Akira & Japan (chapter 5: Conclusion)

Chapter Five


Tokyo, the megalopolis that has swallowed up all sorts of people. Its chaotic vitality never rests, and it multiplies itself, growing ever larger. It is said that creator Katsuhiro Ôtomo used the wondrous vitality of Tokyo as the catalyst to crystallize his vision of Neo Tokyo.

–   [Akira Production Report; Shintani 1988]

The observations and conclusions reached by previous studies into anime and its representations of technology are well founded, and although Napier and Ruh manage to include a variety of anime into their study, it is still clear from just my limited analysis of Akira that there is some truth to their observations.  There are clear codes imbedded in the feature length anime which although is set in the future, points to the past and its repercussions, and so effectively that the anime became very popular worldwide and seemed to predict the feeling of the next decade.  The affect of modernisation since the Meiji period has affected media and brought us new dystopic visions of society, most especially seen in the sci-fi genre of anime and manga.  So effective is this occurrence that Napier states ‘a deeply pessimistic view of modernity has been part of Japanese culture almost since the inception of modernization’ (Napier 1996: 217), and providing more weight to my initial question:

“This post-modern state is not unambiguously celebratory, however.  It is as if the very success of modern Japan seems to beg its own demise, as the citizenry becomes more and more enervated by a plethora of material goods and technology which does not take the place of a lost community or history.  Written throughout the 1980s, Akira seems both to emblematise these problems and to forecast some of the social and political problems that became more apparent in the 1990s.  The harmonious façade that still constitutes modern Japan seems increasingly to be cracking.” (Napier 1996: 219)

So the ways in which Akira explores the relationship between Japan and technology is tied with modernity, and the speed of which it occurred, beginning with Commodore Matthew Perry, continuing with World War 2, leading up to the economically troubled latter half of the 20th century.

Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s views

So far the main source of text analysed is Akira the anime itself, but looking at the director’s comments, the study can gain more weight, after all as Alan McKee states earlier in this dissertation, one must gauge the context of a text, and what better way to back up my observations than to learn what the director has to say?

First of all it must be acknowledged that Akira was meant to contain coded meaning, that it wasn’t simply a row of scenes put together merely to mindlessly entertain, Ôtomo states

“I wanted to put together something more along the lines of idle ramblings on Neo Tokyo itself.  I hope people can sense that” (Shintani, 1988)

On discussing the characters, Ôtomo admits that ‘any of the characters could be the star of the film, there really isn’t a main character’ (Shintani, 1988), giving more credence to Akira being more than just a boy, but the city itself, and that the Colonel and Doctor are more than characters, but concepts or lines of thought.

“You could talk about technique of theme or whatever…it’d be kind of pointless for me to talk about things like that.” (Shintani, 1988)

These excerpts are from an interview conducted shortly after the film’s release in Japan, and the director appears to not want to delve into the meanings too much, he wants the viewer to read the text for themselves, he states that he could talk about Kaneda and Tetsuo’s friendship, but:

“Its more than that, lots of things are in it.  There are things about the Colonel and other characters, and there are technical elements.  Each one is something I wanted to do or something I wanted to say.  I made it hoping that people will sense that.” (Shintani, 1988)

As for its intended audience, as was mentioned earlier in this dissertation, the vast majority of anime, if not all anime is created in Japan, and for Japan, the fact that Akira became a global success was a total surprise to Ôtomo who ‘didn’t make it with the overseas market in mind’ (Director’s Interview, 1988), again giving more weight to the question of this dissertation, the intended audience are the Japanese, therefore the derived meanings are about Japan’s past, present and future.

Lastly, to address the validity of scrutinising anime in the same manner as live action films, to hold them up to film theory, the director makes clear he sees no distinction between Akira and other feature length stories told in the medium of cinema.

“I thought of it more as a visual work than as an animation” (Director’s Interview, 1988)

America’s influence on Japan in terms of modernity and technology is easily apparent, and even in the birth of manga as was charted in chapter two, but even Ôtomo’s early inspirations were from Hollywood films from the 1970s such as Bonnie & Clyde, and Easy Rider, both revolutionary films from an evolutionary era in the world of filmmaking.

“The way we saw movies and read comics changed, the way we looked at the world changed.  But I guess movies from America definitely influenced me” (Director’s Interview, 1988)

And finally an admission that the work he created, that many manga artists from the 1970s created in light of the events surrounding them, was well thought out and intentional at attempting to tell a message to the reader.

“In that era, you weren’t drawing something for entertainment.  You were putting the life you were leading into comic book form” (Director’s Interview, 1988)

In the case of Ôtomo’s Akira, the Japan leading up to the millennium was full of sudden success, and a wary fear of the future, an itch in the back of people’s minds that the success story was a facade that would dissolve before their eyes at any moment.


I feel I have presented sufficient evidence of the ways in which Akira explores Japan and technology, and the validity of scrutinizing anime to such a high level of textual analysis.  Because of the limits of word space and time I was not able to delve deeper into the three remaining sci-fi anime that was released during the 1990s (Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain respectively), I would have tied all four together thematically and shown a progression of themes from each work, tying them all to the effects of modernisation on Japan.  However, I feel with this limited case study, there is enough evidence to suggest that of the anime I chose there is a common thread linking them all together leading up to the millennium.

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