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Page history last edited by Rebecca C 11 years, 12 months ago

Creator: Katsuhiro Otomo

Original Date(s) of Publication: Serialized in Young Magazine from 1982-1990 and released as a 6 volume series in Japan from 1984-1993

Publisher: Kodansha Comics 


A science fiction manga, Akira features a dystopian society rife with gang violence, youth delinquency, anti-government terrorism, and political corruption. Akira also deals with issues like the dangers of science and progress when it goes too far.


Plot Summary


The first volume of Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo in 2030 AD, 38 years after WWIII. A motorcycle gang races through old Tokyo. Near ground zero (where a bomb exploded during WWIII), Tetsuo Shima, a member of a gang led by Shotaro Kaneda, injures himself in an attempt to avoid running over a child with a wizened face. This “child” is later revealed to be Takashi, one of three powerful government-trained paranormals. The accident awakens Tetsuo’s dormant powers and draws the attention of the Colonel who heads a clandestine government program conducting research on children who exhibit psychokinetic abilities. However, Tetsuo’s growing powers cause debilitating headaches that hasten his slide into mental instability/insanity.


Meanwhile, Kaneda has several encounters with a mysterious girl named Kei, who works for an underground resistance group that tries to subvert the government and army at every turn. When he hears a seemingly superhuman Tetsuo has become the leader of a rival gang called the Clowns, Kaneda starts a gang war. In the ensuing violence, the former best friends try to kill each other. The life-and-death struggle is temporarily halted with the arrival of Colonel who convinces Tetsuo to become number 41 in exchange for drugs to suppress his headaches.


This volume hints at a deadly power hidden beneath the original blast site. This power, kept in a cryogenic state, is Akira. A child psychic, Kiyoko, foretells his eventual awakening.


Significant Features


Compared to other manga, Katsuhiro Otomo’s characters are drawn more realistically; the proportions of the characters are rendered with great accuracy. Also, Akira relies heavily on visual cues and cinematic techniques. As Jean-Marie Bouissou describes, Akira uses “close-ups...views from enlarged angles, violently contrasting light and shadow.” Otomo includes sound effects that reinforce the cinematic feel; this reflects onomatopoeia in the Japanese language. However, Robert Petersen notes that the sound effects (when translated) can seem more intrusive in American comics. This is due to the differences in culture and language between U.S. and Japanese comics. In Japanese comics, the sound text appears far back in the picture and different weight and emphasis give the impression of louder or quieter sounds. However, in U.S. comics, the sound text appears in the foreground and there is little to no variation.


Another feature that distinguishes Akira from many Western comics is what Warren Ellis calls “massive decompressed storytelling.” A scene that would take a few mere seconds is told over several pages instead of a couple panels. This drags out the suspense and creates a more immersive experience for the reader.  In addition, Akira has no narration, only dialogue. The cinematic style and scenes of nonstop action gives the manga a cross-cultural appeal. Though Akira is set in Japan and deals with Japanese issues like the A-bomb trauma, its main characters can be easily identified with. Kaneda and Tetsuo are alienated youth trying to make sense of the world where chaos and violence is a daily occurrence. Akira contains something for every reader - it has love, supernatural powers, explosions, motorcycle/car chases, destruction on a massive scale that occurs more than once. There is a lot of heavy meaning and symbolism for deep thinkers. Yet, the main appeal of Akira is its well-developed characters. At its core, Akira is a story about the friendship between Kaneda and Tetsuo. 


Publication History / Historical Context


From 1984 to 1993, Kodansha Comics collected and published the epic-length manga in a black-and-white, six volume series. Marvel/Epic Comics picked up Akira in 1989; they translated (and censored) Akira for western audiences. The editions of Akira released by Epic comics were digitally colored and broken up into smaller chunks (thirty-eight to be exact). The last few issues were not published until 1995 because Otomo was unhappy with the ending and wanted to rewrite it for the release. Epic Comics published another series (of twelve volumes) with better quality paper around the same time but the last two volumes were never released due to Otomo’s rewrite plans. In 2000, Dark Horse Comics acquired the rights to publish Akira from Kodansha. Dark Horse Comics published Akira in six volumes from 2000-2003; they released the series in the black-and-white format of the original Japanese editions. Akira was republished by Kodansha Comics from 2009-2011.


Impact / Influence 


Akira was the one of the first Japanese comics produced for high school and college students. Prior to Akira, manga was written for children/pre-teens or adults. This six volume manga had a cult following and set the standard for all future manga. Katsuhiro Otomo’s style has been imitated by several different authors around the world.


Critical Reception 


Akira was a modest success when published in Japan. However, it was a great success abroad and sold millions of copies. Akira sparked a manga craze in the west (especially after the movie debuted in Japan in 1988). In 1984, Otomo was awarded the Kodansha Manga Award and the prestigious Science Fiction Grand Prix. Akira was revolutionary because it was one of the first comics that used computers for color separation. Steve Oliff, the colorist for Akira, won the Harvey Award in 1989 and the Eisner Award in 1992 for his work; Akira began the wave of digitally colored comics. Akira won two Eisner Awards in 2002 for Best Archival Collection/Project and Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material.


Katsuhiro Otomo has received a lot of recognition for his work. One of the most well-known reviews of Akira appeared in Pulp Magazine. The reviewer, Warren Ellis, said, "Western comics were not the same after Akira. It was most Western people's first exposure to post-Tezuka, massively decompressed storytelling. And it was strange to see a Japanese comic, coming as it did from a place that still labored under lots of stereotyping and misconception from abroad, showing 'us' how to make a comic so utterly contemporaneous." 




  1.  Robert Petersen, “The Acoustics of Manga,” in A Comic Studies Reader, ed. Heer and Worcester. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.
  2. http://www.corneredangel.com/amwess/acad_1.html
  3. http://mechademia.org/
  4. http://www.akira2019.com/
  5. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=11
  6. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2000-09-19/warren-ellis-in-pulp


Further Reading



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