Early on in Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo scripts an interaction I found really interesting. Kaneda goes to the school nurse’s office to see if she can shed some light on a pill he found. Four pages:
The interesting bit is that the nurse reveals her pregnancy to Kaneda and his reaction is… nothing. He dodges her reveal in a way that both ducks any responsibility on his part and turns her reveal into a setup for a crude joke. He’s cognizant of what he’s doing, I think. The sad face in the reveal panel makes that obvious. But that doesn’t stop what he does next. In fact, it probably fuels his response. A baby isn’t even on the radar for Kaneda. That’s somebody else’s problem.
The nurse only moves a couple times in this sequence. She stands up from her chair to rush Kaneda out of the office before he gets caught, but after he kisses her, she’s frozen in place. At first, it’s clearly due to pleasure. Kaneda pulls away from the kiss, causing her to lean in. I like the way that she rests on the table after the kiss, presumably due to wobbly knees. She continues leaning on the table during her confession. It’s something solid that she can hold onto while she gets ready to shift the axis of her entire world. And when Kaneda shuts her down with a joke, she’s still leaning.
The body language here is ill. The way she tries to hold the kiss, the glow when she first grips the table, and then the way her head and body slowly slump over the course of three pages. It reminds me of this episode of Chris Onstad’s Achewood:
Kaneda walks around with dynamite in his mouth, and he’s an expert at using it. He’s cruel, and more than willing to use and abuse someone else to get what he needs. The sheer cruelty inherent in asking for a favor and then completely dismissing one of the most important things in someone’s life is incredible. It doesn’t make him wholly unlikable (it sorta does), but it’s a clue that, hey, this guy? Straight up delinquent.
On the flip side of that is the fact that nobody is completely evil. Everybody has someone they tell fart jokes to, or a girl that they get all goofy around. Kaneda is brutally callous, but when dealing with people he cares about, he’s fiercely loyal. He’s more than willing to go to the mat for his friends, and if that means killing somebody to get the job done? So be it. If that means beating up a greyed up little kid… hey. Fair’s fair. No one takes shots at the family and walks away.
I saw Attack the Block the other week. It’s working in a similar lane, in that it humanizes what would normally be pure goons in other movies. David Allison over at the Mindless HQ talked about this in detail in the review that made me interested in the flick to begin with. Both Akira and Attack the Block show the people behind the crime, for lack of a better phrase.
Neither of them are about redemption, either. Both Kaneda and Moses learn something and maybe figure out how to be better people, but that’s not the point of the story so much as it is a side effect of the story. Kaneda goes from his small world of high school, pliable women, and violence on the weekends to a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the old rules are dead, but old skills may come in handy. Things get bigger, and Kaneda is forced to operate on a scale and in situations he never considered and isn’t necessarily cut out for.
“Soandso is a hero” is a simplistic way of looking at things. The best person has flaws, and the worst person has good qualities. It’s a matter of seeing deeper than just the surface level for either side and considering the person as a whole. Kaneda is the right man for the right time. He has heroic qualities, but villainous ones, too.
I’m in the middle of rereading Akira after a couple of years off. I’m a third of the way through or so. I don’t remember what happened to the nurse, but now, I’m seriously and genuinely wondering what went down with her and the kid. Figure I’ll find out as I work my way through the rest of the series, though.