Akira: the origins of the true father of cyberpunk

Akira: the origins of the true father of cyberpunk
On December 6, 1982, the first chapter of Akira, the famous cyperpunk manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, was published for the first time in the pages of Young Magazine. Surely not even the latter would have imagined the success that his work would have had all over the world and how much it would have influenced the global comic culture. After 38 years we want to pay homage to that day with this in-depth study on the origins of the work.

Read also: Akira - historical record for the manga

A brief introduction to the work

Akira is a Japanese cyberpunk manga series written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo. It was initially serialized on the pages of Young Magazine, a seinen manga magazine, from 1982 to 1990, and was then collected in six tankōbon volumes by its publisher Kodansha between 1984 and 1991. The work was published in the United States by Marvel Comics with the Epic Comics series, becoming one of the first manga to have been fully translated into English and Otomo's own artistic style is considered exceptional and a watershed both for the author himself and for the entire manga art. The manga also became thanks to the famous cyberpunk film adaptation of the same name from 1988.

The manga is set in a post-apocalyptic and futuristic Neo-Tokyo, more than two decades after a mysterious explosion destroyed the city. The story focuses on the efforts of the leader of the teen biker gang Kaneda, the militant revolutionary Kei, a trio of experts and the Neo-Tokyo military leader, Colonel Shikishima, who try to prevent Tetsuo, the childhood friend mentally deranged of Kaneda, to use his unstable and powerful telekinetic. The latter ability is capable of devastating the city and awakening a mysterious individual with similar psychic abilities named "Akira", responsible for the destruction of Tokyo several years earlier.

In all volumes, Otomo uses the conventions of the cyberpunk genre to describe in detail a saga of political unrest, social isolation, corruption and power. It is considered a reference work in the cyberpunk genre, but in particular of the Japanese cyberpunk subgenre. Akira has also been instrumental in the surge in manga popularity outside of Japan, especially in the United States and Europe. This has allowed him to win several awards, including the Kodansha Manga and the Harvey Awards.

The references to The Demolished Man and the birth of cyberpunk

Let's see how the idea of ​​making Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo. The Japanese mangaka born in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture in 1954, in 1979 had already made Fireball, an unfinished series in which he ignored the artistic styles of mainstream manga and which established his interest in science fiction as the primary setting. Fireball anticipated a number of elements of Akira's plot, with its story of young freedom fighters trying to save one of the group's older brothers being used by the government in psychic experiments, with the older brother eventually unleashing a destructive Energetic "ball of fire".

The story was inspired by Alfred Bester's 1953 novel The Demolished Man, but the setting was used again the following year with Domu, a work that was later awarded at Science Fiction Grand Prix has become a bestseller all over Japan. Otomo then began working on his most ambitious work to date, Akira, in 1981. Although Akira ended up being seen as part of the emerging cyberpunk genre, it predates the quintessential cyberpunk novel Neuromancer (1984), which was published two years. after Akira began serialization and was not translated into Japanese until 1985.

The color publication and the influence of Star Wars

For its overseas release, to reach an audience larger, Otomo decided to color the manga and carefully flip the pages so that they were read left to right, like American comics, instead of the traditional black and white artwork and with the classic right-to-left reading of all Japanese manga. Some of the illustrations were redrawn by the author and his assistants to flip them, while the coloring was done by Steve Oliff at his company, Olyoptics.

Akira was the first comic in the world to be digitally colored, using computers and its diffusion in color led to the still current computer and graphic tablet coloring in comics. Akira was also the first comic in the Western world to be printed on smooth paper with a 4-color process, very similar to modern American comics, which allowed it to show more detailed and accurate color obtained by using a computer, instead of previously used newsprint. The coloring lasted from 1988 to 1994 also due to continuous delays due to Otomo's contemporary work on Steamboy and Oliff's work on Akira earned him an Eisner Award in 1992.

Otomo, for the realization of the drawings and Akira's story, cited the influence of works such as the Star Wars movie, the Moebius comics, the manga Tetsujin 28-go, the science fiction works of Seishi Yokomizo dealing with "new races" of humanity and the punk films of Sogo Ishii Panic High School (1978) and Crazy Thunder Road (1980) which described the rebellion, anarchy and biker gangs associated with the Japanese punk rock subculture. There was also a participation of the famous manga artist and director Satoshi Kon who acted as an assistant artist, but who was not credited for the series.

A curiosity concerns the font used for the writing of the title on the various volumes: Otomo and his design office, Pencil Studio, originally tried out futuristic fonts like Checkmate and Earth, but ultimately Otomo used condensed sans-serif uppercase. The font was once said to be Impact, but it didn't match the actual design. It was also speculated that it was drawn by hand based on Schmalfette Grotesk. It was actually a combination of styles like Broadway in issue 36, ITC Busorama in issues 37–48 and Futura in issues 72-120.

Otomo's references and ideas

Akira , like some of Otomo's other works (such as Domu), revolves around the basic idea of ​​individuals with superhuman powers, particularly psychokinetic abilities. However, these are not central to the story, which instead deals with social pressures and political machinations. Common motifs in the manga include juvenile alienation, government corruption and inefficiency, and an army founded on ancient Japanese honor, discontented with modern society's compromises.

