Posted in Anime, Comics, Discussion, History

Akira—How the World Fell in Love with an Incomplete Masterpiece

In 1988, the world was treated to the stunning marvel that is Akira. Critically acclaimed, and celebrated the world over, Akira has become a staple of cult cinema and anime. Based on the seminal Manga of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo, and more commonly referred to as the stack of phone books most collectors of such material have in the top corner of their libraries. The film has garnered much respect for its visuals, style, and compelling story. It was revolutionary in its creation, even from a technical standpoint. Having all new colours created for the process of cell colourisation, particularly in the films numerous nighttime scenes, and its use of pre-recorded dialogue, something that while standard in the west, was and still is, consistently uncommon in the east.

However, it is a possibility that you could refer to the film as an unfinished story. To those that have only seen the film, and haven’t sacrificed the necessary time to dive into 6 phone book length tomes, the film comes to a close with the discovery of Akira’s resting place, and the country in ruins, as Kanada and Kei ride off to their future. In reality, however, of the 6 books, Akira is found at the end of Book 2, and the country is brought to its knees in Book 3. While the film is written and directed by the manga’s original author, his story was not complete when the time came to turn his tale to the big screen. In fact, Akira started its publication in 1982, and didn’t publish its final chapter until June of 1990. 2 full years after the film was in theatres. At the time of the film’s release, only 4 of the 6 books had been released, leaving the audience at a similar situation in both media. While reworking his story for the big screen, Otomo found himself with the answer to how to end his now colossal saga. Essentially, what started as an adaptation became the inspiration for the material being adapted. Quite possibly one of the most paradoxical sounding feedback loops I can concoct.

For an American, or rather Canadian example, it may be best to compare it to the likes of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I don’t imagine you’ve heard too many comparisons between Akira and Scott Pilgrim before now. The writer and artist for the original Scott Pilgrim comics, Bryan Lee O’Malley, was approached for the film rights after only the first book, strangely enough also of 6 books. While O’Malley didn’t have as much involvement as Otomo, with Edgar Wright taking the lead on the film, he did help in guiding and plotting the film. However, at the times, he still didn’t have an ending for his comic. Much in the same way as Otomo did, his work on the film guided him in shaping his final book, and ending the story of Scott Pilgrim in the print format. The final fight with Gideon Graves, while ultimately different in both mediums, was a film creation that made it’s way back into the original format.

The real fun part of adapted work is the fan outcry. The arguments as to whether or not the new work is faithful to the original, or whether the original author would be happy with the changes. But with this, as I seemed to put it before, paradoxical sounding feedback loop, the barrier between the original and the adaptation blur. We are left with products that could not be created without the others existence and vice versa. At the end of it all though, we do get two versions of some great stories.

The 1988 Akira film is currently available through Manga Entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD. Both Subbed and Dubbed, though I cannot recommend the original Streamline 1989 dub to anyone due to its heavily stilted acting. If you are so inclined to listen to the English track, always indulge in the 2001 redub, starring Johnny Yong Bosch and Joshua Seth. The Manga is available through Dark Horse Comics, with a stunning new edition due for release in October of 2017.

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