Monday, March 2, 2009

Akira - Volume 2

Akira - Volume 2
By Katsuhiro Otomo

The second volume of Dark Horse's massive reprint of Katsuhiro Otomo's manga classic, Akira, closes the door on the story's first act and takes the first major step towards the climactic change this story will see at its midway point, a change that is a major, major divergence from the better-known film.

The pacing of this volume is relentless, but not in the highly compressed way of early American comics. Golden and Silver Age American comics moved along at a breakneck pace, too, but they did so with major jumps in time between each panel. Superman hears trouble in one panel, and is on the moon socking an alien bank robber in the next. Not in Akira. While the action never stops, the way it's presented is stretched out like silly putty. Tetsuo taking an elevator ride for 100 pages? Yep. Oh, sure, the ride is filled with action and cuts back and forth to at least three other intertwined storylines, but still, jeez! Yet Otomo manages to make it work.

The artwork remains magnificent (though the faces are probably even more cartoonish than before). In one late scene in which we first meet a key character, Otomo manages to convey a remarkably chilling, almost otherworldly sense of power in a relatively small, innocuous figure. Very impressive.

The story, however, isn't undeserving of some knocks.

For instance, Tetsuo kind of annoys me. He's a punk kid who now realizes he can do whatever he wants to do. Got it. Understood. It'd be nice to have some sympathy for or understanding of him, though. It's clear he's drifting into madness, that he is being consumed with the power at his beck and call, but a little touch of humanity sure wouldn't have hurt. It's absolutely impossible to like this character. Too bad, since he plays such a central role in the story.

Oh, and despite being about 400 pages, some American readers might be turned off by the lack of density here. A lot happens and the action never stops and the plot surges forward like a tsunami, boom boom boom fast and furious, but it's easy to feel like there isn't a lot of meat on these bones. As mentioned earlier, Akira is presented with sparse text, sparse dialogue, no captions, almost nothing in the way of exposition, and the small character moments are few and far between.

So why do I like this so much? Because it's like an endless cliffhanger. It never lets up. Otomo puts carrot after carrot in front of us and before we know it we're slamming through pages. Fity at a clip. One hundred at a clip. Two hundred at a clip. You want to know more about what Akira is and how they will finally stop Tetsuo and just plain what's going to happen. It's engrossing. It's a great thrill ride.

Amazingly enough, though, we're still about 400 pages away from it getting really awesome.

An earlier version of this review was originally posted at

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