TETSUO!!! – A review of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira
Big explosions! Motorcycles! Clown gangs! Drugs that give you telepathic powers! Children with old-people faces!
Akira is a bizarro cult classic through and through. It’s a six-volume manga series and anime film. If you read comics, I highly recommend the manga. If you watch cartoons, check out the anime.
It’s about this teenager, Kaneda, and his motorcycle gang, as they tear their way through the post-apocalyptic city of Neo-Tokyo and discover a strange conspiracy concealed within the remains of old Tokyo. The military have in their possession a group of young children with telepathic powers that are dangerously destructive. After an accident, gang member Tetsuo finds himself undergoing tests and force-fed drugs and developing telepathic powers of his own.
What results is a complex battle between motorcycle gangs, military, strange cults, and telepathic street children. The military is trying to control their child-weapons, Kaneda is trying to control Tetsuo, and Tetsuo is trying to control and increase his powers. Underneath all that, there is another child hidden away by the military, the cause of the destruction of Tokyo – Akira.
It is complete chaos as Tetsuo’s power spirals out of control and threatens to destroy the city again, and everyone else, fighting each other, trying to stop him by whatever means necessary. The manga goes into incredible depth, plotting out the stories of all the different factions at work, where the anime focuses more on the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo, but either way it’s raw and chaotic. It’s a cyberpunk masterpiece.
The characters are desperate, angry, and aggressive. The art style is cool, with that distinct ’80s/early ’90s feel you get with things like Dragonball/Dragonball Z and Ghost in the Shell. The story, however, is in a class of its own. It’s got the cult feel of the Warriors, but with powerful political and social complexities that are terribly frightening when read within the context of a culture that, less than half a century prior, fell under attack by atomic bomb.
You can enjoy the film for the action-packed thrill ride that it is, but if you want to read more into the apocalypse/post-apocalypse representations, there’s that too. On a side note, if you want to read more about that aspect of Akira, I wrote an essay about it a few years ago for uni. The point is that if you haven’t seen it/read it, you should. Right now.
S. T. Cartledge comes from the fabled Land Down Under. His first book, House Hunter, was published in 2012’s New Bizarro Author Series. He enjoys making potatoes act out his fantasies.