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Heh, heh... what's happened to me? I must be dreaming. I feel like I can take out the world.
"NEO-TOKYO IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE"
Akira (sometimes spelled AKIRA to differentiate between the work and the title character) is the name of a post apocalyptic sci-fi manga first released in 1980 and its movie adaption released in 1988. It is the most recognizable of Katsuhiro Otomo's works.In July of 1988 (or at 2:17 P.M. on December 6th, 1992), a mysterious black-domed explosion destroys Tokyo and sets off World War III. Thirty-one (or thirty-eight, depending on whether it's the manga or the film you're dealing with) years later, the rebuilt city - now known as "Neo Tokyo" - has fallen into decay.Two rival biker gangs, the Capsules and the Clowns, are having a turf war one night, when one of the youngest Capsule members, Tetsuo, almost literally runs into an escaped government test subject. Moments later, the test subject is taken back into custody by the army. However, they also decide to take Tetsuo with them. He then becomes the newest test subject for the "Akira Project." But when Tetsuo's powers awaken, the combination of an inferiority complex harbored since childhood with power beyond Tetsuo's wildest dreams waste no time in driving him insane. He escapes the lab and goes on a super-powered rampage through Neo Tokyo, killing and destroying everything in his path. It falls to a handful of people, including Capsule leader and Tetsuo's friend Kaneda, to put a stop to the destruction.There is an anime movie version and a manga version, both widely different sans the above mentioned premise and with varying reputations. The movie is primarily known for its great animation. It was one of the things that helped disprove the Animation Age Ghetto, at least for Anime in the West. It has been dubbed twice into English — once in 1989 by Streamline Pictures and again in 2001 by Animaze via Pioneer (later known as Geneon). It is also known for its Mind Screw plot, as it primarily focuses on events from the first third of the manga, while simultaneously removing or incorporating plot lines from later in the manga as well as rewriting a few plot points.Being over 2000 pages in six hefty volumes, the story the original manga tells is much longer than the film. It is more violent and focuses more on politics. Critical plot developments in the film are often Late Arrival Spoilers in the manga.A two-part Hollywood Live-Action Adaptation had been proposed in 2002, but it spent much of that time in Development Hell with little progress made. It was eventually cancelled in January 2012.Meanwhile, the Akira Project is a crowd-sourced live-action fan trailer which does justice to the source material. See the result here.Not to be mistaken with Akira Ishida, Akira Kamiya, Akira Toriyama, Akira Kurosawa, Akira Ifukube (the guy who composed the Godzilla theme) or Akira Yamaoka (who composed most of the Silent Hill games). Or Arika, for that matter.Oh, and it's pronounced "AH-kee-rah", not "uh-KAI-ruh". Don't mess it up, or else.
After the End: We start with "old" Tokyo already nuked, then Neo-Tokyo gets nuked again but the story continues anyway.
Alternate Continuity: Though they have similar beginnings and underlying themes, the movie and the manga diverge rather early and become two different stories. Character origins, deaths, and sometimes personalities are different. And while the endings look the same, the manga implies Tetsuo is gone for good, having been consumed by Akira, while the movie leaves it open to interpretation.
Animal Motifs: Mr. Nezu (Japanese for "rat"), a small, greedy, cowardly man with big teeth.
Apocalypse Wow: First, the prologue, and then the anime and manga diverge.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: It seems that every other character in Akira is a seasoned criminal on their own; the tamest example would be Kei, who has committed murder, trespassing, various degrees of assault and the hijacking of a moped.
Cool Bike: Essentially every member of the biker gangs have cool bikes but special mention has to go to Kaneda's souped-up red bike that has glowing wheels. It's suggested he stole it. It's often displayed on merchandise, and the most iconic image that isn't Tetsuo's mutation scene.
Crapsack World: The original Tokyo is a nuclear wasteland while the new one has roaming biker gangs, a corrupt near-facist government, food riots, and a rebellion that isn't all that far removed from the government in terms of morality. That's just the initial setting. It gets worse. In the movie, Nezu compares the city to an "overripe fruit" while the Colonel calls it "a garbage heap made up of a bunch of hedonistic fools."
The Glomp: Kaneda gets a big ol' glomp from Kaisuke when the latter sees that he's alive.
