How Akira shows the corrupting influence of power

Whether you’re an anime fanatic or new to the genre, chances are you’ve heard of Akira. The 1988 film was inspired by the manga of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film and co-wrote the adaptation. In the years following his debut, Akira was hailed as the movie that opened the doors to a new generation of fans. And it’s also served as inspiration for a wide variety of projects – especially the infamous “bike slide” that Shotaro Kaneda (Johnny YongBosch) performs, which has been referenced throughout Batman: The Animated Series at Nope. But one of the most underrated elements is how he views the nature of power.


What is Akira talking about?

Akira takes place in the aftermath of a third world war that began with the total destruction of Tokyo. In the newly built metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, crime and corruption run rampant, and Kaneda leads his biker gang the Capsules as they struggle for dominance. Kaneda’s best friend, Tetsuo Shima (Joshua Seth) begins to develop psychic powers after a run-in with the authorities. However, these powers serve as a harbinger of chaos when Colonel Shikishima (Jacques Lyons) finds out how strong Tetsuo really is. His power apparently matches that of Akira – the titular psychic who razed Tokyo during World War III.

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Soon, Tetsuo’s powers begin to take their toll on his sanity, as he begins to suffer disturbing hallucinations. The ground cracks under his feet, sending him into an abyss. His internal organs begin to overflow from his stomach and he frantically tries to force them back inside himself. And it gets even worse when Shikishima tasks a trio of ESPers with killing him before things get out of hand. And in the most terrifying, a trio of small toys soon give way to a nightmarish teddy that has milk leaking from its seams. These visions are a symptom of Tetsuo’s mental instability – but more importantly, they serve as a window into his insecurity complex.

How Resentment Fuels Tetsuo’s Rage

Tetsuo is shown to resent Kaneda for excelling over him in everything they do, and it is this resentment that fuels the destructive outburst of his powers. Despite the efforts of his girlfriend Kaori (Michelle Ruff) to pacify him, Tetsuo eventually loses control of his powers with disturbing results. His flesh begins to bubble and expand, covering everything in his path until Akira is finally revived to stop him. This spell continues a trend in Japanese science fiction films that found beings with great power causing untold havoc. This trope was launched with the original Godzilla movie, as King of the Monsters was meant to be an allegory for the destruction and trauma of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tetsuo is also considered a weapon of mass destruction to the point where Shikisima resorts to all kinds of weapons and warfare to kill him.

Tetsuo’s powers deconstruct the superhero myth

Tetsuo’s powers can also be seen as a deconstruction of the superhero mythos. Many heroes, including Spider-Man and Superman, are granted incredible powers, whether by birthright or by accident, and attempt to use them for the good of humanity. It is also implied that these heroes have strong willpower to keep from collapsing. Take Peter Parker for example – he’s lost a lot of people important to him, but he’s still fighting the good fight as Spider-Man. Conversely, Tetsuo is only obsessed with his own preservation and cares little for the consequences of his actions. He even dons a red cape like Superman, though unlike the Man of Steel’s, his is tattered and frayed due to his deteriorating mental state.

Shikishima himself uses another type of power, namely that of the Japanese armed forces. Having seen with his own eyes the devastating power that can come from an uncontrolled medium, he is determined to stop Tetsuo by any means necessary. These means include using a satellite laser, sending a trio of government-approved psychics on a suicide mission, and even overthrowing the Japanese government. Despite his drastic measures, he is the only person who fully grasps the gravity of the situation. And unlike Tetsuo, his power does not corrupt him; in fact, it’s his kindness to the ESPers that spares his life in the final battle, as they lead him back to Neo-Tokyo after the Singularity engulfs Tetsuo.

Given AkiraA major influence of Tetsuo on other works of fiction, many characters have followed in Tetsuo’s footsteps when it comes to having great power and no responsibility. the Chronicle is a major example, as it slowly shows Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) slipping into sociopathy after developing telekinetic powers. Like Tetsuo, Andrew suffers from an insecurity complex as well as the abusive hands of his father Richard (Michael Kelly), and his classmates. And his psychic powers are just as destructive, as he crumples a car into a ball with the wave of his hand. Other films, including looper and The matrix, feature characters grappling with immense mental powers and the destructive results that follow. To borrow a phrase from a previously mentioned web-slinger, it seems that with great power sometimes comes great instability.

The film ends on a rather ambiguous note, as Tetsuo is teleported to another plane of existence rather than die. Not much is revealed about this new existence, but Tetsuo seems very calm, which is a far cry from the enraged monster he was in the film. Ultimately, the question is, will Tetsuo return to his destructive ways, or will he literally take this second chance at life and build something better? It’s a question longtime fans and first-time viewers alike will ponder, and I hope Warner Bros. considered in its long, long, long trying to get a live adaptation of Akira of the ground.

Wiley C. Thompson