A Look into the Themes of Akira
Major Spoilers Ahead for both Anime and Manga
The Akira series is often considered a masterpiece manga and anime movie. The series revolves around superhuman powers and psychokinetic abilities. Katsuhiro Otomo is often creating such works. There are also underlying themes through out the series. As the plot line is very successful, what makes this series even better is the character development, political machinations, and social pressures. The themes that show up are government corruption, alienation, old-fashioned Japanese military honor, and society displeasure.
A Quick Look
Akira encompasses the experiences of war outgrowth and postwar according to Jenny Kwok Wah Lau. She goes further to say that Otomo grounds his work with Japanese culture and history when using the atomic bombing of WWII and the economic resurgence and over crowding of Japan. Therefore the series focuses on the youths that rebel against control, authority, community, and the passage from adolescent to adulthood. The characters show these themes quite well.
Susan Napier says that the morphing of these characters and story mark this series as postmodern since is constantly fluctuation. She says the series also attacks the Japanese establishment and that Otomo satirizes certain Japanese culture such ass schooling and the rush for technology. He uses the characters that roam the streets on motor bikes as a quest for self-knowledge and awareness. Not only that, but it focuses on characters that have lost their parents and have no sense of history or direction. Tokyo is depicted as a ruined city only seen as a dark crater. Napier says that the nihilistic nature of the series ties into the Japanese literature of the same time.
A good example is the inspiration of Bonnie and Clyde. Otomo was no stranger to the western film since he was born in 1954. He was in his teens when the film was released and inspired him in many ways. The tag line says it all “The strangest damned gang you ever heard of” (1967 Bonnie and Clyde movie) and of course from the 1970s Five Easy Pieces “He rode the fast lane on the road to nowhere.” Both films had an impact on his illustration style and the how realistic he made the characters. He even draws from the facial features and this makes it odd for typical mangas of the time. This helped him set apart from the other mangakas.
The Themes of Akira
There are many other themes throughout the Akira manga (and movie) that people have picked up on. Rebirth being one of them. Tetsuo is often referred to as the savior of NeoTokyo, since his character was ‘reborn’ with powers. NeoTokyo itself is another example of rebirth, as the city was destroyed and is now being reborn into another great city. Even throughout the manga it destroyed almost again and bounces back with another ‘rebirth’. This theme plays a large role throughout the series, but is not often thought of by the fans.
Youth rebellion is a theme that is often thought of by the fans. The fact that most of the main characters are teenagers that are part of a gang should give you the tip. Kaneda and his gang are often getting into trouble due to the fact they often skip school and are involved in gang related things. They smoke and drink as well. Looking further into the series, when Tetsuo gains powers he decides to usurp the Japanese government. He often goes through rampages destroying government property. This theme is actually double edged though. Since they are rebelling teenagers that are going through adolescence, they must grow up at some point. They must become their own person. This is often seen throughout the series with Kaneda and how he must grow into an adult to protect the city. What was once a quarrel between former friends, ends up with him being a hero eventually. While he often tries to take out Tetsuo with spontaneous plans and fails, he is victorious when he plans it out.
The theme of evolution is often appearing in both the movie and manga series. When they mention that the children are part of the next human stage of evolution, describe how Akira is, or what had happened to Tetsuo, they were all part of an evolving process. It seems to be a key theme to the Akira plot.
The theme of technology interfering with nature is often seen as well. They will eventually have nature turn against them and do more damage than good. The children were natural in an evolutionary sense, it was the technology that brought the powers out of them. All of the technology that was used against Tetsuo failed, showing that it will fail us as well. It shows the things we create will eventually become to much for us to control.
A theme of another plane of existence is also slightly seen throughout the series. Tetsuo gains new power and abuses them to begin with. He often says he has reached a newer level of existence. Although he gained this new power it was his downfall as well. This might show how Japan and the West came to meet. It helped them evolve from the ‘primitive’ state they were in, but eventually backfired on them with the atomic bomb. After this, Japan was able to rise to their own levels. Another way to take this abuse of power is from the point of view of Christianity. The abuse of power could be seen as a sin and this destroyed who he was. Christ is represented through Akira and delivered Tetsuo from the abuse of power and suffering. Since Akira was already dead at this point, this means he ‘came back to life’ so to speak to save him.
What Makes it so Good?
Akira appeals to all senses at all levels. It is packed with action, great plot, and great characters. The technology was so impressive that some weapons have been recreated for military and cultural usage. This series is much like Star Trek, that without the series most technology would not exist at this moment. The appeal of the characters and how realistic they are, really draws the audience in. The action scenes appeal to those who love blood and carnage. The plot not only appeals to most audiences, it also appeals on a deeper level. While you can simply read or watch this series without thinking much, if you do focus on the themes you get more out of it. Of course this series is a masterpiece on all levels. The anime movie barely uncovers the true roots of the manga, but it is still a general idea of what happens. Akira is a series that will live through many anime generations.