Goal-Oriented Evolution: The plot in a nutshell is pretty much mocking the idea: the government project is attempting to "accelerate evolution" I.E. produce humans with Psychic Powers. They have succeeded at this, but fail in giving those humans the Required Secondary Powers to keep them from ravaging their bodies or driving them insane. Natural evolution doesn't do dumb shit like that; that's why we don't have bats with super-hearing but without brains that can decipher sonar, or eagles with super-vision but no flash-dampening to prevent the light from ruining their eyes. As Kei puts it, it's as if they were trying to make amoebas with human strength, stamina and dexterity...
Kei: But amoebas don't build motorcycles or atomic bombs! They just eat up whatever gets in their way.
Licensed Game: An adventure game / visual novel was created in 1988 for the Famicom. It was translated by fans in April 2012.
Lighter and Softer: The theme of a rebellious biker living in a gritty technological area who ends up in opposition to the government and military, including characters who look much like those from Akira, would be revisited in the miniseries Freedom Project.
Live-Action Adaptation: According to Wikipedia, In the early 1990s, Kodansha Ltd. was in negotiation with Sony Pictures to produce a live-action remake of the film. Talk circulated again a decade later, but the project has yet to materialize. Rumors circulated that the project was canceled in both instances when the projected budget for the film was upwards of $300 million. Talks began again as Warner Bros. signed on to produce the movie with Stephen Norrington (writer) and Jon Peters (producer). Akira was to be developed into two live action films; the first was to be scheduled for a summer 2009 release. Warner Brothers and Appian Way planned to adapt the two movies from the manga, with each one covering three volumes. Ruairi Robinson signed on as director, Gary Whitta wrote the script and Andrew Lazar, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Davisson were to produce the film. As recently as 2010, Lazar was still talking about getting the film out of Development Hell—but as of January 2012 the film project was cancelled.
Loads and Loads of Characters The Movie wasn't exactly light on the amount of characters. The manga however takes the cake. Even minor movie characters have a greatly expanded role. On top of that, all are very much relevant to the overall plot and integral to how things work out.
Manipulative Bastard: Nezu. This is more apparent in the manga, where he betrays both Kaneda and Co., Lady Miyako, and Ryu in order to get Akira. His plans backfire quite spectacularly in both versions, with the manga version having him unsuccessfully trying to kill Akira so no-one else can use him.
The image of a capsule is repeated throughout the story. It appears on the logo on Kaneda's jacket, the name of the gang, the drugs the gang members take, the Psycho Serum Tetsuo depends on, and, in the movie, the containers that store the remains of Akira.
The double helix shows up several times in the manga, such as when Akira forms a twisted ladder out of pieces of rubble.
No FEMA Response: Justified as, by the time major humanitarian aid efforts are on their way to Neo-Tokyo, Tetsuo and his followers have already organized the survivors into a militantly isolationist cult who attack the relief workers.
No New Fashions in the Future: It's 2019/2030, but the fashions of most people still look like they did in The Eighties; the government agents with 70's-style hair (in the first volume) and girls with legwarmers come to mind in particular. Not so bad with the business suits and military outfits, as those have been relatively unchanged, as they have been for a much larger timeframe than the gap between when Akira was made and when it takes place.
Power Glows: Anything/anyone that makes things blow up tends to glow just before it happens.
The Power of Friendship: The Numbers use it decisively during the final battle against Tetsuo by appealing to their reawakened friend, Akira, to use his power once more to create a new universe to contain Tetsuo's expanding power. Later, the children tell Kaneda that one of the perks of being a psychic is gaining a new circle of friends who understand each other perfectly, without words. They even name their former antagonist Tetsuo as one of their friends, leading one to think that this new universe will be a place of harmony.
Shout-Out: Kaneda's full name is the same as the Kid Hero from Gigantor. Gigantor itself was a secret military weapon, just like Akira and they were both number 28. In fact Otomo himself stated that Akira was essentially a retelling of Gigantor
Super Serum: The military uses drugs to kickstart the development of psychic powers, but they ultimately prevent the user from reaching their full potential (partly as a safety measure).
