Catching up with Manga

Akira TitleTitle: Akira, Vol. 1

Author: Katsuhiro Otomo

Illustrator: Katsuhiro Otomo

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

I have been meaning to get into Manga for a while. So if you are looking for a well-informed review of Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal work, you may have found the wrong spot. In fact, it was only recently that I learned that it is pronounced “MAHN-ga,” not “MAYN-ga.” Perhaps I am premature in writing a review on a genre I have so little knowledge of, but we’re here to have fun and I’d hate to let a lack of experience get in the way. So after taking part in a guilty pleasure of mine — seeking out the internet for lists of the greatest (in this case) manga of all time — I settled on Akira for my introduction to manga.

As a precursor to the cyberpunk movement, the 1982 graphic novel tells the story of members of a street gang in Neo Tokyo, a fledgling city recovering from the nuclear bombs dropped during WWIII. The story begins with the gang encountering a boy with elderly features and a strange telekinetic ability. His sudden appearance in the middle of the freeway sends gang member, Tetsuo, to the hospital.

akira1The gang’s leader, Kaneda, is macho, reckless, and impulsive. So when his fellow gang member is injured, you can expect that he will stop at nothing to bring justice to the man-child who caused his bike to crash. As a reader, there is only partial empathy for Kaneda. He has a hard edge and by occupation is a young street thug. But his ambition is admirable and there are so many mysteries that kept me fully engaged throughout the story. We learn there are several more people like this strange man-child and a secret government agency is fastidiously trying to get them under their control.

Kaneda, who is active in the drug trade, comes across a pill that he learns that is much too powerful for an ordinary person to take, yet multiple organizations are after him to get it back. Tetsuo is released from the hospital and is an entirely different person from the young man Kaneda knew before. The novel is filled with non-stop action and new layers of intrigue.

If Akira is any indication of the type of storytelling and art that comes from manga, I can see myself becoming a big fan. The art is more realistic than typical manga, with near-anatomical proportions. Otomo also has a great sense of perspective and well-crafted detail.

There are six volumes in this series and I expect I will finish all of them in the near future. This was a perfect introduction to manga and I hope to find some more works to acquaint myself better with the genre.

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93370Title: Akira, Vol. 2

Author: Katsuhiro Otomo

Illustrator: Katsuhiro Otomo

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

The second volume of Akira picks up right where the first one left off. It is full of action and we finally get a glimpse of who Akira actually is, although the extent of the experimental wunderkind’s psychic powers still remains a question.

I am really digging this series. It has great action, pacing and such inventive story-telling. In a Western sense, it could be compared to X-Men or Heroes, where a segment of the population has extraordinary supernatural powers, but it has a much different feel. It’s not a superhero story and the contrast between good and evil is not clearly divided. Foes are forced to join together to reach a common goal and the struggle is often focused on a fear of the uncontrollable.

Purists of manga may be critical of the novel’s Western left-to-right layout. It could alter the artistic intent of the story and I find it unnecessary to deviate from the Japanese style of writing. It doesn’t take long to get used to reading backwards.

But that’s about as far as I can criticize this volume. I love the action, I love the premise, and I can’t wait to pick up the next volume.

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Title: Death Note, Vol. 1: Boredom

Author: Tsugumi Ohba

Illustrator: Takeshi Obata

Publisher: VIZ Media

Format: Paperback

Review:

I wasn’t certain what to expect with Death Note. It is well-received among manga fans, but the plot, at its surface, seemed somewhat contrived. It is about a scholarly teenager named Light Yagami, who comes across a lost notebook that gives him the power to kill simply by writing a person’s name in it.

What seems like a novelty, quickly becomes compelling. Light soon encounters a Shinigami (part of a race of death gods), who counsels him in the rules of the notebook. Light learns he must imagine his target’s face for the notebook to actually work and only those who touch the notebook have the power to see the Shinigami.

screen-captureThe story starts out with Light using the notebook for (debatably) noble purposes — he writes in the names of the country’s most vile criminals, saving people from hostage situations and the like. But when Light finds that security agencies are after him, he begins to use the notebook illicitly for his own safety.

Death Note is pure fun. After the first chapter, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it, but the more I read, the more addicted I became. Light is a very bright kid and uses the notebook in very creative ways to thwart his pursuers. This is definitely another winner in the manga category and a series I intend to keep on reading.

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