Continuing my way through the 6-volume Akira manga series by Katushiro Otomo, I’m still not quite out of the scenes that were adapted for the feature film. However, what’s great is that while a number of story beats familiar from the film are present in this volume, the context surrounding them are almost completely different. And much longer.
Akira Volume 2 (Kodansha Comics)
Taken to the military hospital by the mysterious Colonel, Tetsuo puts up with being “trained” in his new psychokinetic powers for about five minutes. Almost immediately, he sets a path of destruction straight for the Espers: Children with powers much like his own. And from there, he sets his sights on exhuming the slumbering Akira, potentially the most powerful of them all. Meanwhile, Kaneda and Kei are one step behind, tailing Tetsuo across Neo Tokyo in a vain attempt to stop him from destroying everything.
This chapter is a bit less expansive in scope than the opening installment, with really only two settings being exploited. The story and action are much more decompressed, too, and you might walk away from Volume 2 feeling like a little less happened despite it being 300 pages.
The first half of this volume takes place in the military hospital. Tetsuo decides he wants answers and so he sets a course toward the Espers (those shriveled kids), slaughtering everyone in his way. Kaneda and Kei escape from their prison cells and then chase after him. You’ll probably remember a lot of this from the movie, though it happens differently in most ways. In the movie, Tetsuo was presented as being more confused and scared before he confronts the Espers; here, he’s pretty much just a psychotic bastard out to bully and/or murder them.
The second half of the volume takes place in the subterranean facility below the Olympic stadium. Most of the action follows Tetsuo as he descends down an elevator shaft on his way to the chamber containing Akira. Once again, Kaneda and Kei are following him, though they fail to really accomplish anything.
This deviates more from the movie than the first half; in the film, Tetsuo going down the elevator and finding Akira was really brief. Here, it is a loooooong sequence full of fight sequences and explosions as the military tries to stop him, since Akira was the reason Tokyo was blown up in the first place.
I liked this section of the story much better, even if following Tetsuo down an elevator for a hundred pages could get a little tedious. Being so familiar with the film, it’s fascinating to see scenes that were so brief on the screen decompressed into lengthier, more elaborate sequences. What was a 1-minute sequence on film is practically an entire volume of manga on its own.
The action is still fantastic thanks to Otomo’s smooth, intuitive layouts. The sense of motion from panel to panel moves so quickly and easily, you can breeze through the pages without ever hitting a stumbling block.
I think what hurts the art in this volume hasn’t anything to do with its quality, but rather how limited the two settings are. The military hospital is nothing but a bunch of narrow hallways and, likewise, the underground facility is nothing but hallways and elevators. All the details are great; there’s a nuanced, mechanical sincerity to the environments and it’s all very lived-in and gritty. But man, it’s just a bunch of hallways for 300 pages. That gets a little monotonous after a while, ya know?
What’s especially intriguing is that, if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll probably recognize that most of these sequences are from the end of the film or thereabouts. And I’m only on volume 2. So I guess there’s going to be a lot of completely “new” material coming up and I can’t wait to get to it.
More than anything else, I’m intrigued by the most significant deviation from the film: Akira. In the movie, he was revealed to be a jar of organs and didn’t make a “human” appearance until the final minutes. Here, he emerges from his chamber as a child and follows Tetsuo out of the facility.
So while I do think this second volume was a step down from the first, perhaps stretching its story too thin, it’s keeping me hooked. I’m quickly running out of familiar scenes and the promise of unknown material will certainly bring me back.