Teens Are Monsters: Teens are depicted as volatile and dangerous, if not evil. Characters include rioting student protesters, drug-addled thugs, and terrorists. Zig-zagged in the manga in that the restlessness and energy that makes the kids so destructive also prepares them to create a new society out of the ashes of Neo-Tokyo.
Technology Porn: More-so in the manga than the film, but slick technology plays a pretty big part of both stories.
Terrorists Without a Cause: Kei and Ryu's organization opposes the government but that's all we're told. Just why they're opposed is never revealed.
Zeerust: Chunky computers without touch screens are still in use in 2019. Partially justified by technology being held back by The Tokyo Fireball and subsequent conflicts. Also, no digital cameras. Ryu at one point gives Nezu a roll of film to develop.
Adaptation Distillation: A feature length film adaptation of a 2,000-page manga. The film follows the manga fairly closely up until Tetsuo gets to Akira, then jumps right over the post-apocalyptic plot arc that took up half the manga and goes straight into Testuo losing control of his power in the finale.
Battle Aura: Tetsuo sports a red one during his battles.
Blown Across the Room: Happens twice near the end when the Colonel shoots Tetsuo with a handgun and Kaneda shoots him with a laser rifle (which have no impact at all).
Brick Joke: While Kaneda and his gang are at the police station, a fanatical member of La Résistance tries to bomb the place with a grenade. The grenade fizzles, and the resistance member gets beat up by police. After Kaneda leaves the station with Kei, the grenade goes off.
Lady Miyako, a big key player in the fight against Tetsuo in the manga, gets roughly ten seconds of screen time in which she praises Tetsuo, as she believes he's the new Akira. And then she's quickly killed when Tetsuo takes out the bridge she's standing on.
The Joker gets this as well. Though he appears in one of the film's most memorable scenes battling Kaneda and his gang, that's the only scene he appears in, whereas in the manga he becomes a fairly major character, being forced to deal with Tetsuo's antics when the latter usurps control of the Clown gang so he can get drugs and towards the end of the series becomes a valuable ally of the heroes.
Due to the Dead: Kaneda ritually crashes Yamagata's bike, sending it to the afterlife after him, immediately after learning of his death at the hands of Tetsuo, in a possible Shout-Out to Stunts.
Early-Bird Cameo: Kaori shows up along with the girls dating the rest of Kaneda's Capsule gang in this version; she and Tetsuo are already together.
Foreshadowing: If you look carefully during the scene where Tetsuo first begins to hallucinate you can see a series of events that happen later in the movie like Tetsuo's rampage on the city, his fight with Kaneda, Tetsuo's mutation, Kaori's death, and his flashbacks to when he first met Kaneda.
Gainax Ending: After two fairly straightforward acts of action and exposition, the finale of the film is surreal.
Genre Shift: While the manga focused on mainly on action and political intrigue, the movie has a lot more psychological horror involved.
Jaw Drop: Kaneda and the Colonel each have noticeable, drawn out ones upon witnessing Tetsuo's mutation.
Lip Lock: The film's Mouth Flaps are unusually well animated for a Japanese cartoon, which has caused translators no shortage of grief.
The Men in Black: Practically the quintessential definition of this trope appears briefly to intimidate the Capsules when Kaneda is being taken away a second time. Black suit, black tie, white shirt, black opaque glasses, mute, and seemingly 7 feet tall.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the end, the psychic kids summon Akira to take out Tetsuo, in the process destroying Neo-Tokyo. In the manga, Neo-Tokyo had already been destroyed by Akira at this point.
Non-Serial Movie: A sequel was never made even though the manga continued long after the events of the anime.
Overtook the Manga: The movie came out in 1988, but the manga was not finished until 1990. Although the film was mostly based on the first two parts of the manga, the film and book have very similar endings.
Pillar of Light: The laser coming down from SOL (the Japanese orbital satellite).
Pragmatic Adaptation: Due to the necessity of cutting down a 2,000-page manga into a feature length movie, the film cut out the whole post-apocalyptic story arc that took up about half of the manga series.
Product Placement: Ever-present. Kaneda's motorcycle has company logos plastered all over it, including Canon, Citizen, Shoei and Arai. It also sports a US Air Force roundel.
Reluctant Mad Scientist: Dr. Onishi. He ignores an order to shut down his work if Tetsuo's vital signs get out of hand. Nobody ever blames him for the outcome in the manga, but the Colonel gets angry at him in the film.
