EisNinE's Reviews > Akira, Vol. 1

Akira, Vol. 1 by Katsuhiro Otomo
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Akira: And A Boy Shall Rule Them All... Badly. A Boy Whose Head Contains A Supernova

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'Akira' and 'Lone Wolf and Cub' were among the first complete manga masterpieces to be published in English, and despite the mirror-imaging, were very similar to their original tankobon incarnations. Katsuhiro Otomo's SF-classic 'Akira' -- as well as it's equally brilliant predecessor, 'Domu' -- revolutionized Japanese comics. It introduced realistic, incredibly detailed artwork that merged a far more subtle manga stylization with European influences, incorporating aspects from the art of 'Metal Hurlant' regulars Moebius, Francois Schuiten, and Enki Bilal. The importance of 'Akira' is difficult to express, but it certainly rivals US contemporaries 'Watchmen' and 'The Dark Knight Returns', and it ran far longer than either title, giving it an epic scope and grandeur that exceeds both of those seminal works. If it was a decision between: Katsuhiro Otomo, 'Domu' and 'Akira'; Frank Miller, 'Batman: Year One' and 'Batman: The Dark Knight Returns'; or Alan Moore, 'V for Vendetta' and 'Watchmen'; I'd say that Otomo created the best and most influential works of the 1980's. That ignores some huge titles, like 'Love and Rockets' and 'Maus' and 'Raw' and 'Weirdo' and 'Yummy Fur' and 'The Incal' and 'Les Cites Obscures', etc... but I'll stand by it, with all due respect.
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All that hyperbole crosses without friction to the film adaptation... perhaps the best anime -- and animated -- film ever made. But Otomo wrote and directed his debut when he was only around half-way through the manga. The 6-volume, 2200+-page series is not just 'worth checking out' for fans of the anime, it's essential. The film contains less than 15% of the super-epic that inspired it, but the art, the characters, the basic plot, and the light-speed pacing will all be unmistakably familiar.

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On a Technical Note: While I prefer the original right-to-left orientation for translated manga, Kodansha is still using the Dark Horse translation that appeared before Japanese formatting surprised the hell out of US publishers by catching on. It's only as big a deal as you make it, in my opinion; obsessive-compulsive types are out of luck, but anyone who has recovered from the mind-blowing shock of confronting a left-handed doppelganger in the bathroom mirror will do just fine. My preference for R-to-L has to do with preserving the artist's original vision... does that sound right? Something like that, anyway. As far as accessibility, flipping the art is probably easier for weak western minds and eyeballs. I'd rather watch a film reflected in a mirror than I would one played in reverse.

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Domu A Child's Dream by Katsuhiro Otomo
Domu: Otomo's Pre-Akira Masterpiece

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Otomo's first masterpiece is overshadowed by the grandeur of Akira, but both the art and the story display the full-range of his creative powers. In an apartment mega-complex with thousands of residents, the suicide rate has risen dramatically. An old man with terrifying psychic abilities has become senile, and is now indulging his deadly and selfish whims, manipulating the residents like puppets and sending some to their deaths.

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The families of the victims are baffled. The police investigating the deaths don't know what to make of it all, but as they follow the bizarre trail of clues, they get closer to a killer they're incapable of stopping. But when a little girl moves in with her family, the old man is suddenly confronted by someone determined to stop his malevolent games, a child with powers that might exceed his own. The town-sized apartment complex becomes a battlefield between two psychic juggernauts, and the old man's malicious games unleash a storm of telekinetic fury that threatens to kill hundreds of innocent people.

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Otomo was far ahead of his time, and his genius for graphic storytelling inspired an entire generation of young mangaka. Domu holds up remarkably well, and deserves to have a much wider audience; unbelievably, this is somehow out of print in North America. I don't know what the fuck Kodansha is thinking, but they need to publish a new edition and promote it. If you haven't read Domu, stop whatever you're doing and run blindly around the countryside screaming the title until someone finally tries to pacify you with a copy. If some asshole shows up with 'Appleseed', add projectile vomit and urine to the routine. Accept no substitutes.

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An Excellent Review of 'Domu: A Child's Dream' That Should Convince You Of Its Brilliance

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EisNinE I have read Ghost in the Shell, and seen the anime. The same goes for Akira, which is one of my favorite films. With Akira, the anime stands on it's own merits perfectly, but the scope of the manga is so much bigger... so much more plot and character development.
I'm not as much of a Shirow fan, but GitS is one of the classics.


