Now I was not totally new to Manga, I had seen some before but never really knew it was a specific genre all its own. Things like “Battle of the Planet” and others had been on TV and I had always loved that Japanese style. But don’t forget this was before the Internet, there was no way of finding out any of this stuff. Looking back at it now I wonder how I ever managed… but you had what you had, and I was luckier than most.
As it turns out I had seen the Studio Ghibli classic “Castle in the Sky” year before and loved it. But with no way of ever really finding out anything about it, other than its name and the fact I loved that style. If I had seen “Totoro” or “Spirited Away” at that age I would have been forced to find out more about these amazing films.
But I digress, just looking at the cover I knew I had to watch it!
The first viewing
Nikobe was insistent we had to watch it straight away, no time for the normal “Street Fighter II” on the SNES. This was the most important thing that day, and I have to say he was right.
We watched it in silence, right from the beginning it was no ordinary film. Even now it has a style all its own. The visuals were astounding, the sound work amazing, everything about this film was polished and first rate. Unlike anything I had seen before this was animation as I had always wanted it, and it had a strong message that.. in places on that first viewing.. I didn’t understand.
When it finished we watched all the way to the end of the credits. Partly out of respect, I have always tried to stay right to the end. If someone can spend so much of their life making something, the very least I can do is stay to see their name appear on the screen for 20 seconds. But also because we were both dumb struck. What was that we had just watched? Did all that really happen just then? What happened at the end again? Did they solve it? Was that Akira? So Tetsuo can do that thing with his mind, and so can the other kids? Sol is fantastic, can you really make space lasers like that? And he could fly.. is that the mind thing again? Where did those creepy kids go? Are they kids at all? That bit with the flying thing in the lift was cool, what about the bikes at the start.. yep!… how about that bit…… and so on. I think it is probably fair to say we descended into just listing out the cool bits of the film at this point. In my (and Nikobe’s) defence. We were 13 at the time.
The upshot was.. we watched it again. I don’t think we even discussed it. While we were saying how cool it was we just rewound it (yeah.. remember doing that?) and watching it from start to end again.
Akira is a very abstract film in many ways. It has a lot of idea you need to get into your head and no explanations at all. You either love it or hate it, and if you can’t keep up then you have a problem.
After about the fourth of firth viewing (I had my own copy by then) it all starts to come together. Now you are over the shock of just how amazing this film is you are down to its story and production, and this is one of those very rare films that does not disappoint. The sound track is excellent, and every frame is filled with stunning art work.
I can only hope that everyone sees this film as their introduction to Manga and Anime. This film is a true masterpiece, just don’t expect every anime to be this good.
Where to now
So once you have seen this where do you go next? Fortunately this was the time Manga really took off in the UK. I started collecting “Manga Mania” from about issue 4 and saw a whole new world. I just fell in love with Anime and Manga and wanted everything I could get.
At the time “Manga Mania” had just started the complete strip of “Dominion: Tank Police”. That was my first introduction to Masamune Shirow and started a love of his work that would eventually lead me to “Ghost in the Shell” another of my favourite film, and I believe sets the standard by which all Sci-Fi should be judged. But his earlier work was showcased and I really enjoyed it. “Dominion” of course, but “Appleseed” was just as good.
Many others came and went, and I can’t say that many others really grabbed me until I saw Adam Warren’s “Dirty Pair” or Kenichi Sonoda’s “Bubblegum Crisis”. Among all the manga that I thought was OK, there were some that really stood out, these alone were worth getting the magazine for. But all of them were interesting and new.
A fortune on video
For me this was a blessing and a curse, because along with all the good films there were utterly crap ones. Not just bad, I mean really terrible. Manga Entertainment who were one of the main importers had the most wild quality control. By now I had managed to convince Sideswipe he would like this stuff, little did I know he would go on to become the ultimate collector and otaku (Thanks!). So we would go and look at the videos and buy a few, most of the time we were disappointed but sometimes hit gold. It is thanks to him I found out about Lupin III, and I was able to find Tenchi Muyo and Gunsmith Cats. These were the things we lived for.
This lead to one of the other tricks that really annoyed us all. They would release the first video, not telling you it was the first in a series of 100 episodes (I’m looking at you Slayers). This is what finally put me off, I still love it and look for the best bits but I hated being drawn into these cons. Sideswipe however has never really got out of that trap, and I am hoping at some point he will put up some pictures of his front room.
My pride and joy
From my love of Anime and Manga sprung my love of Japanese culture. That has lead me on to watch Japanese films, something that I don’t think I ever would have done without my start in seeing Akira. I might never have seen classics like “Seven Samurai” or “Battle Royal” without it.
Thank you Nikobe for getting me started, and thank you Sideswipe for taking it to 11!
But there is one other thing Akira has given me. Two amazing posters that have sat in my closet untouched for about 15 years. Sideswipe and I went to a little exhibition, we were a little disappointed but I came away with three things. A cell from Akira itself (which got damaged when it was taken off my wall.. different story) and a pair of limited edition numbered prints. There were only 1000 made in the first run and were supposed to retail for £100 each.. I managed to get them for £15 because the person selling them had no idea what they were.
At some point this year I will finally get them on my wall. I promise!