Reveal Shot: The police station where the biker gang is being held looks like one corridor and one questioning room. As they go to leave, the camera pans out revealing that there are dozens of interrogation rooms where suspects are being questioned or beaten.
R-Rated Opening: Within the first ten minutes, we get cursing, drug references, and plenty of blood from the gangs or the rebel that gets gunned down in the opening by a handful of soldiers with machine guns. In fact, Tokyo explodes before the credits are even finished.
Soundtrack Dissonance: The end credits in the 2001 edition feature the song "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy" (briefly heard in the background during one scene in the movie) over the second portion of the end credits.
Took a Level in Badass: Kei, after she was taken on by the three kids, and also Kaneda in the final confrontation with Tetsuo.
Viewers Are Morons: Handy instant exposition by Kaisuke for those viewers who weren't really paying attention; while sitting outside the interrogation room with the gang:
Kaisuke: So, the army's working with the police... To hunt down anti-government groups, or so it seems. (beat) Yeah, that's it. (nobody responds)
Action Survivor: Kaisuke lacks the fighting skill and grit of most other characters, but is one of the few characters to survive the entire story.
America Saves the Day: Subverted. America seems to be the only country to notice the potentially world-ending events taking place in Tokyo, but their attempts to solve the problem either have no effect or make things worse.
Angst Nuke: Happens several times. In book three, Akira's traumatized reaction to the death of Takashi sets off a massive explosion of psychic energy that levels most of the city. Later, Tetsuo rises into the sky and supernovas after enduring painful withdrawal from power-inhibiting drugs, signifying that he has awakened. May or may not have been the nature of Akira's first awakening which destroyed old Tokyo, as the circumstances were never fully explained.
Bridal Carry: A sad version of this is Tetsuo carriying Kaori's lifeless body around after she's shot to death.
A Child Shall Lead Them: After Neo-Tokyo is destroyed in the second awakening, Akira is dubbed Emperor and becomes the nominal ruler of half of the city. It's actually his 15-year-old "Prime Minister", Tetsuo who calls the shots.
Dancin' in the Ruins: One of the crazed zealots from the Empire celebrates not having to pay taxes anymore.
Deface of the Moon: To impress his empire, Tetsuo blows a hole in the moon. The tides are affected, as in not every case of this trope.
Determinator: Chiyoko. The lengths she goes to save the esper children...
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: In spite of the fact that Testuo shrugs off explosions and total vaporization, Kaneda manages to punch him out at one point.
Divided States of America: Japan, in this case. After Tetsuo takes over Neo Tokyo, he tries to establish it as the "Great Akira Empire." At the very end, Kaneda tries to establish the city as the Great Tokyo Empire.
Doorstopper: Six volumes the size of phone books, a collective 2,182 pages. Because the plot is at least 50% chase scenes, however, it's a surprisingly quick read.
Enemy Mine: Kaisuke enlists the help of Joker, the former leader of a rival gang, against Tetsuo.
Enlightenment Superpowers: The monks at Miyako's temple developed psychic power in a limited capacity through discipline and meditation.
Evil Albino: In the final volume Tetsuo begins to mutate but is able to pull himself together. In his reconstituted form he appears unnaturally white because he lost all pigment in his skin and hair.
Evil Chancellor: Tetsuo installs himself as Prime Minister of the Great Tokyo Empire.
Flashback: It's really scarce in the manga, as the characters are physically subjected to intentional in-universe flashbacks. Actual flashbacks include:
Ryu's reminiscing about his friend's early death when descending to Akira's cryogenic holdout.
Another flashback is presented after the moment the first Black Dome occurs (decades before the main story) showing the surviving Espers coming out of the mud from the crater.
For Science!: The Juvenile-A team study the events in Neo Tokyo mostly out of scientific curiosity.
From Bad to Worse: Happens to the citizens of Neo Tokyo in pretty much all of the second half of the manga after Akira destroys most of Neo Tokyo. By the end of the manga, things are only looking up slightly, the general attitude being that the survivors know how much worse it could really be (and on the whole they're better people and a bunch of jerks get what they deserve).
Genre Shift: The second half goes from cyberpunk to post-apocalypse.
