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It is not so much the movie against the comic book because the mediums work together. Following slightly different paths, the story is the same and each has its own merits. I watched the movie before reading the books and was intrigued by Otomo's ideas straight away. The story was complex, but this didn't put me off as I tried to understand its concepts. I think the viewer is rewarded after repeat viewings; after the third time, the story seemed to get better and better. The seventh time was a joy because I understood the characters and their motivations and the storylines fitted together noticeably well.


Kaneda swerves on his bike

Comic books were something I got into in a big way six years ago, and with an interest in Chinese/Japanese culture, it wasn't long before I discovered the range of translated manga in 'The American Comic Shop' and 'Whatever Comics', my local stores. I discovered the Akira story in Graphic Novel form, and 'Manga Mania Magazine' ran it in its entirety. This story was not unlike the film, which was an initial plus point, but its focus was largely on events after Akira's second mental blast which ended the movie, and made it well worth reading.



The Manga

I think the comic is superior in its storytelling capabilities, and because it ran for 37 volumes over a ten year period (1983-93), and 3 subsequent volumes after '93, it enabled more character/story development than the film could. Otomo created several characters which didn't make it to the anime including Lt Yamada, Chiyoko, and Tetsuo's Lt/Commander but this good because they were not necessary in the story, and leaves the original with an extra dimension/difference.



Akira & Tetsuo of the Great Tokyo EmpireJoker & Kaneda combine forces against Tetsuo

The build-up of Tetsuo's power is played to greater effect as his initial drug habit suppresses his power. As he stops taking the drugs, he has the potential to become as strong as Akira which prompts the Colonel, Miyako, the Espers, Kay, and Kaneda to confront him before he attains such god-like status.

The manga sees two nuclear-like explosions, the initial by Akira and a lesser one from Tetsuo and he is also the cause of numerous other explosions. He does this as his power is too great- greater than him- self and it ultimately destroys him. The mass destruction Neo Tokyo receives is played out over many pages at different times; something the anime lacks until the finale, and this build-up creates a tension that was never utilized on screen.

I thought the emotional side was strong as each character's personalities were finely crafted. To me they were all distinct individuals whose interaction with others made for some dramatic scenes. Such as the 'Commander's' relationship with Master Tetsuo. In front of him, he was very loyal, and humble, but really wanted power for himself (leading armies) and eventually ordered the death of his Master.

Overall: The manga is very gripping as the story is riddled with consistent drama and social insights. Complex issues are usually explained, as in all comic books, using characters' prose which is seen by the omniscient reader. This technique makes the story easy to follow, easier than the anime which cuts from one scene to another quickly with little descriptive narrative.

Aside from financial expence, another drawback is that the atmosphere has to be created simply by pictures as there is no dimension of sound and specific movement.



The Anime

The film is a quality adaptation not just technically wise, but through considerate homage to the original story. Both are similar but the movie is condensed. The same ideas and themes remain and the cinematic, storyboard-like layout of the manga must have helped achieve successful adaptation and translation.

Working in the medium of celuloid animation was a good choice by Otomo, where he could have opted for a live-action film. The greatest advantage is in creating mass destruction on a low budget and without any safety hazards! (well, those brush- tips can be pretty lethal)! ^__^

Being a fantasy story, Otomo's visions could also be met exactly.

The Tokyo of 'Akira' comes alive with the visuals and sound of the anime. Vibrant colours, literal movement, and sound give it, and its characters a little more life/ substance. However I still favour the manga counterpart because one can imagine their voices, and see their personalities through the way they are drawn in each frame and through the language they use.

Visually, my favourite parts are the opening shots of Neo Tokyo where lights from buildings, street lamps, and vehicles ignite the sky. Not forgetting the wonderful light trails that the motorbikes' lamps give off as they speed along!


Neo Tokyo lit up at night


The sound is what gives the film its quality too, from the background engines, sirens and the like, and grandiose orchestral soundtrack, to the actual voice actors' roles. I specifically like the way certain events/characters have their own signature tunes- the Clowns' "DAH DAH EEE HAAA", the children's attack on Tetsuo in the hospital which similarly uses a full choral tune, the calming "Akira. . . . Tetsuo. . . . Kaneda" (a clip of which can be heard on this page), and the memorable percussion/woodblock ending tune. I know a great deal of effort went into producing these tracks and the results do it credit.

Which inevitably leads to voice actors. However this, along with a 'dub-sub' and 'widescreen and pan-and-scan' debate will follow in the not too distant future!!

Overall: The anime has a lot to offer in its 124 minutes and is well structured considering its original copious volumes. I like the way the whole Akira story has been touched on and the film is light enough to be watched for entertainment while having a deep, complicated, and intellectual undertone/ moral. Unafraid in its depiction of contrasting personalities and wealth of turbulent emotion, its characterisation is also a positive aspect, well converted from the manga.

   

 

Conclusion

The layout and pacing of the original translated well to animation, and its
themes are universally understood. I think the manga is perhaps a little
more 'sophisticated' in that it's not a 'quick-fix' series and that to appreciate
it fully, one has to be patient, despite it being compelling.

Without a doubt I thoroughly enjoyed the anime for its slick design and fast-paced action. Despite it being 11 years old it has, to this day, stood the test of time and I consider it to be one of the finest films I have seen. I particularly like the introduction
with the gangs and the character's first appearances were constructed in such a way that one knows that person is special. For example, in Kaneda's first appearance in the Harukiya his back is turned to the 'camera' instantly giving an impression of his personality. The same is said of the Colonel whose face takes the whole screen in the military helicopter, reflective of his domineering trait.

With one medium matched against the other, I favour the manga over the movie by a hair. Both are extremely well constructed and are effective separately as well as a complement to each other. My hat goes off to Otomo and his staff.

 

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