While the anime movie was a seminal piece of work in anime/japanimation/animation in general, everyone forgets that it was a small sampling of the insanity and gorgeousness that is the manga.
Published from 1982 to 1990, Katsuhiro Otomo carved out this insanely post-apocalyptic war that rages on the streets of Neo-Tokyo (and you won’t believe who all the factions are, the movie barely scratches the surface of what was happening).
The story does so many things that the movie could not. It gave Akira a more fuller backstory. It provided Tetsuo with a redemption arc (in a badass kind of way). It made Kaneda and Kei so much more interesting, giving them a chance at romance and something beyond just being the hero/heroine. Even the Japanese army gets some agency and closure, something that never happens in the movie.
There are so many things that the six volumes cover, that it is surprising that a movie came out (to be fair, anytime the crew of Thwip! think about failed anime movie adaptations, we think about X/1999 and what a beautiful mess it was…time to finish it CLAMP!) and how amazing it is (despite this review, don’t compare the movie and the manga, you will be sorely disappointed by one or the other if you try and match them, they are each masterpieces on their own right).
Otomo’s art is beautiful, besides being detailed, he is clearly a master story-teller who has a handle on his craft (hence it was no wonder that the movie was such a success). Besides the visuals, the story itself plays out masterfully, giving each of the characters nuance and depth that is beyond the stock character stereotypes that one would expect from a manga.
Writing about this manga has actually enflamed my need to re-read the series, so if you will excuse me I will end talking about it and go on to reading…
Essentially this manga has the beauty of Tsutomo Nihei’s Blame! and the story-telling of Naoki Urasawa coupled with the sci-fi sensibilities of Masamune Shirow…but don’t forget, Otomo was first! (okay, he is actually technically a contemporary of Naoki Urasawa, whatever).
The only bad thing is that it doesn’t feature that badass bike as much as it did in the movie.