To a couple of previous generations, Akira is one of those movies that got them into anime. It showed them how exciting, creative, and cerebral the world of Japanese animation. It has been praised by numerous critics and mainstream media sources, and even Kanye paid homage to it in his cover to Daft Punk’s Stronger. Though the animation, action, and the intense use of some traditional percussions contributed to the movie’s identity, the original manga by Katsuhiro Otomo still has so much to offer. If anything, the Akira movie tells just a tiny fraction of the original story. So, what distinctions between the anime and manga are there for Akira? Read today’s Manga Vs. Anime to find out!
Difference in Timelines
We all know that the Akira movie is famous for predicting that the 2020 Olympics would be in Tokyo, and that’s about as insane as The Simpsons predicting that Donald Trump would be president. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Though the explosion that paved way for World War III takes place on July 16, 1988 in the movie (to obviously coincide with the theatrical debut of the movie), it actually takes place on December 6, 1992 in the manga. Also, despite the movie taking place in 2019, the manga takes place in 2030!
Use of Certain Characters
As seen in the movie, Kaneda’s gang has a rivalry with another biker gang, The Clowns, and they have a fight throughout Tokyo’s busy streets and highways. The Clowns’ presence in the movie is nothing more than just a fan service cameo, but Joker, the leader of The Clowns (who also has a homage cameo in the movie), plays a bigger role in the manga. When Tetsuo takes over Neo Tokyo and The Clowns, Kaneda and Joker put their differences aside in order to stop Tetsuo, and you see how Joker is contributive by being an expert engineer with bikes and other tech.
Another character whose role is significantly different between both the anime and manga is Kaori, Tetsuo’s girlfriend in the movie. Though Kaori and Tetsuo have an established relationship in the movie, they don’t meet for the first time until after Tetsuo gets his powers in the manga. She’s initially introduced to be just another member of Tetsuo’s harem and watches over Akira. While Tetsuo cares for her in the anime, he’s a bastard towards her in the manga.
Other than that, her personality and design remains the same.
As for the espers, or the kids who look like old people, a lot of their background is vaguely alluded to in the movie, but enough for you to get the point, but the manga does a great job of further exploring who they are. If you remember in the movie, you would occasionally see a Buddhist priestess in an Afro wig preaching to the people of the return of Akira. As it turns out in the manga, she was actually part of the same project that made the espers and Akira, and she still has psychic powers in the manga! In the anime, she’s nothing more than just a fan service cameo.
In the era of “Say No to Drugs,” Akira takes its own spin on it. The anime does show that Tetsuo needs pills to control his powers and his headaches, and that’s it. At times, you see background characters taking some pills in the movie, but you can draw your own conclusions to what they may be. The manga takes a more direct approach in terms of drugs whether they be medicinal or recreational. When you see Kaneda and his gang in school in the manga, they are taking stimulants akin to Ritalin and it is having weird effects on their behavior. As for the pills Tetsuo takes in the anime, it is taken to a different extreme in the manga. The drugs in the manga are meant to boost psychic energy for those with such powers, but in the hands of regular humans, they die from painful aneurysms for Tetsuo’s own amusement.
Though the story is called Akira, the actual Akira NEVER appears in the movie except in flashbacks. Other than that, the closest to seeing him physically is that his body parts are preserved under a stadium. In the manga, he’s brought back to life by Tetsuo around the end of volume 2. Like in the movie, he was preserved underground but still alive. Just like when he was leashed out in 1992, he once again uses his destructive psychic powers to turn Neo Tokyo into shambles. Shortly after, Tetsuo takes over Tokyo by establishing it as The Great Tokyo Empire with Akira as a figurehead emperor, and himself as Prime Minister. From there, Akira and Tetsuo form a psychic relationship.
Despite these significant differences with the story, they do share the same themes of being a critique of Japan’s role in World War II, and how they were victimized by the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It takes a rather fair and balanced stance in how Japan was both aggressor and victim. Another theme that is explored in both versions is that of teenage rebellion and those who were outcasted by society. Around the time of Akira’s debut, some members of the youth were forming motorcycle gangs and showing off on the highways.
It demonstrates that if we don’t do anything to help our present children to become productive members of society, then there’s nothing we can do to make our future better. Considering that the manga ended a couple of years after the movie premiered (and considering Otomo took a break from the manga to make the movie), let’s hope that one day, we can have an anime of Akira that is faithful to the original manga but up to the same animation, voice acting and music quality of the original.