I had seen the movie Akira, but I still hadn’t read the manga until recently. My colleague Inata lent me six volumes of the last Japanese edition by Kodansha; in United States they were published by Dark Horse.
In comparison to the movie, the manga delves more deeply into the political situation after the 3rd World War, the state of Neo-Tokyo and the development of the personality of the main characters. In Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 the city is destroyed by an earthquake; in Akira, Tokyo is reduced to ashes by a new type of bomb (in clear reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki) starting the 3rd World War.
Reading the manga more carefully I have noticed some questions that Otomo Katsuhiro deals with that I didn’t notice in the movie:
Corrupt government, slow in taking decisions and inefficient in general
The Japanese government is heavily criticized for its bureaucracy, by its slowness when taking critical decisions and for its corruption. There’s usually not many corruption scandals in Japan, they are very good at hiding them, but the citizens are always suspicious. The movie Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa addresses in depth the Japanese bureaucracy problems. In Akira the government plays a puppet role, they talk and talk about the crisis situation but are not able to take any correct decisions, they are not able to control the crisis in any moment at all; they even make it worse. Nowadays, in the real world, Japan is also in a situation of reconstruction and the government is being criticized for its slowness when executing, mostly on all the matters concerning Fukushima nuclear power plant. All the communications infrastructure in the affected areas by the tsunami has been almost completely reestablished and 5,000 new houses have been built. Even so, those affected (there are more than 100,000 people living in shelters) demand much more speed to the government.
Another important topic in Akira are the cults and their networks that extend throughout all the government. Until I have developed enough my Japanese language skills, it is something that I was not really aware of, as to really understand the topic you have to get deep into conversations with Japanese people, mostly when you ask them about the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. In Japan there’s much more cults than you would think. Some of them are quite powerful and control publishing companies and other media. One of the main topics of 1q84 by Haruki Murakami is cults and their influence on Japanese society.
The reconstruction of the country after the war and the economic revival is another key topic in Akira. The area where old Tokyo was located, is useless after the 3rd World Ward, and the new Tokyo called “Neo-Tokyo” is constructed in Tokyo bay, gaining land to the sea. Katsuhiro Otomo criticizes the problems of a rushed and ill-considered reconstruction, showing a modern and futurist Neo-Tokyo but at the same time dystopic, overpopulated, completely controlled by the authorities like in Orwell’s 1984, and invaded by gangs. Akira also shows scenes inside schools and high schools putting in evidence the deficiencies of the Japanese education system.
These are some of the social questions that I have noticed in this masterpiece, that on the surface it looks like a simple action work but in reality it is much more, it is a mirror of the concerns of today’s Japanese society. Have you read the manga? Only the movie? What did you think about it? What did you learn about Japan?
Other articles about Akira: