I’ve just finished reading Akira today, a really good comic book read in fact. It’s a pretty damn nifty sci-fi story, character driven and manages to cope with a huge cast of characters who delve into and out of the main thread. I’d recommend you read it, it’s pretty timeless considering it’s set in “the future” which isn’t seemingly that far off. It’s a good setting for the plot.
I had already watched the animated film so did know most of what to expect. They’re vastly different in scope, but the film is a nice short take on the longer book series – it was directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the person who wrote the manga in any case, so isn’t that off the mark although obviously chopped down to essentials, with excellent action and some unique scenes and bits of it’s own.
If you have to choose one, the manga works out much better and simply isn’t as rushed.
(Some spoilers below, but not many I hope).
In the book you see the aftermath of a man-made disaster, and lots of effective scenes to show what goes on with power-hungry people, which is missed out in the film apart from relating to the government. In addition a whole range of characters give real depth to the story and has it make a lot more sense in how it works out, especially when it comes to mixing psychics and science. Interestingly it doesn’t do a great deal of monologuing – you get to hear characters discussing things and actually having the plot explained properly rather then white washed with “It’s magic”. You have to actually try and guess what motives and feelings are and you might be surprised what some characters turn out to be after initial impressions.
It is also amazingly written with respect to the layout and pacing and drawn to portray action and fast scenes really well. You can get a real sense of movement with the books, and it is tightly done with few huge page-spanning closeups and wasted space.
The writing is also good (and localised well), although in many cases the action speaks louder then the words. There are no corny moments, silly or weak characters, sidekicks or anything else which tapers off into “Why are they not dead yet?” territory.
It is consistently a set of (young and old) adults coping with events that almost revolve entirely without them. It uses some typical action tropes really well, such as the cock-sure hero or the “God I am” complex which comes with supernatural powers. The characters are sympathetic too, and more complex and less single minded then they would be in many other stories (however some characters really are single minded and driven, usually the antagonists). It’s a tad painful seeing characters die since you know that person, the personality, is gone from the comic.
I also enjoyed how it had several arcs – while the core story does peak in a few places, there are individual stories and threads which come and go but all interact with each other (and the core acts are broken up well with the 6 books). It’s also done so amazingly well you never need to re-read anything and it surprised me how many characters were simply never forgotten about – nor do they forget people. You never learn much of their history either – nor do you need to, since it is their current actions which define them so well you instantly recognise what they must have been like in the past.
It comes down to, for me, the ordinariness of the main cast when faced with the supernatural and impossible. The feeling of dread and powerlessness in the face of destruction and dystopia and the motives to face that is pulled off. The ending is open and closed enough at the same time (which makes for a good ending!), and the plot works well against a background of war like Japan has had, and their economic history, especially when the story progresses to having influences from outside Japan get involved. Even though it is downbeat, I think the amount of hope and positive action in the story counters it well – giving the feeling that it won’t be an entirely unhappy future after the story ends.
So I enjoyed it, and happily wasn’t disappointed by any part of it, which made it a joy to read.