Archive for the 'katsuhiro otomo’s akira' Category


Create, Consume, Recycle 06/27/11

June 27th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

stuff i made

I got quoted on HuffPo about Green Lantern

Writing about Akira for ComicsAlliance, making all you other websites look bad

something something captain american movie stand for france

something something hal jordan bomber jackets

somethings something bomber jackets part one point five

who let all these frigging bomber jackets into my digital comics

something i like

This is a minor aspect of the text, perhaps, but I say it is still significant because this is my blog and my Akira website. (Join the webring.)

I’m about 9500 miles too far away and twenty years too late to want to wear most of the clothes in Otomo’s Akira, but I do enjoy his sense of fashion. Characters tend to be grouped into demographics and dress accordingly–twentysomething men rock button-ups and ties, military men wear suits, and teenagers dress casually or for biking.

It’s sort of a throwback, but the billiards scene up there? That makes sense to me. It’s a bunch of guys who are fresh off the job and looking to de-stress after a long day. Loose ties and rolled up sleeves, right? The man still wearing his jacket still has his collar buttoned up and tie straight. He looks out of place, doesn’t he? He does. And later, in another bar, he’s figured out how to blend in. Big smile, sleeves up, jacket in hand.

I like this bit, too. Otomo’s good at picking outfits that make you think, “Yes, this character would wear that.” You can’t see it, but Kai’s polo is tucked in. It’s partially buttoned, too. Kaneda’s isn’t, and when we first see him in that green shirt, he’s working on his motorcycle. What’s the point of tucking in your shirt if you’re doing work? It’s just going to come out, anyway. And Yamagata, delinquent to the core, is rocking a cut-off sweatshirt over a cut-off t-shirt. Nah, son.

Kei is interesting. I like this jacket and black on black outfit she has. It’s sensible, but the glasses make sure that it’s still a little secret agent-y. Her halter top fits her personality, too, in the same casual way that Kaneda’s shirt fits his.

The Colonel has an interesting progression. He’s in very severe suits for the majority of the book, and then the apocalypse hits. His gear becomes much more obviously military in nature, despite the ragtag and piecemeal appearance of it. While others are wearing ripped clothes and pants, the Colonel’s got clothes that let him hold things. They’ve got pouches and pockets, they’re heavy, they’re thick enough to hide stuff…

But yo, check out what the Colonel wears when he gets a late night phone call. Look at that robe, man. What a classy dude. Nobody should answer a video phone shirtless. (He throws a suit on before leaving the house later that night.)

Otomo is the king because panels 1.1 and 1.4 on these two pages. Tetsuo is putting on these clothes. How often do you see that, man? It’s not even a cool “SUITING UP FOR ACTION RARRRR” joint. He’s just chilling in the background, puttin’ on some pants.

Tetsuo is… he’s not pretending, exactly, but he’s definitely playing a role for the majority of the story. “This is what a man is, this is how power should be used,” etc etc. Does that make sense? Viewed in that light, his various outfits click. He wears heavy riding gloves (which he doesn’t even use) and a tank top while leading a motorcycle gang. He wears this all white thing with a red cape for a decent portion of the book, sort of as a symbol of his #2 nature to Akira. His outfit is plain, while Akira gets a nice blue.

And this tactical vest and pants… he’s got no reason to wear that. They just look good. They’re a symbol of conquest and power, since he’s taken the outfit off a soldier he killed. This is just some straight up Arnold Schwarzeneggar swag, something that lets you show off what makes you strong and look ill at the same time.

It’s also an expression of humanity, because Tetsuo is teeter-tottering between complete and total ego death due to his powers and holding it together, but that’s a post for another day. (Wednesday?)

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A: “!”

June 24th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

There’s the temptation to take this day and deliver a real deal conclusion. Wrap the whole series up in a bow, explain why it’s so great, and do it in such a way that everyone who reads it finishes the post with tears in their eyes and their credit cards in their hands. There’s a part of me that wants to finish it, in the Mortal Kombat sense of the term, so that I can put it into a box and say “I did that.” “Here’s points one, two, and three, and now you understand everything you need to know about Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Go forth, and spread the word.”