Thematically, the concept of work is centered around on the nature of young people to rebel against authority, methods of control, community building and the inevitable transformation in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. The latter is best represented in the transformation work experienced by the characters. This transformation more commonly referred to as morphing is a factor that marks the demarcation between real work and postmodern work.

Work must also be seen as an attack on the Japanese establishment and in this case Otomo's work would be considered satirical. In particular, school and the race for new technologies are shown as sources of alienation that lead the protagonist and other characters to wander aimlessly through the streets so as to represent the futility of the search for self-knowledge. The work also focuses on loss, with all characters in some form orphaned and devoid of attachment to their history.

The landscapes depicted are ultimately ruinous, with old Tokyo represented only by a dark crater. This nihilistic nature of the work ties in with a broader theme of the pessimism present in Japanese fantasy literature of the 1980s.

The Japanese, US and Italian publication

Regarding the publication , the serialization of Akira began in Japan exactly on December 20, 1982 in the number 24 of the Kōdansha Young Magazine and went on bimonthly with chapters of about 20 pages in length. Otomo took care entirely of the drawing of the characters, buildings and backdrops, while the inking was relegated to two assistants. The work was finished on June 25, 1990 after 120 chapters, but in reality there was a delay in publication since between 1987 and 1988 the manga artist had to dedicate himself to the anime adaptation of his work. In any case, at the end of the production of the story, the series had about 2200 pages which were then divided into six volumes of different lengths and published between 1984 and 1993 after a partial reworking by the author to better adapt the stories to a serialization.

As already mentioned above, the manga was so successful in Japan that Epic Comics, a Marvel Comics label, decided to buy the publishing rights in the United States, where it was published in color since 1988 to 1995 in an edition of 38 volumes. The colored edition also appealed to the Japanese who saw an almost contemporary publication between 1988 and 1996 in 12 volumes which was renamed All color kokusaiban Akira. There was also a six-volume re-edition entitled Sōtennenshoku Akira (Akira completely natural colors) in the years 2003 and 2004.

In Italy the first edition arrived in 1990 and was composed of 38 volumes edited by Glenat Italia which, however, it failed before the series ended. The last two episodes of the story were published two and a half years later by Panini Comics' Planet Manga. This edition featured the same coloring performed by Oliff for the US edition, but in 1998, also Planet Manga, created a new black and white edition consisting of 13 volumes which ended in November 2000. Subsequently, once again Planet Manga , made a third edition with the division into 6 volumes of the Japanese edition: this was also in black and white and was called Akira Collection. It was decided that all three Italian editions should not show the Japanese reading order.

Transpositions into other media between movies and video games

Akira was a worldwide success, so much so that the circulation had to be increased from the initial 30,000 copies to nearly 300,000 in just two weeks, making the book a blockbuster and sales champion in Japan. By 1988 Akira had sold 2 million copies in Japan alone, for an average of 500,000 copies per volume. To date, the work has been translated into more than twelve languages ​​and published in over fifty countries around the world, selling more than 5 million copies. This also led to the production of parallel works that embraced other media.

The first transposition was the film Akira released in 1988. The animated film was written and directed by the same Katsuhiro Ōtomo who showcased the design of the characters and basic settings directly from the original manga, while the plot differed greatly from the printed version, changing much of the second half of the series. The Akira film is considered by many critics as a landmark anime film. In 2003, Tokyopop released a "reverse adaptation" in the form of a "cine-manga" by Akira. The format consists of cartoons of the cinematic version cut and arranged with comic balloons to resemble comic strips.

Also in 1988, a videogame graphic adventure was published by Taito for the Famicom console. The video game takes the player to play the role of Kaneda, with the plot starting with the protagonist and his gang of bikers in police custody. In 1994, an action game for the Amiga CD32 was released in the UK and is considered one of the worst console games ever made. In 2002 Bandai also released a pinball simulation, Akira Psycho Ball, for PlayStation 2.

In June 1995, Kodansha released Akira Club, a paperback collection of various materials related to the production of the series. These included proof-of-concept paperback covers, title pages as they appeared in Young Magazine, and images of various related products. Otomo also shared his comments on each page and Dark Horse partnered with Kodansha to publish an English translated version of the book in 2007.

In 2002, Warner Bros. announced that it had bought the rights to create a film Akira's American live action. Many names were mentioned, including Stephen Norrington (writer / director) and Jon Peters (producer). Only in 2017, 15 years later, was it announced that Taika Waititi would officially be the director of the live-action adaptation, from a script he co-wrote with Michael Golamco. Warner Bros. had plans to release the film on May 21, 2021, but after Waititi was officially confirmed to direct and write Thor: Love and Thunder, the film has been suspended, with the May 21 release date currently being belongs to Matrix 4.

Finally, on July 4, 2019, Bandai Namco Entertainment announced a 4K remaster of the original film that was released on April 24, as well as a television series to be produced by Sunrise.

Do you want to see the animated film Akira? Here is the Blu-Ray on Amazon! Do you want to read the first volume instead? Here it is always on sale on Amazon!

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