Akira: Volume 1 by Katsuhiro Otomo is set in a world decimated by World War 3. The story starts with the event that caused WW3 –the explosion of an unknown weapon of mass destruction that wipes Tokyo off the map.
Things escalated and led to an all-out nuclear war that destroys every major population center in the world.
In 2030 Neo Tokyo is a futuristic city built on an artificial islands. It’s also in total social decline. Gangs roam the streets and anti-government rebels commit terrorist attacks from the shadows. All while the city is set to host the 32 Olympic Games.
Riding through the ruins of old Tokyo, Shotaro Kaneda’s biker gang witness a supernatural incidence. While Tetsuo Shima, a gang member, races ahead of his rival Kaneda, a child suddenly appears right in front of his motorbike.
Swerving to avoid the child. Tetsuo loses control, skids and is knocked unconscious as his bike explodes.
And this is no ordinary boy. The child has the number ‘26’ tattooed and has the wrinkled face of an old man.
Then the impossible happens, as an angry Kaneda confronts the strange boy –he disappears right in front of his eyes.
Who is the strange boy and why do the anti-government rebels want to get their hands on him?
What is Akira and how is it related to the destruction of Tokyo?
Kaneda and Tetsuo’s lives will never be the same.
Read this classic manga cyberpunk series to find out more…
Katsuhiro Otomo: How Akira Brought Manga to The West
Akira is Katsuhiro Otomo most well-known manga and took 8 years to complete. It was also one of the first mangas to be translated into English in full, by Marvel Comics defunct Epic Comics imprint (that also brought us Blueberry).
The film adaption of Akira was one of the first anime that Western manga fans got to see.
It also helped build Otomos career as a film director and screenwriter.
Akira helped popularize manga outside Japan, with its ground breaking artwork and themes that resonate even today. It’s also the last major manga Otomo created before transitioning to anime.
And it all started in Akira: Volume 1! Let’s get back to the story.
Young Thugs, Terrorist Girls and Kids with Scary Powers
Kaneda and the rest of the gang are back at their reform school for juvenile delinquents –and speculate about what happened to Tetsuo. Apparently the army came and took him away from the crash site and now nobody knows where he is.
But their speculations are cut short by their teachers who apply the kind of corporal punishment that is normally reserved for hardened gangsters. And they are not exactly wrong.
Picking up a bag of drugs from the school nurse, who he is sleeping with –Kaneda and company hit their local club.
It’s here where everything goes wrong because Kaneda is a jerk with no self-control.
Spotting a cute girl talking to an older guy in the corner, our wannabe though guy goes and makes a fool out of himself.
Because he isn’t cutting into a date, but a clandestine meeting between two members of an anti-government terrorist group.
Taking offence, lead terrorist Ryu knocks Kaneda out and tells his contact Kei to run for it.
Being an angry punk, Kaneda won’t let this go unpunished and follows them with his crew. And on the way he and Kei run into the strange boy who caused Tetsuo’s accident.
The boy, Takashi, is an esper who uses his psychic powers when Kaneda threatens him.
Before we know it Kaneda and Kai are being hunted by the sinister Colonel Shikishima of the Japanese military –who wants his esper back.
In the process the Colonel runs across Tetsuo, whose drug abuse has made him the perfect test subject for the military’s secret psychic research project.
The experiment gives Tetsuo supernatural power but also unhinges his mind.
It brings out his jealousy of Kaneda and a sociopathic level of anger. And now Tetsuo is in permanent pain that only massive amounts of drugs can repress.
Add to that a dodgy politician, a religious cult and the hint that ‘Akira’ might come back soon and you got yourself an action packed cyberpunk story.
Want to find out what happens next? Read Akira: Volume 1 to find out!
The Art and Writing of Akira: Volume 1
Otomo’s writing is awesome. The story of Akira: Volume 1 sets the plot and mood for the entire series and it’s amazing.
We see futuristic Japan that has survived WW3 at the cost of its social order.
The youth are out of control, aimless and filled with anger. The opposition is plotting violent revolution. The government lives in fear of the mysterious person called Akira.
Everything is ready to explode in a grand, glorious orgy of violence and chaos!
Otomo goes deep into the themes of corruption, greed for power and social isolation.
We also get to meet one of the most unsympathetic protagonists of all times. Kaneda starts of as the biggest jerk you will ever meet but grows from there.
Yet, while Kaneda may be a thug –Tetsuo is the real monster in this story. Be warned, while not graphic Akira: Volume 1 isn’t a graphic novel for the faint of heart. It isn’t so much in what Otomo shows us, in as much as it is what he insinuates.
His art is an interesting mix between realism and classic manga. No silly pretty boys or characters that don’t look Asian in this one.
The way Otomo gets you to flow from one panel to another is just awesome. The action flows, from one sequence to the next.
Just like a river going down a hill.
The only thing that I didn’t like about Akira: Volume 1 is the fact that Otomo takes a long time to set the scene. While there is plenty of time, the first volume is really an extended introduction to the greater series.
While this builds a rich, fragrant and real world. It’s also rather long. But stick through it, Akira is worth it!
If you like cyberpunk with a Japanese twist and awesome art by one of manga’s greatest living creators read Akira: Volume 1 today. It’s a worthy addition to any graphic novel collection.
Happy reading folks.