Genius Bruiser: Subverted with Joker. Kaneda marvels at the bikes that Joker has restored, saying that he never expected Joker to be a mechanical whiz, but Kaisuke confides that Joker had help. Though he gerry-rigs a flying platform, it spends as much time broken down as actually flying.
Going Cold Turkey: Tetsuo goes through agonizing withdrawal to quit the pills the scientists gave him to keep him from losing control of the Power. He throws his stash into the sea.
Healing Factor: To wit, Tetsuo survives multiple shootings, an overdose of medicine, an assassination attempt by Kei, his arm blown off by a Kill Sat, gassing with a specially-engineered biological weapon, and a missile landing on him. Dr. Onishi and the Colonel discuss his remarkable resilience.
The Starscream: Tetsuo's Aide, who stages a coup toward the end of the story. Justified due to Tetsuo's Ax-Crazy-ness.
Mugging the Monster: A newly empowered Tetsuo is cornered by members of a rival motorcycle gang just after escaping from the hospital.
Must Have Nicotine: The Colonel uses cigarettes to bribe a scientist suffering from nicotine withdrawal into working for him.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Tetsuo seeks the advice of Lady Miyako, who tells him that his destiny is to become as powerful as Akira. She says that in order to do this he must stop taking the pills that awaken psychic potential and inhibit its growth. Her plan is to use Tetsuo's power to check Akira. He takes her advice to heart. What she didn't tell him was that if he quit taking the drugs and pushed himself too hard, he could lose control of it, putting himself and the rest of the world in danger. When Tetsuo learns this the hard way, he's justifiably angry at the set-up and calls her out on it.
Kaneda and Kai borrow a couple of motorcycles from Joker; then, Tetsuo blows up a big chunk of the moon and a tidal wave floods the underground where Kaneda and his scouting party are. Kaneda has to return the motorcycles to Joker with a severe case of saltwater damage. Joker, predictably is not to happy about the state of his machines.
Nothing Is the Same Anymore: The second half of the story. Ignoring the numerous changes in the individual characters, the conflict has become a post-apocalyptic showdown between the followers of Lady Miyako and Akira. Also of note is foreign involvement.
Occupiers out of Our Country: Soldiers of the Great Akira Empire resist foreign intervention so effectively that they turn half of Neo-Tokyo into a hermit kingdom. Later, after the final showdown between the Akira Empire and Miyako's forces, Kaneda and his fellow survivors gather under the banner of the newly-formed Great Tokyo Empire and chase off UN peacekeepers as a threat to their country's sovereignty.
Orphan's Plot Trinket: As a child, Tetsuo has a locket with a woman's picture in it and he tells people it's a keepsake from his mother. He actually found it in the street and just pretends it's her in order to feel some connection with his parents.
Pietà Plagiarism: Tetsuo carried Kaori's lifeless body around after she's shot to death.
Practical Currency: A tavern serving the local refugee population takes things like batteries as currency.
Progressive Era Montage: The spread in the last two pages of the manga provides a remarkable example that can only be done in the medium of comics. Kaneda and his motorcycle gang ride through the ruined streets of Tokyo toward the horizon, and as the reader's eyes move upward on the page, the buildings metaphorically rebuild themselves until, at the top of the page, the future city in the distance has become even greater than before.
Psycho Serum: A drug that either kills or awakens psychic powers, but also holds them back from developing too far, as Miyako reveals to Tetsuo. He quits them.
Kaneda after the timeskip. He is assumed to be dead after falling into Akira's psychic blast at the end of volume 3, but at the end of volume 4 he is transported back along with various other buildings that had fallen into the blast as well.
Also happens to Tetsuo in Volume 3. After getting his arm shot off by the SOL satellite at the end of the second volume, Tetsuo flies off and is not seen again until the end of Volume 3.
Resist The Beast: Tetsuo attempts to get his painfully mutating body under his control again. When it doesn't work, he tells Kaori to run as far as she can.
Wham Episode: Volume 3 ends with Akira destroying Neo-Tokyo the same way as the original thirty years before.
What Happened to the Mouse?: In the first volume of the manga, Nurse Hoken tells Kaneda she might be pregnant, and then is never seen again. It's possible (if not probable) she was killed at the end of Volume 3, but it's never specified.