Instead: four consecutive pages from book one.

Panels generally take place in one moment in time. They don’t really show progression so much as a frozen instant. The word balloons in panel five, though, suggest a progression, and a quick one. A narrowing of the eyes or confusion (“What is that?”) and then vague realization (“Wait!”) which then bleeds into panel six, which has full recognition (“Tetsuo!”). You can see it on Kaneda’s face, can’t you?

I always liked the use of punctuation as an entire word balloon. Or no, that’s not right–punctuation as speech. (If you’ve ever instant-messaged me, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.) I first came across it in Metal Gear, and I thought it was pretty clever. What you say when you’re surprised doesn’t really matter, because a simple ! lets us fill in the blanks. “What the!” only goes so far, right? I like ?, too. “Wha?”/”Huh?” are kind of… obvious? Is that the word? They’re concrete. You always say them aloud, or just under your breath. ? is a good way to get unspoken confusion or surprise on the page. When you wake up and there’s a big object on the wall that might be a big ol’ spider, you don’t always go “What the heck is that?” Sometimes you just narrow your eyes and cock your head and look. That’s ?.

Kaneda back-handing that dude and then getting off his bike while it’s still in motion is basically the smoothest thing I’ve ever seen.

WHAM to SMUSH, do you see that? Man.

Tetsuo is beating the bone marrow out of this guy, and I like how it picks up with the beating already in progress. The first two panels say a lot about Tetsuo (look at his face, and the way he stays up on the guy–those two panels take place a split second apart). The full page says a lot about our cast, from how casual Kaneda is during the beating to when he’s finally had enough of it.

Look at the tension here. Just three word balloons. Wolverine was never as much of a loose cannon as Tetsuo is right here, and all it takes is one motion, two word balloons, and a hard look.

Every page is a delight. I didn’t even talk about the scene where Neo-Tokyo catches a bad one when Akira loses it.

Maybe that’s the conclusion I didn’t want to write. “Every page is a delight.”

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R: “Woo-oo-oo-ooh”

June 22nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

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.

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I: “You’d better fasten your seatbelt, sir.”

June 22nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I get bored easily. (Maybe you’ve noticed.) That’s one of the reasons why comics are my favorite story delivery system. Books are cool or whatever, but I’m not really going to discover a new way to read a novel at this point. My friends aren’t going to start telling avant-garde stories at parties. Movies still have some room to grow, I think, but comics have kept it moving. Constant evolution. I know that if I open a comic–a good one, mind–I’ll see something that might just blow my mind.

This is largely a visual thing for me. Storytelling and execution counts for a lot, but what I really, really want is something to look at. Spider-Man’s after images, Flash’s speed (particularly when drawn by Doug Mahnke), and the violence in David Aja’s Iron Fist were all things that really caught my interest and kept me hooked.

Near as I can tell, comics is the last place where you can expect serious visual storytelling innovation as a general rule. There are thousands of artists out there, and a thousand possible styles. To not be surprised or impressed with comics art requires… I don’t even know, the worst luck in the world and awful taste?

Here’s a surprise:

See it? It’s in panel three.

Okay, again. Panel five this time.

That streak of light entertains me every time I see it. Conveying motion is such a weird thing in comics. There’s a ton of ways to do it, and coming across new ones always sorta makes me grin. I first saw that in the Akira movie, and it was just one of several things that impressed me. Seeing it in comics only made me like comics even more. It’s a versatile little technique, and fantastic at implying the motion of something without obscuring it or being overbearingly obvious. It works similarly in the film, though I believe that they wavered and faded out, rather than being a solid-ish streak like these.

It’s a very small thing, though it appears dozens or hundreds of times through the manga, but it adds a lot to the experience. It makes it easier to believe in the world that Otomo is creating. You start to discover and accept the rules of this fictional world, and how it is translated when we view it through the lens of the comics panel. It adds realism, and that results in verisimilitude.

