Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Akira - Volume 4

Akira - Volume 4
By Katsuhiro Otomo

Yo, shit just got real.

At the end of Volume 3, Akira, the little boy for whom the story is named, wigs out and blows Neo Tokyo to kingdom come. Buildings topple, places flood, civilization is thrown into ruins, and the whole place generally looks like a bunch of dominoes in mid-topple. Yeah, you just spent 1,000 pages hearing about Akira, Akira, Akira ... and now you know why this kid was feared.

So Volume 4 picks up an unspecified amount of time after that major turning point. From this point forward, Katsuhiro Otomo's saga becomes a much different beast. This is clear from the very start. Otomo does a great job of introducing us to this new Neo Toyko when a helicopter bearing aid is taken by marauders. The chopper flies in over the jaw-dropping destruction below and lands amid the rubble, but the people who were there to help are turned on and killed. BOOM. We're in an all new world.

This volume is different than the earlier volumes in other ways beyond setting, too. Rather than action being the sole thing that pushes the still somewhat vague story forward we suddenly have an actual look at Tetsuo as a person, warring factions that are more than unexplained names and notions, and real character development for some who had until this point been fairly two-dimensional. It feels like there is a lot more meat on these bones. A lot more substance.

Oh, and for those fans of the movie who have not read the comic, this material is all exclusive to the comic. It extends the story in a major way and will have you looking at Akira in an all new light.

The kind of themes that also helped make Akira relevant also start to come into play. The nature of power and responsibility, cults of personality, humanity and morals, survival of the fittest, and the nature of the universe. It's not painted with a Big Message banner, but it's all there, making the action feel less wasteful and mindless than the early motorcycle gang sequences. A more satisfying read is the result.

And that action remains high energy and badass, only now it's in an even cooler setting. Otomo must have been nuts to pack his world with such detail. At least when Neo Toyko was still whole he could break out the ruler and draft nice, clean cityscapes. Here it's a mass of twisted wreckage and rubble, skyscrapers jutting up from the torn Earth like rotten teeth. Between those broken pearly whites run a HUGE cast of characters with guns, powers, bombs and other means of killing one another dead. The cast was already fairly large, but here it gets even bigger, with loads of instantly recognizable (albeit nameless) side characters slamming through shootouts, chases, and eventually an all out war.

Though Otomo's storytelling stretches itself out like a lazy cat, it's never less than brisk. It moves, and as such there is a lot to digest here. Lots of twists, turns and happenings. The plot essentially begins anew, and once it starts moving it doesn't slow down.

Plus -- and this is the big one -- here we finally see the origin of Akira and the other super powered children! Woot! You can put some of the pieces together earlier in the series, but here is where it's spelled out in an explicit way. The who, the how, the why. Puts it all in a clear context, and helps to set up some military-related stuff that will come later.

That's right, yo, shit just go real.

This is awesome.

An earlier version of this review was originally posted at

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