Akira: The Future is Neo-Tokyo

June 3rd, 2010 by | Tags: , , , ,

I was sitting here thinking about what I wanted to go up on the site today and drawing a blank. I have several posts in progress, but none I really felt like finishing tonight. A couple need more research, another would require some scanning, and I’ve had a long day. I threw on the Akira blu-ray I picked up the other week and had been putting off watching.

I think it’s safe to say that Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira was the first anime I ever watched, barring translated stuff like Puss-n-Boots and a few other fairy tales. It had to have been ’90, or ’91. I know I was living at my grandparents’ house at the time, and my uncle picked it up from the local video store. It was Akira and Fist of the North Star, and then Ninja Scroll a few years later, that ran my anime world. (FotNS was important to a much lesser extent than the others–my grandmother walked in on a headbusting segment and I didn’t see the end of that movie for a couple years. By the time I got back to it, I’d discovered Ranma and probably Tenchi Muyo. The animation looked stupid by then.)

The opening sequence of Akira got me thinking. Frank Miller’s Sin City burned a love of crime stories into my brain. I think that Akira, a movie I definitely saw before I turned ten, ruined me for science fiction.

I’ve briefly mentioned my problems with a lot of sci-fi stories on here before. I’ve never been into the super sleek Star Trek stuff. It’s too clean, too boring. Star Wars came a little closer, but still tended toward the shiny. Too much sci-fi indulges in utopianism, or at least some kind of frontierism, and I think that’s where the break happens. I’m not enough of an optimist to believe in anything utopian, I guess. It all rings false. The future isn’t going to be shiny.

No, the future is Neo-Tokyo.

The city design in Akira, movie or manga, is fascinating. There are pipes that spiderweb around the city. Dirty alleys lurk around the corner. Glitzy neon signs litter slums. The city is confused, with a ton of brick and stonework next to jury-rigged pipes and metal. It hints at rapid, unchecked expansion. Otomo’s incredibly detailed artwork makes the buildings look real, or at least real enough. There is depth and weight to them, and when they begin falling, it’s like the end of the world. After the rise of the Great Tokyo Empire, you can look and see how the ruins came from a real city. The city makes sense, which is something that is vital in establishing a setting or mood.

The thing about Otomo’s future is that it isn’t the far-flung future. There is technology beyond our capabilities, and it is clearly not the present day. It’s tomorrow. And the thing about tomorrow is that it looks a lot like today. Today? It looks a lot like yesterday. We wear our clothes a little different, we talk a little funnier, but society doesn’t change that much. The visions of the future from the World’s Fair or science-fiction didn’t come true. Our cities don’t walk on wheels, our cars don’t fly, and we don’t eat pills for breakfast. Well, most of us don’t. Our buildings are taller. Our roads are the same. There’s just a different layer of dirt on everything.

That’s Akira. Neo-Tokyo isn’t ugly. It looks normal, but just a little different. There’s a certain beauty in its crowded, cluttered landscapes. There’s something to it that reminds me of Moebius’s work on Silver Surfer: Parable or Geof Darrow’s Hard Boiled. They all show history through a weathered building or clusters of trash in the street.

What I like about it is that there’s been a clear progression from now to then. It looks like what the future might actually look like one day. It looks like Tomorrow Plus. A little dirty, a little dingy, but clearly the future. No utopia, no grand sense of exploration, and no sleek, sex toy-esque cars. The lasers are bulky and unwieldy. The backgrounds are dirty and old.

I think I like the future, but only when it looks like an older version of tomorrow. Akira works for me. Star Trek doesn’t. Maybe that’s Otomo’s fault.

Similar Posts:

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

11 comments to “Akira: The Future is Neo-Tokyo”

  1. Akira goes down as one of my favorite comics, ever. The shift in the story after volume 3 is amazing. What volumes have been printed in color?

  2. I think Marvel published the entire series in color in floppy form in the early ’90’s. One of the earliest and still one of the best examples of computer coloring, in my opinion.

  3. Yeah, Marvel published it under the Epic line. They also reprinted it in a series of small hardcovers that are tough to find.

    I hadn’t actually seen much of the color work but that’s really pretty.

  4. I totally agree with the sentiment that Akira is better than most sci-fi and that Neo-Tokyo is a pretty believable future, but it’s significantly more believable 20 years ago. Today has already started to tend towards making the shiny toyesque car reality available to the majority, while that rugged dirty undercurrent still exists elsewhere. I mean, today someone can buy a computer at http://tannheimer.ch/blogg/wp-content/computer_shop_little-india-singapore-06.jpg or at http://www.gearfuse.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/apple_store2.jpg. Fluorescent Black is a slightly more accurate idea of today’s tomorrow I think, but after over 20 years Akira still gets the point across better than the majority by far.

  5. […] Brothers comments on the cityscapes in Akira at […]

  6. Akira looks weird colored, its one of those series I just associate black and white with.

    Good manga, the last page is brilliant.

    Also the sleekness of Star Trek is the point

  7. When EVERYTHING’s dirty… it gets boring quick.

  8. I love Akira. I miss the old dub, it was so tough. I think it’s not fair to put Akira vs say a Star Trek. Akira is a near future so it shouldn’t look that crazy. But Trek is distant. It’s 22nd and 23rd century after some world wars and meeting aliens and getting help in technology and everything. Also real talk Star Trek influences our lives. It was the stuff smart kids dreamed to make and did it. mobile phones, bluetooth headsets, multi touch and iphones and droids came from the trek. GE has a new scanner that is basically the tool Dr. Crusher used in TNG.

    Star Wars isn’t the future or sci fi, i’ts fantasy like a story book. I hope have some Akira stuff and my grandkids get to see the first star ship take off. That is what trek is about. A future without bullshit.

  9. If you squint so you don’t see the crazy shapes buildings take under artists emulating the European sensibilities of original artist Carlos Ezquerra, and then ignore pretty much anything about the character and his world not written by original writer John Wagner, Judge Dredd in the last decade has become an impressive vision of a gritty sci-fi world. Robot wars, nuclear apocalypses (plural), talking apes, alien super-zombies, unkillable evil ghosts made of fire from another dimension – all the crazy high-concept shit you can think of has happened to the fictional locale of Dredd’s Mega City One, yet without fail everything snaps back to being just another shithole where faceless fascists enforce the law and people are ground up by the ceaseless organic mechanism of the city.

  10. I agree that Star Trek and Akira have different thematic goals.

    But I also agree that Akira (especially the original Marvel Comics colorized version) is one of the very best things to ever exist.

  11. The colored version of Akira has been reprinted by Kodansha itself in Japan and in a number of European countries.