Friday, January 15, 2010
Reader's Diary #566- Katsuhiro Otomo: Akira Volume 1
Yes, it's an exciting time. And a strange time. See, while I love traveling and learning about different cultures, I'm kind of at a loss as to how Japan ended up topping our spring break travel plans. I've never been a huge fan of Japanese food, didn't quite get anime, and have somewhat of a phobia of insanely large cities. So why I'm ending up in Tokyo is a bit of a mystery. (I'm not shooting a whiskey commercial, I swear!)
But since making the decision a few months back, we've been trying to familiarize ourselves with Japanese culture as best we can in Canada's subarctic. I've come to realize that there's a huge variety of sushi, and have actually found quite a bit that I enjoy. I watched Ponyo, and okay, still don't get anime. But now I'm venturing down a new path for me: manga.
Not knowing where to start, I went for one of the biggies: Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira (Volume 1). Some have hailed it as one of the best graphic novels of all time. It's certainly one of the books that helped bring manga into the North American market.
What a relief! Not only did I really enjoy it, I'll be moving on to read the rest of the series, and new manga as well.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo (so when I visit today's Tokyo, I should actually be relieved), the story revolves around a young male biker gang that inadvertently gets caught up in a street war, a government cover-up, an illegal activist organization, and a whole lot of trouble. How? One night the gang explores a forbidden zone: the bombsite where World War Three essentially began. While there, one of the gang, Tetsuo, nearly runs into a pale childlike figure standing in the road. Tetsuo swerves, falls from his bike and is nearly killed. However, when he wakes up surrounded by strangers, he soon discovers he has new abilities...
The cyberpunk dystopia, the multi-layered mystery, the science fiction; I loved it. I was even surprised by how much I enjoyed the visuals. Growing up with crappy Astroboy cartoons (yeah, I said it), I thought Japan animation was overly and too simplistically stylized. However, the detail in Otomo's drawings was fantastic, especially in the decrepit and vandalized backdrops. Apparently when Marvel Comics bought the rights, they colourized it for publication in North America. However, since then Dark Horse comics has bought the rights and reverted it back to the original black and white, leaving only the first 16 pages colourized. I'm glad they left these pages in for the sake of comparison, and though painted by Otomo himself, I think black and white was the better choice. The graininess, essentially to the feel of Neo-Tokyo, seems to be lost with the colour and besides, the more graphic novels I read, the more I'm starting to think they should all be black and white-- I've yet to see one coloured well.
The only issue I have with Akira, and I'm hesitant to call it a problem, is the lack of a likable character. Kenada, while certainly the protagonist of the piece, is a rude punk at best, a dangerously violent teen at worst. But it's about the only character that could fit in this situation, so I'm not sure what choice Otomo had. Plus, there are five more volumes so there's definite room for growth.
Who knows, maybe when I'm done I'll watch the film version and grow to appreciate anime as well.