As I reach the halfway point in Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, I think I’m also nearing the end of the material that was adapted for the film. While familiar elements appear throughout this volume, they’re deviating from how the film rendered them more and more. THIS is what I’ve been waiting for, as I’m finally starting to set foot in uncharted territory (for me, anyway).
Akira Vol. 3 (Kodansha)
In Akira Volume 3 (confusingly titled “Akira Part II”), Tetsuo has been seemingly vanquished and now all that remains is what to do with the recently revived Akira. It seems everybody and their kendo instructor want to get their hands on the near-comatose little boy, be it to control his power, stop him before he can use his power, or protect him from those who would manipulate or kill him. Kei and Kaneda are in their usual predicament, scrambling to stay ahead of the Colonel and his armed forces. The Colonel isn’t having an easy time or it, either, finding himself shackled by the bureaucracy of the Neo Tokyo government. He may be forced to take charge of things, one way or another.
So yeah, remember the last act of the film? A lot of STUFF happened in that hasty climax, but it felt so spontaneous and hollow that you either didn’t follow most of it or didn’t particularly care. You just saw the commercial on the Sci-Fi Channel with the guy turning into a giant exploding fetus and you were counting the minutes until that thing showed up.
Well, all that STUFF is here in this volume, which is essentially the last act of the film, but it all has the sweet, merciful context needed to give it some resonating depth. The Colonel’s coup against the Neo Tokyo government comes after 700 pages of his suffering from their corruption and incompetence.
Remember that old politician guy that looked like a rat? Nezu? The one who died at the end of the movie from a heart attack and you probably only vaguely gave a rat’s ass about? Well, it’s all spelled out a bit more succinctly here; who he’s working for, what his connection to Kei’s faction is, why he’s out to get Akira, and so on. Again, it’s been seeded throughout earlier volumes, so his secret betrayal of his spiritual mistress (Lady Miyako), and desire to see Akira eliminated, has considerably more heft to it. He even plays a much more direct role toward the end of this volume, interacting with the main cast and causing what’s ultimately a MAJOR event in the series (albeit unintentionally).
And hey, Lady Miyako. Remember her from the movie? She was in it. She was whatever the fuck THIS thing was supposed to be:
That’s a WOMAN!? I was as surprised as you are.
Miyako was a non-character in the movie, appearing only in crowd scenes and dying unceremoniously in a montage of citywide destruction. Here, she’s a big wheel in the grand scheme of things and the leader of a major faction that’s vying for power and control (the full extent of which we’re still in the dark about).
This volume ends essentially where the film ended, but in a different way. Akira’s revival causes a major disaster that kills thousands, just as in the film, but Tetsuo doesn’t mutate into a giant goo-baby (again, he sits the volume out except for the final pages). Most of the same characters buy it, albeit in different ways, but with the exception of Tetsuo surviving we’re pretty much at the point where the movie left off. So I’m psyched to see the continuing adventures of these characters next volume, since that ought to be where things really get crazy.
Now, in spite of all my talk about how much less “spontaneous” Akira the comic is compared to Akira the movie, there are still characters who appear suddenly and depart just as quickly.
This volume introduces Lady Miyako’s trio of psychic kids who act as an opposing force to the Espers working for the Colonel. This volume is their first appearance and they die almost as quickly as they come. While one of the girls (Sakaki) hangs in there for close to the end of the volume, she doesn’t participate long enough to have a personality or any characterization. Otomo makes a big to-do about her death, with this sequence homaging “The Little Match Girl”, but the tragedy rings hollow because Sakaki wasn’t around long enough for us to make any emotional connection to her.
There’s also the rut that Kaneda and Kei seem to be in, so far as their part in the story is concerned. They’re honestly just doing the same thing that they’ve been doing since the series began; flying by the seat of their pants and trying to avoid the Colonel while getting “the thing” that everyone else wants. In Volume 1 it was a pill, in Volume 2 it was to get to a bunker first, and here in Volume 3 it’s to get Akira. They’re fun characters and I love Kaneda’s irreverent attitude (especially his lack of cooperation with the Colonel when they’re finally caught), but it’s beginning to feel like more of the same from our central protagonists.
Otomo’s art shines brighter in this volume than the last. Volume 2 was set almost entirely in claustrophobic hallways and tunnels, but Volume 3 takes the action to the city streets. We get to see a lot of Neo Tokyo, particularly the suburbs, and the post-coup environment breathes some manic life into it. There’s rioting and robot spiders and tanks and all sorts of cool shit (which Kaneda and Kei have to dodge as they drag Akira around).
The end of the issue features the aforementioned citywide destruction and it goes on and on for TWENTY pages!
It’s decompressed, but it’s a lot of fuckin eye candy, too. Otomo is a master at drawing architecture, it’s been one of his strongest points since the series began, and so I’m willing to accept a 20-page excuse for him to draw intricately detailed buildings explode and crumble. Is it excessive? Yeah, probably. But it does help to sell just how wide-reaching Akira’s destructive tantrum is as the viewpoint toggles between high in the sky to low and close. The scale is tremendous.
Is It Good?
While the story is still stuck in a seemingly neverending chase, the characters and their motivations manage to get fleshed out along the way. The non-stop action ensures that nothing ever gets dull, at least. While this volume covers the last act of the film, for those like me who are only familiar with the movie version, seeing how differently things turned out is a real trip.