Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Tale of Two Akiras

I first encountered Akira in the early 90s when it was being published in English by Epic Comics. For those of you who don't remember, Epic was an imprint of Marvel Comics, whose purpose was to reprint foreign material and new graphic material from existing literary works. It was an attempt to present comics to a more mature audience in response to the direct market trend, which had begun in the 80's. Most of the comics were printed without the Comics Code Authority seal, making it even more attractive to a young man looking for something new.
  I was blown away by the comic, The continuing story, the scope of the artwork, the characters, the willingness of the authors to kill off characters, all of it was what I was looking for in a story. At that time I had never read a manga, didn't even know the word. I had seen some Japanese animation (sanitized for American viewers), but never had I witnessed such a raw Japanese story unfiltered. As I flipped through my first issue, I realized just how much I had been missing, and I was pissed off. Of course even in this format I wasn't getting the original feel, for when first published it was completely in black and white, but the American edition was digitally colored (the first one to be regularly colored in this manner), but this was done with blessing of  Katsuhrio Otomo- the creator of the series.

      Then one day I was wandering my lonely Blockbuster video store (God that was long ago) and I ran across, to my eternal joy and beyond all of my hopes, Akira the movie. I snatched it up without hesitation. It was my pick of the night. Rewatching Die Hard again could wait another week.

       Now, as anyone who has seen the film will tell you, this wasn't just any anime film. Akira is the anime film. The film is made up of 2,212 different shots and 160,000 single pictures, which is enough to make at least 3 normal animated films. Additionally there were 327 different colors used in the animation, 50 of which were created just for the film.

But Which is Better?
I often feel that it is folly to compare a book to a film (Perhaps this is easier done with moving comics to animated films- I won't debate that). They are, after all, two different mediums and moving from one to another will necessitate
some differences. One thing may not look as good in the real world as it reads on the page. One example I can give here is that I always thought people in real life looked ridiculous when dressed in superhero costumes, but like them on the printed page.
Both the comic and the film are great. My picking one does not mean that I hate the other, but if I had to make a choice between them, I believe that the film is the better of the two. A shock, perhaps, to those who bleat the maxim,  "The book is always better."
My reasons are thus:

1. The Depiction of Neo Tokyo is Better:      The background movement and innumerable shots of minor characters really make the city come alive. It looked and sounded like a populated city. I could almost smell the grime on the walls, something that I felt the comic lacked. Often in the comic, they would discuss riots and anti-government groups, but they were rarely ever shown. The film corrected this.
 The comic often felt empty, as if the entire city was populated only by the main characters and a series of identical soldiers.
   Now granted in the comic there are two versions of Neo Tokyo - one before Akira awakens and another after it is devastated- while the film only has one. But in the depiction of a whole city, the film won out.

   2. The Character Development was Better:
     Each of the characters is essentially the same in both comic and film (with the exception of Miyako). But the need to compress the action in the film, gave us a greater understanding of the characters in a much more fluid way. This characterization does come across in the comics, but it is often spaced between many panels of running, shooting, and characters going, "Huh?" The film cut the action down to the essential Akira scenes and it made for a much tighter package.

 Choosing the film over the book is extremely rare I know. I've often felt that a wider tapestry makes for a greater picture, but somehow Akira the film makes it work.

   Do you agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below.