by P.R.Banks

Life is mildly disturbing when films like 'Akira' start to make sense.

I bring this up purely because a piece of luck happened, I passed through the video store and saw that 'Akira' was on sale. In one of those 'often wrong but fun anyway' impulse buys, I bought a copy. Naturally later that day a friend and I settled down to watch it. Now the last time I had watched this film was a good five to six years ago.

Then I hadn't seen Manga at all, I was unaware even of it's existance. I noticed 'Akira' sitting on the shelves and had vague memories of people telling me it was worth looking at. Don't ask me who or when because even then I had forgotten those details - they were unimportant anyhow. I tend to remember suggestions only if they are from people whose taste in a particular subject I respect. So generally if I remember a suggestion, I know already it is from someone whose advice I respect - what more do I need to know?[1]

Anyway suffice to say that I talked both myself and Julian into watching it. Two and a bit hours of viewing later and I was somewhat bewildered. The film was so like, and unlike, most anything else I had watched. Elements of standard movie fare were there - corrupt politicians, a hero, a villian and lots of gunfire as the army tries to contain things.

But even among the standard elements things were not quite right. Yes the politician's were corrupt, but seemingly they had the best of intentions. Yes the military was going mildly berserk, but again they had the best of intentions. Things weren't clearcut at all. And the main plot? Well both of us could see that there were items of deep significance going on, especially in the end sequence. But we couldn't quite fathom them and make a coherent picture out of it.

However what we did see interested us and developed a taste for Manga in both of us. What clinched it was seeing 'Dominion Tank Police' as the next manga film, the humour and complete whimsy of it capitivated me.[2]

So the first time I watched it I consigned large chunks of the film to the 'too weird for me' basket and enjoyed what I could follow. That was that for the intervening years. I remembered 'Akira' but no great compulsion to see it again gripped with me any strength. Just the usual 'that was a good film, must watch it again sometime' type thoughts that always lurk around in the vauge regions of the mind.

Now, sixish years later, I finally got around to watching it again.

And on rewatching the movie, after it was all done, I realised something. I understood it more, large chunks of the weird sections made sense and I had an epiphany, of sorts, where for a moment the style of thought behind 'Akira' became comprehensible to me. Six years ago I would have declared this unlikely to impossible.

The experience is something akin to reading one of Philip K. Dick's better novels, which coincedentally I am also doing at the moment, in which the begining is impossibly odd and strange. Incomprehensibility gradually fades as events begin to make more and more sense and the thread of the story takes shape. Till eventually, at the end of the book, you marvel at the beauty of the book and intricacy of it's construction.

But such books are hard work and I think the same thing applies to 'Akira'. Wrapping your head around a different style of thought is no mean feat. Or is it? I should, more correctly, say it is no mean feat for me. But even there I suspect I would be wrong. It probably isn't as hard as I think at all - I merely enjoy the idea that, for a moment, I understood how someone else thought.

A form of empathy. I have been told that I can be very good at empathising. But then I have been told many things, alot of them distinctly uncomplimentary. But still I hoard the memories of the times when I was told that I had a good understanding of another person. Such moments are precious and rare - I mean when was the last time you were told as much? And told it with complete sincerity?

See what I mean?

I am begining to think that empathy is a dying art. So few people seem to practice, or even understand, the idea behind the American Indian saying 'Walk a mile in their moccasins' (I am probably mangling that horribly so lets just say I am paraphrasing, 'kay? ). Even less, once the concept is explained, seem to think it is a good idea.

But then, of late, I have become increasingly disenchanted with humanity in general. Probably I merely need more sleep. So instead of writing this I might just cut things short and go do that.

[1] Attribution of suggestions always has struck me as a slightly silly thing. Sure someone may have suggested you do something, but can they really claim credit for the fact that their suggestion was right and you enjoyed whatever was suggested? Of course not, the person who makes or breaks things here is yourself.

[2] In alot of ways I haven't seen as good Manga since. 'Akira' introduced me to the ultra violent and quite speculative side of Manga. And 'Dominion Tank Police' introduced the semi-silly and semi-serious side of it. Rare has been the Manga as good as these two. 'Pat Labour' is the closest to 'Dominion Tank Police' and has an edge on it by being far more controlled and tightly plotted than Dominion was.

In the violence stakes the 'CyberCity' series deserves mention. Between the three I have seen ('Virtual Death', 'Pyshic Trooper' & 'Blood Lust') the second 'Pyshic Trooper' is the best. However the series suffers a little from being that touch too cliched. Consequently it becomes too easy to predict where it is going. However getting there is fun with nice animation and the odd good oneliner to keep you happy amidst the carnage.

Honourable mention should go 'Wicked City' which had a neat idea and storyline, not to mention well animated unlike 'Devilman', but fell far too flat by being overly obsessed with sex. I hate that in escapist fare.

Philip R. Banks
Send Email

Return to the Atrium
Return to the Fortress Entrance