Monday, October 28, 2013

A Short Piece.

Sooooooooo, I suppose this is a long time coming.  For all the references I've made in the past about Akira, I've been fighting writing an actual article about either the comic or the film.  This is partly due to just not knowing where to start; as many readers may have already gathered, I am a tremendous fan of Katsuhiro Otomo, and I have admired and maintained a relationship with his work unlike any else that exists in my life.  His body of work occupies my shelf not only as entertainment, but as inspiration, instruction manual, and proof that hard work and dedication is worth it; as cheesy as that sounds, I guarantee that the top of my bookshelf is more effective than any Hang In There cat poster.
Another reason I haven't spoken more at length about author or (mega)work is because there hasn't been too much more relevant information pertaining to either recently that hasn't been said better elsewhere, and rather than add to the deluge, I thought it best to not add secondhand information on exhibits or works I unfortunately didn't get to experience firsthand.  Excitingly enough, the 25th Anniversary Edition of Akira is being released in North America on Blu-ray on November 12th, so I found my excuse and decided to take it to say a few words in anticipation.

One of the main things that has always impressed me with Otomo was his wonderful sense of design.  In all of his work, especially that found in his first volume of Kaba (1971-1989 Illustration Collection), his skills as a designer, are readily apparent in both his commercial and personal work.  His mastery of such concepts easily transfers to the comics page, where one could practically draw a line tracing the eye-line on the page.  His meticulous draftsmanship takes a backseat to the concepts so simply derived from an intimate knowledge of how visual design works, and it's done in such a manner that the reader never has to think about what combination of principle elements are rushing him ever forward from one page to the next, only that the comic works fundamentally as it should.  In that way, Otomo's comics can be said to epitomize comics themselves.

It is apparent in Otomo's early comics career that he was interested in exploring themes and people beyond the casual manga landscape of the time.  I often compare Katsuhiro Otomo to director Shohei Imamura in that both men seemed very interested in exploring the far more interesting lower rung of society.  Much like Yoshihiro Tatsumi in the late 50s through the early 70s, Otomo's comic work would encapsulate a newer generation of young energy, angry and full of subversion, only this time with an even more cinematic approach.  If Tatsumi and the Gekiga movement was inspired early on by post-war noir and jidaigeki, then Otomo's new brand of manga looked more toward the Japanese New Wave and New Hollywood for inspiration, taking as much stock in the social relevance of Easy Rider as it did, most likely, to the work of Nagisa Oshima.
Inspired further by the European comics movement, Otomo's comics were suffused even further with a fantasy and science fiction influence, spreading all the way from shorter stories such as the more humorous Hair and Electric Bird Land (the latter of which was inspired by the Charlie Parker's Bird Land), to the more serious hard sci-fi pieces, Memories, Farewell To Weapons, and Fireball.  Otomo would then go on to create Domu; one of his most successful works in which he would combine the casual horror and science fiction tropes audiences would find accessible with his previous explorations of urban isolationism within a rapidly growing, and often personally suffocating Japanese society.

Though far from his final piece of work, it could be said that all of the themes previously explored by Otomo came to a head with Akira.  The easily accessible post-apocalyptic science fiction setting of a rapidly modernizing Neo-Tokyo landscape worked perfectly as the backdrop to a very personal (albeit rather epic) vision.  His exploration of modern youth culture in an often oppressive and high-strung society on the brink of collapse showed that things hadn't changed so much since the destruction and rebirth of the book's fictional interpretation of Tokyo, and perhaps it reflected Otomo's views on Japan itself and it's struggle to reinvent itself after it's own destruction and rebirth.  Whatever the case, Akira remains Katsuhiro Otomo's most well-known work to date, and it's something I doubt will change in the foreseeable future.  Through all of the hype, Akira remains a benchmark work in both comics and animation, and perhaps beyond the themes of the work itself, the true benchmark and inspiration to artists in any field should be the love, dedication, and professionalism put into the project by Otomo.  Rather than borrow it's themes or take inspiration from individual scenes or moments, become inspired by what it takes to produce such a work.  Become infatuated with pushing yourself and creating something new; what truly exists in Otomo's work is a focus and understanding that you actually can create.  To me Otomo makes me want to try that much harder.

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