This is exactly how a moment looks in the world of Akira. Moving lights (of sufficient speed, which is something else this evokes that I just realized right now) hang in the air for a full moment before fading away. From that, we can estimate how fast the car is moving, where Kei is looking… Akira starts to fall into place. We accept something minor, and then expand. And then you see this and it looks as real as anything:

For my money, you can’t beat comics for stuff like this. Sometimes I get caught absolutely flatfooted when I come across something new and just have to read the scene a couple of extra times, just to see how and why it works. The reaction’s almost always “Oh, but that makes perfect sense,” too. Because that’s what this stuff has to do, and because that’s what makes you believe in stories.

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K: “Right on time.”

June 21st, 2011 Posted by david brothers

This is Chiyoko.

So is this:

She may or may not be Kei’s aunt, but she calls her Aunty Chiyoko, so sure. She’s part of the same resistance movement (terrorist group) that Kei’s in. She’s astonishingly direct, almost to the point of rudeness. She doesn’t spend any time at all dealing with the metaphysical aspects of Akira. She’s strictly go there, do this, let’s go and do that. At one point, sure, she tells one character to just admit their love, but that’s as deep as it gets when she’s there. Chiyoko is all about real life.

The funny thing about Akira is how often the cast goes up against the military. Early in the series, the military is essentially the main antagonist. And the cast? They’re basically high school kids and young adults at best. Kei’s clearly had some gun training, and Kaneda is scrappy and cunning, but as far as being soldiers goes? They aren’t. They manage to kill their fare share of enemies, though, and they don’t really react like someone unused to violence would. They get by off luck and recklessness, by and large.

Except Chiyoko.

Frank Castle, The Punisher, is a character that’s tough to like. Garth Ennis’s version is my favorite, and on top of that, the one that Garth Ennis draws and Goran Parlov draws, the one from Valley Forge, Valley Forge and a few other tales. He’s this big gorilla of a dude, formidable and invincible all tied up in one package. You look at him and know that he could carve a path through you and your crew with ease.

Chiyoko, in demeanor and depiction, puts me in mind of Frank Castle. She never really says too much. She’s so direct that conversations are near pointless. There’s not a lot of back and forth to be found when one person is completely assured of what she needs to do. She’s the tallest person in the cast, save for the Colonel, and she’s broader than he is. She’s got the same flat, sour demeanor as Castle, and a single-mindedness that’s positively admirable. She’s got a job to do and people to protect, so she does it. She has a purpose.

That purpose is wrecking an absolutely astonishing amount of people. She has an amazing aptitude for tearing through entire groups of grown men with ease. She’s resourceful and inventive. If she’s too far away to get her hands on you, she’ll either close that distance quicker than she should be able to or hit you with something from far. She barely gets a scratch until late in the series, even.

It’s implied that she’s ex-military, though no other female soldiers are shown in the series. But: she knows how to drive a tank, she’s good with a gun, she’s got major ordnance, and she’s even willing to get down and dirty with an armful of rockets, whether that means caving in a man’s skull or firing a rocket directly into his chest. She demonstrates an aptitude in this area that no one else in the book can match.

No one else in the comic wrecks people like Chiyoko. Tetsuo has a bigger body count, maybe, but half of his were accidental or fits of pique. Chiyoko is the one who wins battles intentionally and gracefully. She’s this perfect killing machine in an apron that was just dropped into the story. It’s reasonable to believe that Kei’s resistance group really is an effective terrorist organization if she’s counted as a member.

She’s great, man. She always gets a moment or two to destroy somebody, and she shows more heart than pretty much everyone but Kei and the Colonel. She’s not in the movie, unless there was a quick cameo that I’ve missed all these years.

This is probably my favorite bit:

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Create, Consume, Recycle 06/20/11

June 20th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

stuff i made

Buy some digital comics! These have dongs flopping around and vampires suckin’ blood. That’s a theme, right? Anyway: Butcher Baker, Wolverine & Jubilee, and American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest, get get get it.

-Here’s a dumb question: Why can’t we preorder digital comics?

top 10 marvel comics for September, get up on it

something something green lantern

something i like


Otomo’s Akira exists in this weird quantum state in my head. Schroedinger’s Anime? Sure, why not.