EisNinE Sorry for the delay; I'm supposed to get email alerts whenever someone comments, but for some reason it isn't reliable lately... anyway, when GitS manga first came out it was a huge deal -- probably the biggest critical and commercial hit since Akira; then the anime came out, and was just as massive. So in terms of big-budget anime hits, Akira and GitS were close. And they share some themes in common, I guess. From what I've read and seen, the first GitS manga and the first film are the high point.

Akira is just far more engaging, exciting and epic, and I'll go out on a limb and recommend the entire series, one book at a time. It's one of those rare comics that makes me feel a little jealous of people who haven't read it yet. 'Domu: A Child's Dream', is Otomo's other major manga, but much shorter -- just one 300 page volume. It takes place in one of those colossal apartment complexes they have in Japan. A senile old man with psychic abilities is using the residents as his playthings, until a little girl with telekinetic powers of her own moves in, determined to put an end to the old man's murderous games. The mega-building becomes a battleground between two psychic juggernauts. It's absolutely thrilling, and beautifully drawn. I'm surprised Otomo hasn't adapted it as an anime as well.


message 3: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Cooper I was golfing with a Japanese friend back in '92. He'd just come back from a trip to Vegas and was talking non-stop about how great and important Akira was. By the fourth or fifth hole my friend lost it. He ended up throwing his pitching wedge and crying, saying he'd lost thousands in Vegas. I picked up Akira not long afterwards, nonetheless. Like you say, it was the best of the first manga in translation - winning out over Lone Wolf, Area 88, and Mai the Psychic Girl. It's one I'd like to revisit. Thanks for bringing this one back up!


EisNinE Lol! Well, he wasn't much of a golfer or a gambler, but more importantly, he knew good comics. Great story, man, thank you! :-)


message 5: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul E. Morph My mirror-doppelgänger would have to be right-handed....

Wait; does this mean I'm the evil twin?


message 6: by EisNinE (last edited Dec 24, 2015 01:11PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

EisNinE Thanks Josh. The only mangaka as influential as Katsuhiro Otomo is Osamu Tezuka; even the true giants -- like Shigeru Mizuki (who I'm finally catching up on thanks to the D&Q reprints), the gekiga masters of samurai historical fiction like Hiroshi Hirata and Kazuo Koike/Goseki Kojima, or masters of suspense like Naoki Urasaki -- didn't have near the dramatic impact Otomo did.

You had manga after Tezuka, and manga after Otomo. The epic scope, the linear, non-episodic story including scores of characters, the complexity and intelligence of the narrative, were all ground-breaking in the early-80's. But it was the art that really challenged and inspired the next generation of mangaka.

Otomo incorporated a strong European aesthetic that put focus on a realistic portrayal, but still held the essence of classic manga style. The intricacy involved in rendering the futuristic architecture of Neo-Tokyo, the amazingly designed vehicles and weapons and technology... is breathtaking stuff. He invented it all 35-fucking-years ago, yet everything -- from the prototype laser-cannon to Kaneda's motorbike -- STILL looks more 'futuristic' than many of the best artists could manage to dream up now. And the events that play out in Akira are actually in our past, I believe.


EisNinE Paul wrote: "My mirror-doppelgänger would have to be right-handed....

Wait; does this mean I'm the evil twin?"


I was hoping this day would never come. I've always known the evil twin was you, Paul. Fortunately, I like evil-Paul better. You should have went the route I did: de-twinning myself... strangling good-Eisnein in the womb with an umbilical garrotte. No wonder you've always cheered for the bad guy, right? You ARE the bad guy. We villains are far more exciting, anyhow. >:-D


EisNinE Josh wrote: "Wow, you know your stuff. Thanks for all of the info. I know where to start when I get back into manga. I was a Berserk and Blade of the Immortal fan, but kind of got away from manga for awhile. I ..."

Yeah, Blade of the Immortal, and Vagabond are my picks for the best manga since Akira, and the best samurai books since the Hirata and Koike/Kojima series. Berserk is ultra-violent and completely unpredictable fun; but Kentaro Miura has eventually become one of the most talented comic artists alive. He's up there with Otomo, Satoshi Kon, Takehiko Inoue, and Taiyo Matsumoto.


message 9: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul E. Morph Eisnein wrote: "I was hoping this day would never come. I've always known the evil twin was you, Paul. Fortunately, I like evil-Paul better..."

That's all right then.


EisNinE Thanks Sabah, I appreciate it; I know with all the great novels waiting to be read, expecting people to add an entire new medium to their 'to-read list' is a bit much. :-)


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