There was a time, not so long ago, when the comic book section of a bookstore was like a “Guys Only” club. Manly men of all ages could delve into the adventures of Batman, Conan, Wolverine, and the Fantastic Four, entrenched in the fantasy of having their own superhuman power MyReadingManga. Testosterone raged as these guys explored the latest adventures of their favorite characters whose exploits had become as addictive as the NFL network. Although usually a guy would browse wordlessly, there might be an occasional nod to a fellow fan or perhaps a little insight offered up during a decisive round of “who reigns supreme? ” or “if you like that one, try this one”.
Girls and women were just not drawn to the adventures of superheroes. Sort of like the early days of video games when Miss Pac Man was the only way to draw them into the world of video make-believe. Sure, let them devour their way home, but give them 22 pages of dynamic action in the form of a top-tier comic book and what did they do? Eyes glazed over, heads shook in the unspoken “how could you waste your time on this” disdain, and, at best, feigned interest to placate the comic book fan of the male species.
Maybe the thought of being rescued by a man – even one with super powers – was a put-off to the independent women. Or maybe they just steered to the very real, like magazines. Studies show that there are far more magazines published today that are geared toward women readers than men. So perhaps that’s where the line is drawn. Martha Stewart, Oprah, Cosmo – yes. Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, no.
Then came Manga. And life as we knew it in the comic book aisles was forever changed. Teenage girls are flocking to these Japanese imports like a Jonas Brothers concert. Maybe it’s the stories of young women triumphing that they can relate to. But without the aid of super powers!? Perhaps it is the renegade style of the backwards reading, following along with the right to left format of the Japanese reader. Could it be that this alternative style resonates with young women who want to identify with their own niche?
With the increasing demand for “More Manga! ” the comic book section that once was a male-dominated domain now has stepped aside and made room for this genre. Most stores worth visiting for a comic book fix have separated Manga from the traditional issues. Thus, what began as a fad appears to have become a fixture.
So, will men and women, boys and girls, be able to read their favorite comic books, side by side? Will there be a time when they can merge and explore each other’s reading preference? Is Manga destined to be a “women only” genre where guys are embarrassed to enter? Will the endless battle of superheroes combating evil ever find its way into the hands of the Manga readers? What drives the post modern narrative structure of the film is its themes, which consist of power, corruption and ego. All three themes are abundant in the back story in which the Akira experiment became too much for the government to handle, hence the atomic explosion at the opening scene of the film. The same cycle seems to repeat itself only with Tetsuo being given telekinetic powers after he crashed during the turf war against the clown gang. As his newly given power grows, so does his ego as he lashes out at Kaneda before having a nervous breakdown and being taken into custody again. The government’s actions to try and contain Tetsuo only prove to be futile as he becomes powerful enough to fight the oppressing army that seems to dominate the dystopian city.
Symbolism also plays a major role in the film’s narrative. There is a religious cult surrounding Akira demonstrating in the streets in one scene, in a dystopian city where there is hardly a place for religion. This religious cult is much more active in the later sequence where Tetsuo, with his fully fledged powers, is leading protesters across the bridge to the Olympic stadium in a revolt against the government believing that Tetsuo is the second coming of Akira. Humorously, this religious cult is put an end to very quickly when Tetsuo destroys the bridge leading to the stadium. This part of the film is a good example of where films soundtrack is striking for its seemingly minimum use of instruments. A majority of the original score consists of bamboo drums. The vocals, however, are more dominant in the more important and dramatic scenes such as here, where the vocals are orchestrated to increase the drama, and therefore heightening the demonstrator’s regard to Tetsuo as a sort of holy figure.
Symbolism is especially abundant in the dream and hallucination sequences. As Tetsuo’s powers develop he has a hallucinogenic vision of three monstrous toys bleeding and spewing milk, widely considered to symbolise not only growth and fertility but the gaining of knowledge. They are later scared away by the sight of Tetsuo’s blood, a symbol of adolescence. This is an important visual aspect to the film because it displays how Tetsuo’s growth of power is currently effecting him and also hints at his unhappy childhood Later in a flash back it is shown how Tetsuo and Kaneda befriended one another when Kaneda stole back a toy taken from Tetsuo by bigger kids. These dreams and flashbacks show the audiences the relationship between the two friends, even as their two egos grow in conflict. As Paul Wells writes in his book Understanding Animation “Symbolism, in any aesthetic system, complicates narrative structure because a symbol may be consciously used as part of the image vocabulary to suggest specific meanings, but equally, a symbol may be unconsciously deployed and therefore may be recognised as a bearer of meaning over and beyond the artist’s overt attention. In other words, an animated film may be interpreted through its symbolism, whether the symbols have been used deliberately to facilitate a meaning or not. This can, of course, radically alter the understanding of the film, arguably making it infinitely richer in its implications, or misrepresenting the project altogether” (pg. 83).