It’s easy to forget how funny Akira can be. It’s a deadly serious manga, concerned with questions of power and control and other weighty subjects, but there’s a strong playfulness to it, too. Most of the cast is young enough for jokes to be believable in their situation, and all the humor is this sort of broad, really traditional comedy. There are pratfalls, dick jokes, vomiting… all this stuff is universally funny. If it isn’t universally funny, it should be. Penises and their associated mental hang-ups are hilarious.
Anyway, there are these bright, shining spots of comedy in Akira. It’s not fall down laughing funny. Maybe smirking funny, or “heh” funny. Regardless, the spots break up the tension a little bit, for both the characters and us. Comedy is supposed to heal, right? We laugh when things get uncomfortable, and stand-up comics is like cultural therapy. We use jokes to bond with each other and feel better about ourselves.
For the characters, it’s a suggestion that maybe things have gone apocalyptic, but deep down at the foundation of things, they’re still the same. They’re still human, they still have their relationships, and everything might just turn out okay. On top of that, there’s a power element, too. Joking or being casual in a tense or dangerous situation is a way to claim control over that situation. “Yes, this is bad, but it’s not so bad that I can’t handle it.”
I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like to laugh. It’s almost an absurd idea, isn’t it? Everybody’s got a sense of humor. Sometimes it’s awkward or off-putting, sometimes it’s skin crawlingly vile, sometimes it’s just regular funny or wry, and if you share it, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.
This is a nice reminder that the story stars people, not machines. It’s sort of like how we rarely see people going to the bathroom or eating in adventure stories. That stuff, and jokes, humanizes characters. You mean to tell me that Batman doesn’t have a sense of humor as black as his cape? The only people I remember writing a particularly funny Batman are Brian Azzarello and Grant Morrison, and both of them had him working this really mean style of gallows humor.
The importance of characters doing things normal people do–jokes, poops, foods–was invisible to me until someone pointed it out. But once you start thinking about it, it becomes really, really obvious. I mean, look at how poor Batman or Superman comics generally are without Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. You need that human hook. You need to be able to look and unconsciously say, “Yes, this is a human being.”
Jokes are a good way to do it. I really like the one at the bottom of this post. It’s so simple, and such an old idea. It’s almost definitely as old as I Love Lucy or the Three Stooges, yeah? But it’s good. It’s–I don’t want to call it a comfort, but it sort of is. It’s right there on Kei and Kaneda’s faces.