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Akira Volume 3
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2001

Format: Comics
By:   Katsuhiro Otomo
Genre:   Anime / Science Fiction
Released:   August, 2001
Review Date:   July 19, 2001
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

This third volume of the Akira manga goes beyond the events of the movie, which will hopefully come as a pleasant surprise to those people whose only Akira exposure is from the anime. Instead of climaxing with the reawakening of Akira himself, as in the anime, the manga takes a sharp left turn into chase comedy territory. Three separate groups are trying to get their hands on the mysterious boy named Akira and the power he represents, and they clash in a brouhaha of running, hiding, psychic battles, tank duels, and "Tom and Jerry"-like swapping of who's got possession of Akira. All these events would actually be pretty funny if it weren't for the backdrop of intense political jockeying, martial law, and brutal violence.

Luckily for Akira's reputation as a masterpiece of dark science fiction, the mixed-up chase sequence that makes up the bulk of Akira Volume 3 is very well crafted. It's a tense, thrilling, often funny but always dramatic story, and the conflicting tones don't clash with each other or detract from it one bit. Because of the frantic nature of the plot in this installment, characterization is definitely lacking (unless you count Machaivellian maneuvering by a guy named after a small rodent to be characterization), but Akira was never about character drama in the first place. It's an action story with heavy doses of metaphysics and political philosophy, and Akira Volume 3 pays off in that regard in spades.

Part of the reason the various themes mesh so well is the amazing art. Vast, highly-detailed cityscapes that are obviously inspired by the urban sprawl of Blade Runner fill page after page. The humans in the story are almost swallowed up by the massive, intimidating Neo-Tokyo, emphasizing the dehumanization of this future world. The anger and violence of the citizens is represented with quick staccato panels and swaths of black ink, a very visceral way of showing the reader just how meaningless human life is for the faceless string-pullers in the story. And, then, of course, there's the apocalypse at the end of this volume...

Akira is required reading for anyone with an interest in dystopian science fiction. Volume 3 is slightly different in tone than might be expected, but the lighter feel blends well with the kinetic storyline and the fantastic art. If the anime movie is your only source of Akira knowledge, you might want to skip this installment and go right for the first two volumes, to save yourself some confusion ("I don't remember Kaneda and Kei chasing Akira through the streets of Neo-Tokyo in a stolen army tank!"). But at the very least, I encourage everyone, especially those of you who have never seen any Akira at all, to pick up this manga volume in the store and flip through it. It's what American cyberpunk has tried to be for the last decade and a half, and it's not to be missed.


Kevin Pezzano is Anime Editor for RevolutionSF, and that hardly ever makes his intestines burst with psychokinetic force.

 
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