Diversity Blog 001: Akira: Volume One
“Why waste time on the older generation? I want to talk to you.”
Akira: Volume One Spoiler Free Review:
Thirty-Eight years after a new type of bomb exploded over Japan and started World War III, the country still hasn’t recovered. Fifteen-year-old Kaneda and his gang of delinquents (make the minimum effort to) attend school during the day, while spending their nights running drugs, getting in fights, drinking, and exploring the ruins of the city. It’s no secret that they’re troublemakers, but the city is more interested in funding the military and prepping the crater for the upcoming Olympics than keeping the youth of the nation in line.
One night, after hanging out in the restricted zone near the crater, Kaneda’s best friend Tetsuo literally crashes his motorcycle into a child who mysteriously appears in the middle of the road. Tetsuo ends up hospitalized, and Kaneda swears revenge. Eventually, this quest leads to Kaneda ending up with mysterious pill and knowledge of a conflict he doesn’t understand (or really care about). Tetsuo gets a much more first hand look at the conflict once the military discovers that he may have some unexpected potential…
Akira was probably the first anime I ever saw that I knew was Anime, and it remains a fantastic film to this day, which was why I chose to review the entire original manga during the diversity challenge. I’ll be doing one volume a month over the next six months, and this volume does an excellent job justifying that choice.
As you might have noticed from the description, in many ways this manga has aged very well. A runaway military budget unconcerned with economic infrastructure is very relevant, as are places like Brazil and Qatar spending more money on gaming arenas than their own people. The art is beautiful and lively, and the plot is different enough from the anime that even longtime fans will get a kick out of seeing the distinct development of this story.
Unfortunately, there are some problems.
While Katsuhiro Otomo does a brilliant job of portraying a set of fifteen year old deuteragonists, he arguably does too good of a job. Kaneda is downright sociopathic at times, not just when fighting rival gangs, but also in his personal life, such as the relationship he has with the school nurse. He is consistently but realistically portrayed as someone led by his hormones as much as good sense, and gets entangled in all his trouble either due to loyalty or hormones. There is a strong female character in Kei, but there are no other strong women for her to interact with- at least, as of Volume One. A rather large disappointment in this otherwise excellent manga.
Was the ending satisfying?: It made me want to read the next volume immediately, rather than wait a month, so yes!
Does it pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test: No. The only females I remember speaking at the nurse Kaneda uses for drugs and sex, and Kei, who thinks Kaneda is kind of an idiot. I don’t believe either of them interact.
Diversity: Not very diverse due to taking place in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic military state, but still displays distinct viewpoints within that culture, where even rebels and gang members don’t have a group mind.
There appears to be no diversity in terms of sexuality though, and relatively little in gender, which is disappointing. If the story can be forthright with Kaneda’s sexuality, there was definitely time to discuss the sexuality of other characters.