Akira, American Style


By Arturo R. García

It’s hard to imagine a more egregious anime or manga “re-imagining” than the debacle that was The Last Airbender, but this might do it.

The long-fearedrumored live-action Akira remakes garnered attention over the weekend when rumors spread that the “lead role” in the two-film series would be offered to … Zac Efron.

Yes, that would be Zac Efron as Shotaro Kaneda, leader of a gang of motorcycle-riding funboys in a post-apocalyptic urban dystopia. But it looks this remake wouldn’t necessarily be a whitewash – it’d be a complete westernization of the story.

The basics of the story itself are the same in both the original six-volume manga series and the anime adaptation: Kaneda and his gang, normally content to wreak havoc around the ruins of Neo-Tokyo, get in far over their heads when one of their weaker members, Tetsuo Shima, is kidnapped by the military and subjected to experimentation. Tetsuo, revealed to be a vastly powerful telekinetic, escapes from custody and sets off a chain of events that threatens to engulf the city in yet another disaster, as both Kaneda and the authorities close in on him.

Akira is rare in that it’s considered a seminal story in both of its’ formats, one that propelled Japanese media from kitschy curiosity into more serious acclaim from North American audiences For a generation of kids reared on feel-good fare like Voltron or Robotech, the original anime was a mind-bender, the forerunner for challenging works like Neon Genesis Evangelion. More recently, it also inspired some of the images hip-hop’s own Tetsuo, Kanye West, used in the video for Stronger.) Here’s a trailer for last year’s blu-ray release of the film, where you see Kaneda – and his rather cool motorcycle – in action:

Somehow, director Albert Hughes and writer Albert Torres are reportedly going to attempt to turn the original manga – which spotlighted more characters beyond the Tetsuo/Kaneda love/hate relationship, but was by no means more kid-friendly – into two PG-13 movies, with the setting shifting from Neo-Tokyo to “Neo New-York.” That’s like turning Blade Runner into a Saturday-morning cartoon. At least one role, Colonel Shikashima, is allegedly being offered to a POC actor, in this case Morgan Freeman.

Still, at this point it’s fair to question whether it’s worth it for the films to even be called Akira. The original fanbase is not going to dig these changes, and the prospective new audience likely could give a damn about the source material, with an adaptation that might go a little like this:

True Dat Yo, indeed.

In a funny coincidence, Akira is also set to be referenced in the pages of Marvel Comics’ Generation Hope, the latest X-Men series. In issue #2, out Dec. 1, readers will be introduced to Kenji Uedo, one of the first five new mutants to appear on Earth following the near-extinction of the species, with powers that he can’t control. Kieron Gillen, who wrote the story, calls Kenji an “hymn to eighties Japanese body horror, nineties British modern art, 19th century banned literature and the whole concept of art and artistry generally.” Courtesy of Bleeding Cool, we present these images without comment for you to compare.

First, Uedo:

Now Tetsuo:

Here’s a scene from Generation Hope:

And here’s one from Akira:

Top image courtesy of Joblo.com