Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Akira - Volume 3

Akira - Volume 3
By Katsuhiro Otomo

A 300-page chase scene. That’s pretty much what the third volume of Akira is. Nearly 300 pages of a little boy getting kidnapped again and again, passed back and forth by several factions competing for control of him.

And then a dozen or more pages of savage, epic destruction.

Thing is, despite the scope of the third volume being so limited, it packs in almost as much information as the first two volumes combined. Fractures in the government, an attempted coup, rebellion, a bizarre religious leader, the military enforcing a police state. There is a lot happening and a lot of people to track. Much of it happens off-panel. The coup, for instance. We hear about it and see some of the fallout from it, but only a small fraction of the fallout, and we never fully see it take place. We know the entire city is under siege, that the whole of Neo Tokyo is in turmoil, but we see it only through the lens of our specific story. All Katsuhiro Otomo shows us is the lengthy (in pages, not in time elapsed) struggle to have control over the little boy, Akira.

Of course, you can’t control Akira. Not really. So when his power is triggered near the end, WATCH OUT. The destruction is awesome to behold. They’ve hinted and hinted and hinted that Akira is like nothing we’ve ever seen, but it’s hard to believe he could have surpassed the level of power we’ve seen from Tetsuo. But he can. By a long, long way.

This volume is the most intriguing thus far because it broadens the world of Akira -- just before completely turning it on its head. We finally get a sense for some of the factions involved in the vast backstory and a sense of their history, even if only in passing. I liked that. This is the stuff I want to know. Sure, the action is great and Otomo makes it exciting -- by now this should come as no surprise -- but I want to know more about these people and this world. This is FAR more engaging than the largely empty motorcycle gang stuff at the start of this epic.

Speaking of the motorcycle gang stuff, I wonder if Otomo really knew where he was going with things at that point? It’s such a pointless diversion in many ways. Yeah, we see Tetsuo’s spiral into insanity, but damn it took a long while (500 pages), and those particular gangs are largely irrelevant after that point in the story. Joker's return later in the saga doesn't really add all that much to the narrative, after all. At least here the relentless action matters.

Even better, the action is more focused on characters we like and can root for.

Like Chiyoko. She’s awesome! At first she looks like a big, soft, matronly woman. How wrong that assessment is! She’s the badass to end all badasses, as tough as they come and able to smash noses and blast apart enemies without breaking a sweat. You really grow to love her throughout all the chasing and fighting here, a love that pays off well in the next volume. She’s great.

Anyway, this is the climactic volume of the saga’s first half, ending in a HUGE HUGE HUGE HUGE event that completely changes not just the face of Neo Tokyo, but also the tone of the entire series. From this point forward Akira will have more to say than it has thus far. The story becomes better. The politics more intriguing. The drama more compelling.

Really, Akira has only just gotten started.

An earlier version of this review was originally posted at IMWAN.com.

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