyo. While it would be a stretch to say that animes have prophetic powers, we cannot help but feel that there's an odd sense of deja-vu, we often do get diplomats and government officials throwing tantrums while their chubby fingers are on the detonator. Although the author thought we would be more technologically advanced by now, we still have a few things to look forward to like hover bikes.
Katsuhiro Otomo begins his story with a devil-may-care gang of biker teens who stumble upon a government facility that is turning kids into psychic weapons. Kaneda, the ringleader tries to save his friend Tetsuo, who has been captured by the government and is being experimented on to develop supernatural abilities. The highly detailed setting and the gritty storyline of world wars, robots, mutants, gangs, and psychic powers are an irresistible mix that few had conjured up during the 80s.
Akira (film) was release in 1988, making a $49 billion profit worldwide and its popularity has endured thanks to word of mouth. It has inspired many artists, not just in the anime or film industry, but in general. For example, it inspired Michael Jackson to include a clip from Tetsuo in one of his music videos. Other artists like Kanye West, have called the film “my favorite.”While there have been some talks about turning this manga into a live-action film, no official confirmation has been made public yet. To be honest, I'd prefer it if they left it as it is. The anime was enough and the manga has a lot to offer, it's worth mentioning that Akira was one of the first mangas to be entirety translated into an English version by the Marvel Comics imprint Epic Comics.
The world of anime is a treasure trove of riveting stories and incredible visuals. Akira was decades ahead of its time and I know it will continue to be relevant in the coming years as well. It helps us grapple with the realities we live and experience, whether the story was created decades ago, it resonates to this day. We still have gangs of teenagers trying to break every rule out there, we still have terrible governments placing their interests above those of the people, and we have trigger happy leaders with their fingers on the button, waiting for everything to go "boom!"