Akira: immortal charm of a cult

Akira: immortal charm of a cult


35 years after its debut, Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo, the work that revolutionized the perception of anime all over the world, returns to the cinema to once again conquer the general public in an unprecedented remastered version in 4K. The appointments to mark in your diary, born thanks to the synergy between Nexo Digital and Dynit, are 14 and 15 March. Specifically, the first day will be dedicated to screenings in the original language with Italian subtitles, while the second will be dedicated to screenings dubbed into Italian with a new adaptation faithful to the original.

One of the limits of science fiction narrative is the inevitable comparison with technological evolution. You can predict future scenarios, give birth to incredible inventions but, sooner or later, the time comes when sci-fi works have to confront the future they have been rumors of. A comparison which, especially if these stories are set in a short time horizon, risks making these futuristic scenarios prematurely old, condemning them to an often unjust obsolescence. However, there are works that, despite the passing of decades, manage to survive this examination, seem not to be affected by the time that has passed, but deservedly rise to the role of cult. Works such as Akira, the cyberpunk manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, which despite being born in the early 80s, still today has a current narrative vis-à-vis that honors the founding dogmas of cyberpunk.

The name Akira is often first associated with the anime, also made by Otomo, who reduced the focus of the manga plot, focusing mainly on the events told in the first story arc of the manga. To better appreciate the authentic spirit of Otomo's work, while admiring the incredible visual show staged by the anime, we must turn to the manga, where the mangaka had the opportunity to build his Neo in a more complete and compelling way. -Tokyo.

Akira: cyberpunk made manga

A city that, like Blade Runner's Los Angeles, has become synonymous with cyberpunk. At the time of Akira's release, this sci-fi subgenre had not yet been canonized in its best-known form, as it was with the release of Gibson's Neuromancer in 1984. In the early 1980s, cyberpunk was literary fiction underground, animated by a group of young Californian authors led by Bruce Sterlin and a young Canadian author, the aforementioned William Gibson. Unbeknownst to the American writers, on the other side of the ocean a young manga author, Katsuhiro Otomo, was giving life to a science fiction story that, with cyberpunk, had several similarities: Akira .

Otomo already had authorial experiences, such as Fireball , a manga that can be considered as an embryonic form of the future Akira . While on the one hand it highlights the strong link between Otomo and science fiction, Fireball already lets some features of Otomo's future narrative dialectic emerge, which will find full realization in Akira. In fact, what still amazes today is the mangaka's perfect use of one of the fundamental aspects of sci-fi fiction, i.e. a critique of contemporaneity, declining it in a modern key, in which the social crisis and corporate elements find a new valorisation. The essence of cyberpunk, if you like, as it was developed in the contemporary states, so much so that we often tend to see the first spark of cyberpunk in Akira. Understandable, and it would in fact be unfair not to give Otomo's manga the merit of having contributed to the narrative and visual characterization of this genre.

Inside Akira, in fact, all the dogmas of cyberpunk are present . From the sprawling city to a disenchanted vision of the role of institutions, seen as unable to escape the economic dictates that lead to social degradation. The interference of technology, the prerogative of wealthy citizens, is an element of division among the population, which therefore finds itself having to find new ways to survive. In Akira these traits are inserted into a more complex narrative mosaic, which is joined by a portrait of urban Japan of the period, with particular attention to the presence of b osozoku, motorcycle gangs that infested the urban streets in the period.

Like the protagonists Kaneda and Tetsuo, the bosoku were young people who gathered in real clans, with the aim of disturbing the public peace. They were a manifestation of youth unease, future members of criminal organizations such as the Yakuza, which represented a failure of the youth policies of the period, a symbol of a social decadence rooted in Japanese society of the period. Otomo saw in this real trait of his contemporary Japan an excellent narrative starting point, to which he combined the purest sci-fi element: the presence of psionic powers, born from mutations and military experiments. Already present in his previous work, Fireball, this narrative suggestion allowed Otomo to create a complex social dynamic, in which institutions become a target of criticism, accused by Otomo of not having taken care of the evolution of the contemporary world. Akira highlights a lack of foresight on the part of governments in perceiving the changes imposed by the apparently unstoppable technological progress, which has a direct impact on society.

Akira, a contemporary portrait of a future Japan< /h2> A concept which, combined with a Neo-Tokyo devastated by a previous explosion linked to the events narrated in Akira, increases a sense of decadence and social surrender, which often appears in Japanese sci-fi and fantasy literature of the period. This characterization of Akira's setting is enhanced by a graphic work which at the time marked a demarcation point in the very conception of manga.

Otomo, in fact, gave birth to a manga in which the portrait of the world in where the events take place is central in every respect. From the urban context, detailed and careful in portraying the decadence that reigns in reading, to the graphic definition of the devastated Tokyo that acts as a theater for a large part of the opera. What made Akira unique for the period was Otomo's intuition of having to adapt some of the dogmas of the manga to the foreign market, hoping to also intercept an audience accustomed to other readings, which is why the tables that I compose Akira have been adapted for a western publication. Akira was then recalibrated for 'our' reading quite quickly, even if some tables were subject to more targeted interventions, so as to adapt them to a Western publication.

Another element of breaking with manga tradition is the coloring. Once he decided to publish Akira in America, Otomo did not limit himself to taking care of the structural modification of the plates, but decided to meet the taste of American readers, accustomed to comics, by coloring his manga. Entrusted to Steve Oliff's Olyoptics, Akira was then equipped with colors that are still today those usually associated with the product, but which were also the first example of digital coloring, a technique that was experimental at the time but which became the format on which this was developed technique, which also led to the adoption of a special smooth paper that enhanced this coloring.

Narratively engaging, visually impressive, Akira at the time of its Japanese release, and following the American one managed by Marvel Comics , was an immediate cult . Earlier we mentioned the comparison between the literary imagery and the realism of the time, a dualism that Akira also had to bow to, given that by now the 2019 imagined by Otomo has not only been achieved, but also surpassed. Even if the events created by Otomo and the technologies imagined by the mangaka still belong to the world of fantasy, it is still evident how the basic narrative suggestions and his social criticism are still today elements of fascination thanks to their actuality. Rereading Akira today does not deprive him of his narrative power, but rather shows how Otomo at the time had grasped social nuances that still have their own value.

How to read Akira

Rereading Akira , or better still reading it today for the first time is not likely to convey a sense of the past. While showing some inevitable weaknesses, mainly on the technological side due to the birth of new discoveries not imagined at the time, Akira preserves a narrative fulcrum that is still concrete and credible today, the result of a precise and compelling human portrait. It is only to choose how to read Akira, which over the years, due to his fame, has been the subject of several editions, even if to better enjoy Otomo's work it is advisable to rely on the latest reissue by Planet Manga.

Released in 2021, this new edition of Akira collects Otomo's work in six volumes. It is the first Italian edition to present this work with the typical sense of reading of manga, as per the author's request, with the first pages of each volume colored. To all intents and purposes, it is an edition faithful to the will of the author, collected in six easy-to-read volumes, graphically captivating that reproduce the covers of the Japanese edition, with a dust jacket which, once inserted in our library, allow to have a pleasant chromatic effect.

This new edition lends itself to being an excellent addition to the manga collection both for those who are already familiar with Otomo's work and for those who instead he intends to approach only now one of the symbols of cyberpunk in comics.

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