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Akira, the bulwark of cyberpunk in the East

It is not uncommon, when one dwells on oriental culture, to notice the hint of a rice that crosses the face of one’s interlocutor: the isolationism that characterized several Asian populations up to the last century still shows some aftermath almost unconsciously rooted in the nature of the average Western people, who usually undermine the consideration of a wealth of knowledge, customs and very rich works, relegating them, as often happens with what is not commonly known to man, in the field of oddity. Akira is the most classic example of this phenomenon; barely known to most, it turns out, instead, as one of the first bulwarks of the oriental art, finally ready to confront itself with the western reality, also giving a very significant piece of lesson. Akira, in fact, stands out through its homonymous counterpart proposed the cinemas for a wise use of the CGI and Lipsynch techniques, soon essential skills for the genre all. Those techniques contributed also both in consecrating Japanese animation in a very complex context and in the process of cyberpunk’s affirmation in the 80s artistic field.

That said, Akira is a polyvalent masterpiece by Katsuhiro Ōtomo, first created in comic book form and later adapted to the cinematic medium, expanding some issues not sufficiently taken care of in the original manga through a development and a conclusion of the plot subtly different and simplified. Ōtomo, therefore, proves to be a skilled narrator, effective in adapting his creature to an audience and to quite varied needs, realizing two complementary epopee, which proved themselves equally useful to the analysis of the author’s message. The work immediately catapults us to Neo-tokyo, in which, in a dystopian future back from the Third World War, a gang of motorcyclists to which the reader and the spectator will immediately become attached, romps about and delights in a clash between rivals. Soon, however, those young boys’ lives, especially Kaneda’s and Tetsuo’s ones, will be shocked by the discovery of a strange child with an old man’s guise.

The author, wisely exploits the style of the cyberpunk genre, ranging between fantastic elements, historical and political and hiding in a not overly veiled brilliant allegory of Japanese society, interspersed with the Esper’s clash - led by the mysterious Akira and allied with Kaneda - and Testuo, easy prey to the destructive madness unleashed by some governmental experiments reserved for him to develop its latent potential.

Moreover, the author also proposes some characteristic aspects of Japanese post-war society, such as nuclear weapons spectrum or the American government’s interference in the development and in the crisis of the nation, alternating them skillfully with a careful narrative, full of novelties and similarly mindful of the criticality that grips Japan like an octopus, creating an attempted coup that hotly contrasts the formal rigour and respect for the military class typical of nipponic culture. And not forgetting the Yakuza, criminal organization now an integral part of the nation, masterfully embodied in the figure of the corrupted politician Nezu, represented in an anthropomorphic guise, which recalls that of a rat, intent on gnawing at everything from which he can enjoy.

Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s cyberpunk odyssey revolves around the beating heart of power, the spasmodic and fascinating search for hegemony capable of subjugating others and imposing their own domination. Each character is attracted, albeit unconsciously, by the lust that supremacy generates, often causing a moral collapse. Testuo’s story manifests the anxiety and social unease fomented not only by a shy nature, but in particular by the surrounding environment, channelled into a spiral of negative hatred, a sterile effort to demonstrate his value, transforming himself, on the contrary, in an amoeba which, failing in its own attempt of self-legitimization, prefers destruction over creation.

Even the relationship with drugs - in the essential means to develop one’s own Esper skills - and its abuse, are shown to be dramatic, taking the form of an annihilating refuge against one’s own insecurities. The antihero designed and written by Ōtomo - in conclusion defeated by Kaneda and Akira, the eponymous deuteragonist of the work characterized by semidivine appearance and the creative primordial energy of man - is nothing more than a clear parable of the Japanese rise in the post-war period, unstoppable and powerful, but that risks, if it were to abandon itself to moral degradation, to annihilate itself and its surroundings, rather than build a better world.

Articolo a cura di: Antonino Palumbo

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