Anime, Manga

Thoughts from my re-watch of Akira

Akira (film)

Akira (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I’m re-watching Akira again, for the first time after having seen the first part of Megazone 23. It’s interesting to compare Megazone 23 Part 1 and Akira. Both came out within 3 years of each other – Megazone 23 in 1985, the year I was born, and Akira in 1988. Both have similar leads – biker punks who get in over their heads with sinister government conspiracies. Both series have hawkish military figures who overthrow the elected government in a coup, and both figures are certainly antagonists. However, it’s interesting to see how in Megazone 23, the military figures are clearly evil, while in Akira, the Colonel’s actions are given a stronger justification.


This is kind of a spoiler for Megazone 23, so don’t read further if you’re worried about having the story spoiled:
In Megazone 23, the plot of the story revolves around the main characters discovering that they’re on a slow-boat colony ship which is, basically, waiting for the Earth to become inhabitable again, one of several. Some of the other colony vessels, in the past, when they met each other, waged war with each other in an attempt to take the other’s resources or to perpetuate now ancient political squabbles. Thus, the population on the ship has the truth of their current situation kept from them. However, the military, who does know the truth, has discovered another ship approaching them, and is preparing a preemptive attack. To do this, they’re attempting to take control of the AI who controls the ship, and to overthrow the civilian government in a violent military coup.


The first film ends with the coup successful, and the main characters isolated and alone in society, with the main character’s combination cool bike/power armor destroyed, and their friends either conscripted into the military or murdered for knowing too much, with the sequel, released a year later, covering the main characters attempts to stop the war. It’s definitely a plot written to appeal to audiences who grew up watching the Japanese student protests in the late 60s and early 70s, and who sympathized with those ideas as they entered college and found themselves, to a certain degree disenfranchised in what would become Japan’s bubble economy.


On the other side of things, Akira is an anime and manga that really appeals to the same audiences and has some of the same sentiments. The manga started during the boom, before the bubble started to burst, and the film entered production during the start of the burst. Combine that with the fact that Japan has, for much of its post war history, been a single party government, and one which rewarded cronyism and a certain degree of corporate corruption, and you can see some clear social commentary in the film directed at the old guard, done through the framework of science fiction, as openly stating this social criticisms so directly in a non-genre picture movie probably wouldn’t have flown in Japan.


However, the movie and comic changes things up somewhat with the character of the Colonel. He’s a mouthpiece for the criticisms that some people (notably Isao Takahata, director of Grave of the Fireflies) who grew up in post-war Japan had for people of Otomo’s generation, complaining about how they didn’t have to contend with the hardships of the war, and that they should be more subservient to their elders in respect for the hardships they had to go through (a message that Takahata has explicitly stated was the point of Grave of the Fireflies – a film that was contemporaneous with Akira). Yet, while the Colonel performs acts that mirror the acts of the military in Megazone 23 – overthrowing the civilian government in a military coup – his actions are depicted as more justified, as the civilian government is interfering with the Colonel’s attempts to stop Tetsuo’s psychic rampage.