I first saw it probably in ’91 when the VHS dropped. My uncle picked up that and Fist of the North Star from the video store (Video Warehouse?) for some Sunday watching. We bogarted the bigger tv (it was one of those old fat 36″ joints, I think. We finally threw it out in maybe 2003?) in the house while everyone else was cooking and ran through FotNS. It blew my mind. It was so unbelievably violent and just amazing. I would’ve been eight at the most. Akira was the second feature, and it was even more mind-expanding. The story, the animation, all of it was like opening a door. I don’t think we were even joking around while the movie was on. That bit where Tetsuo’s guts fall out and the ground dissolves under him is burned into my head in a way that most things I encountered at that age aren’t.

I made it all the way up to the bit where Tetsuo turns into a pile of grotesque tumors before my cousin (she was, and remains, sixteen months younger than me) came into the room, made a face, and went and snitched to my grandmom that I was watching something gross. I was ordered into the den and that was a wrap, at least until I could sneak and finish watching the movie on my own.

That’s how Akira exists in my mind: sitting on the floor on a lazy Sunday after church, family noises in the other room, but in the living room? New things and shock endings. Fullscreen picture on the VHS tape, getting the tracking just right, on and on. My memory probably isn’t accurate, but that’s what the mental picture is, so that’s what’s true in all the ways that matter.

Time passed. Today, Akira exists in four states. There’s the original anime, 4:3 in aspect and dubbed onto a video cassette before I could afford the real deal. Then there’s the new dub, which features Vash the Stampede as Kaneda instead of a Ninja Turtle. It’s widescreen and (after a blu-ray purchase) hi-def. I like both probably equally. The more recent dub is undeniably better from a craft and quality perspective, but the old one has its charms. A little nostalgia goes a long way, right?

I did look around the internet and find a 720p rip of the Blu-ray that includes the original and 2001 dubs, though. I bust that out when I’m too lazy to get up and put a disc in the PS3.

The manga, too, has a couple of versions. There’s the color Epic ones I grew up with and comprise the majority of my collection, where Kei is Kay and everything is rendered in this really interesting palette that the rest of the comics industry never fully caught up to (Vertigo bogarted the brown, obviously, cape comics jacked the reds and highlights, and the more impressionistic stuff sorta fell by the wayside in favor of ugly gradients). Neo-Tokyo is a city I believe in, as large in my mind as the fictional New York City of rap that I love so much. It’s a city with gutters and layers, and you want to roll in one and peel back the other.

There’s the black and white version, which I still haven’t read in full. Kei is Kei, and some of the dialogue is a little different. It’s fine–I think the color adds a lot of personality to Akira, honestly. Steve Oliff did a pretty amazing job, and I wish that Kodansha had just reprinted those, instead of the black and whites. Still–these are good, and as far as one of my top three favorite series ever goes, well worth it.

(I’ve been eyeing these color Japanese volumes for a while, but they’d be a stupid purchase. I still want them.)

Strangely, Akira doesn’t exist in Japanese for me. I’ve watched the subtitled version… well, I’m not sure how often, definitely less than ten? I’ve watched it rarely enough that it barely registers in my head. I have spent a lot of time writing to the soundtrack, though. Remember when video game stores used to carry game soundtracks? I think I paid a grip for mine from Funcoland, ripped the CD to MP3, and promptly lost it. C’est la vie, long live digital media.

All of these things sorta swirl around in my head. I knew the different versions back to front (“Just when my coil’s reaching the green line!” > whatever it was Kaneda said in that new dub, but Kei > Kay as far as spelling goes), but it all adds up to one gestalt, a superAkira. This is one of those books/series/concepts that looms large in my head, large enough that I’ve genuinely put off talking about it in any sort of depth. I’ve taken stabs at it, sure, but I haven’t put my hands into its guts yet. I don’t know that I can do it without devolving into “This is SO GREAT you guyz” material, with long low-content posts masquerading as actual content.

But here we are, and here we go.

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A: “There’s still something you could do for me.”

June 20th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

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.

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