As any anime fan knows, the Akira anime is widely considered to be a classic. The animation and quality of the storytelling was groundbreaking at a time when anime was going through a "cheap" phase (think Sailor Moon... ugh). It still looks good, even today, almost 30 years after it's release.
But before the anime, there was of course the manga. And all six volumes of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira ended up being my read for book club this month.
I'm going to do my best to not make this simply a comparison of the manga to the anime. Because let me say right up front, as much as Akira is an amazing film, it absolutely pales in comparison to the incredible genius of the manga. The movie is so different as to be hardly even the same story. Many events are skipped, or even replaced by entirely different events in the film. Characters of significant importance in the books are nearly or totally missing from the film. They are just not the same thing, and that's about as much as I want to say about that.
Back to the manga. Akira was dystopian before dystopian was cool, a story about a Tokyo which experiences a societal collapse after an unexplained war. Lurking in the streets we find the protagonist Kaneda (a delinquent teen biker) and his gang of fellow miscreants, including the aggressive young Tetsuo. Kaneda and Tetsuo become wrapped up in a complex web of government secrets, revolutionaries and supernaturally powered children after Tetsuo has a close encounter with the latter. Teaming up with revolutionary Kei and her aunt Chiyoko, Kaneda tries to both simultaneously reach out to, and attempt to destroy Tetsuo after he unleashes the incredible destructive force of Akira.
Spanning over 1800 pages, the story arc for Akira is very long, complex, and highly detailed. In addition to the adventures (and occasional antics) of Kaneda and Kei, we also see perspectives of the Colonel and his military forces, as well as scientists who would attempt to control the Akira phenomena. In addition to the incredibly rich storytelling and plot, the visuals in Akira are simultaneously beautiful and highly disturbing. There are scenes of beautiful cityscapes with incredible detail, as well as scenes of stomach-churing gore. Taken together, this makes Akira an enticing, fascinating, and very worthwhile read, but not one for the faint of heart.
Overall, I found Akira to be one of the most exceptional graphic novels I have ever read. The detail, incredible storyline, fast-paced plot (for the most part, Book 4 drags a little bit), and beautiful art all combine to make for an exciting story. I highly recommend Akira to anyone who enjoys graphic novels, or a nice violent dystopian thriller.