Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Akira - finally

I realize that my post on Sin City has probably the greatest idea for a comic book mash up in its title. Sin City vs. For Better or Worse. That would wreck your consciousness.

So last week has been a bit of a crazy one. I’ve been trying to get my thoughts organized on Akira but was distracted by drawing class, joining an rpg (yes, I’m reverting to major geekdom), watching hockey, trying to get some Wii-time, making apple-pie for Thanksgiving (it’s the past weekend up here), and generally feeling like crap.

That being said, Akira is a bit of a mind trip, especially for someone like me who has seen the movie a few times but generally can’t remember how it goes. I remember a lot of the imagery but not a heck of a lot of what happened. The same thing happens with Princess Mononoke and Ghost in the Shell. This isn’t limited to only anime movies but for some reason these are the only examples I can think of at the moment. Weird.

So for someone who has only ever seen the animated movie this was one heck of an epic read. You know how people say the book is always much better than the movie because it goes into more detail? Well that is certainly the case here. I don’t mean to claim it is any better than the movie because I think the movie is a solid piece in its own right. What I mean is that the comic is entirely more epic in scale than the movie could hope to accomplish in its timeframe. So if you’ve seen the flick, you certainly haven’t experienced the comic.

I don’t want to compare and contrast the two mediums much beyond what I’ve already said but I’m finding it a bit hard not to talk about one without mentioning the other, since the movie is so iconic of the genre.

I was surprised at just how much more story there was here. At first I found it a bit difficult to follow the action. I’m not sure why either. I’m thinking it was that I’m just not used to the style or there was something lost in translation as it were. It was a bit difficult to follow some of the dialogue in that I didn’t always know what dialogue was attributed to which character. I suspect that is one of the problems in translating from pages that are laid out to accommodate an entirely different reading style. I also found it hard to differentiate between a few characters, but as the death toll mounted it became less of a problem.

The action is non-stop and gets ever more desperate as the story continues. And if you ever wanted to know why learning perspective is important you’ll know why once you see a few of these panels. They are immaculately done. The trouble with so many panels that are filled with perspective drawings is that they start to look like technical exercises. But that’s never the case here because for all the clean and precise lines of the buildings they are covered in the filth of humanity from garbage to graffiti.

Then the destruction starts. And then the destruction continues. No punches are pulled in this story as far as how humanity values human life. Humanity is smashed and destroyed but when they should be fighting to stop this and try to gather together in an effort to survive they instead fight over the scraps. Power and land is much more important than ending human suffering. In many ways this entire story is a meditation on how power corrupts. Human life is cheap especially when those who can do so much good simply don’t.

Where the artwork starts out with pristine lines covered by human dirt it becomes much more beautiful with the destruction. Suddenly the straight lines of the buildings hovering on collapse aren’t beautiful but extremely threatening. The undeniable technique is still present in the oft-destroyed Tokyo but it simply isn’t orderly by the end of the book. Everything is chipped, broken and generally bombed out and the art is better for it. It suddenly feels less like a technical exercise and more like a post-apocalyptic landscape that it is meant to be.

I was amazed by the sprawl of the story and the underlying sadness to it all. You want love to conquer the day but it almost happens by accident. You bang your head against the wall wanting these characters to wake up and realize how utterly selfish they are being – only when they aren’t does some peace enter into the proceedings, however they are never left to it. It’s a warning against isolationism as much as it is a warning against leaving your fate up to others to decide for you. It is a fascinating tour de force, even if you get a bit lost in translation from time to time.

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