Friday, March 6, 2009

Akira - Volume 6

Akira - Volume 6
By Katsuhiro Otomo

As we learned in the long, drawn-out lead up to Volume 2's climax, Katsuhiro Otomo, visionary creator of Akira (both the manga and the film), has no qualms about stretching his dramatic moments out to the breaking point, so the fact that the final volume of the saga is one gigantic climax should come as no surprise.

Those who have seen the film will recognize elements of how the story comes to a head. Tetsuo finds his incredible power increasingly difficult to control, resulting in a grotesque transformation into a gelatinous mass of veined, bloated flesh. His body tries to adsorb whatever is around it in order to contain the power. He can't control it. The result is a nightmarish baby run amok.

Meanwhile, Kei, under control by the shriveled little peers of Akira, attempts to square off with Tetsuo and put an end to him. While all this is happening, the American military, the Colonel (who is now a lone wolf), Kaneda and Joker and others, all converge on the Olympic Stadium where the followers of Akira and Tetsuo have taken refuge.

It's pretty huge, ultimately sprawls over several key locations, and contains enough plot twists to keep you interested. Lady Miyako, for instance, ends up being far shrewder than we imagined, orchestrating the one plan that might finally put an end to both Akira and Tetsuo.

But her plan is risky, and the cost just might be the destruction of, well, EVERYTHING.

The resolution? Very similar to the film's. (Though the manga came first, the film was made while the manga was still in progress.) Not as vague, though. A little more direct, a little easier to digest, a little easier to wrap your head around.

Except, of course, for the somewhat bizarre epilogue.

After the mass destruction that closes out the book, the military arrives to bring aid to the survivors. In a scene closely mirroring the one that opens Volume 3, the survivors drive them away, take the supplies, and claim they are now a sovereign nation. With the military standing in shock, the survivors then cruise away through the rubble of Neo Tokyo, off to live their life amid the ruins. The final shot shows the ruins parting to reveal a huge, shining city even more polished and beautiful than the original Neo Tokyo.

A glimpse of the future? A sign of hope for tomorrow? A signal that better days are to come and that a utopia will be born from the corpse of Neo Tokyo? Maybe.

But why did the survivors turn away the chance at aid? Why did they declare themselves a sovereign nation? They seemed to have no motivation to do so. No reasoning behind it. Nothing up until this point even suggested it was in the cards, so it feels completely out of the blue. Otomo laid no groundwork for this ending, and the result is a certain degree of, "What?"

Still, it doesn't detract from the awesome epic that is Akira. As one of the crowning achievements of comics, I don't care if you love manga or hate it, Akira is essential reading for anyone who loves the comics medium.

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