“At 2:17 P.M. on December 6th, 1992, a new type of bomb exploded over the metropolitan area of Japan…. Nine hours later, World War III began.”

So begins Katsushiro Otomo’s epic Akira series, which opens with a full color spread of one of the creepiest images I’ve ever seen in a comic book. The islands of Japan are obscured beneath an unimaginably huge, black bubble of perfect destruction which blots out the sun with a hurricane of force stretching from Leningrad to Los Angeles. 38 years later, the semi-ruined city of Neo-Tokyo perches on the lip of the bomb’s vast crater, a sterile no-man’s-land declared off-limits by the government. No one knows what, if anything, is hidden in the center of the crater. Rumors that the area will be re-built as the site of the next Olympic Games lure teen delinquents Kaneda and Tetsuo’s daredevil motorcycle gang to sneak out in the middle of the night for a closer look. There’s not much to see on the ruined highway out of town, until a strangely wizened, ghostly child steps into the road, overturning Tetsuo’s motorcycle in a huge fireball. Tetsuo isn’t dead, but the government agency who takes an interest in him after the accident make sure that Kaneda will never see the friend he remembers again. Kaneda soon has more pressing problems, as he is caught up in an anti-government plot to kidnap the mysterious child on the highway, enigmatically nicknamed “Number 26.” As the military frantically tries to regain control of Number 26, Kaneda begins to realize that this prematurely aged child and his cohorts (also identified with numbers) might hold the clue to the military’s most secret project of all, code-named “Akira.” In the meantime, Tetsuo wakes up strapped to a table in a lab with his injuries magically healed but experiencing pain in his head worse than anything he could have imagined (note to readers: don’t read this for the first time while recovering from a migrane like I did.) Along with an excruciating headache, Tetsuo soon discovers that he has developed psychic and telekinetic powers which allow him to kill at will and destroy solid objects without using his hands. Mentally unbalanced and maddened with pain, Tetsuo escapes the military’s secret lab in the heart of the old bomb crater (where else?) and heads back into Neo-Tokyo with only two goals: revenge on his past gangland enemies and any kind of drug that will dull his hyperactive senses and numb his increasing pain. When Tetsuo and Kaneda meet again they barely recognize each other – one is now an anti-government revolutionary on the trail of the Akira Project, and the other is a pain-wracked, drug-addicted madman hell-bent on dominating the streets of his city. The Akira series is not for the faint of heart (or stomach), but once you’re hooked into the intricacies of the story with its interweaving plotlines and host of characters both evil and inspiring, the narrative’s furiously fast pace will keep you reading on the edge of your seat. Otomo’s drawings range from shockingly detailed realism to near-caricature, heightening the story’s speed and tension, and illustrating the crumbling metropolis of Neo Tokyo and its denizens with a bizarre geometric beauty.

Akira Volume 1
by Katsushiro Otomo
ISBN: 9781935429005
Dark Horse, 2000

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