Many would say that July 16th, 1988 was the day that the Western world was really introduced to anime. This is the date that Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira was released in the United States. Audiences were shocked and awed by its hyperrealism, cyberpunk motifs, and dystopian future. Fans loved it. It was the start of a cultural phenomenon and was undoubtedly the most important aspect of anime’s popularity outside of Japan.
A Star is Born
Born in Miyagi, Japan on April 14th, 1954, Katsuhiro Otomo always had an extreme fascination and love for movies. He often took three hour train rides just for the opportunity to see a new film all the way over in Sendai. He had a very vivid imagination growing up and this led him to pursue comic book drawing after graduating high school in 1973. He then moved to Tokyo with high hopes of becoming a famous mangaka (manga artist).
His new environment affected his creative works greatly. Far different from his hometown of Miyagi, Otomo’s new neighborhood was filled with everything from manual laborers, drunkards, and yakuza to young couples struggling to raise their newborns in this strange environment. These influences along with his love of cityscapes such as that of New York helped to shape the style that he would become famous for.
Otomo’s Rise to Fame
After writing multiple short stories for the serialized magazine, Action, Otomo created his first real science fiction work entitled Fireball in 1979. Fireball introduced the themes that would later become synonymous with his style. Fireball included characters with superhuman psychic powers, futuristic supercomputers, and a future view of Japan as a post-nuclear totalitarian state. Even though Fireball was never completed, many view it as an instrumental step in his career as it laid the groundwork for his trademark style.
Otomo really started to gain success and recognition with the serialization of Domu: A Child’s Dream. The series ran from 1980 to 1982 and would later go on to be published in book form and was the first time ever manga recipient of the Nihon SF Taisho Award. Domu was a mysterious and chilling tale of a suburban community being telepathically manipulated by an evil resident. It was an instant success and is still in print today.
And then Otomo started work on the piece he would become known around the world for. His magnum opus was entitled Akira and would take him ten years and over 2000 pages to complete. It was a raging success and Otomo would later become the director, writer, designer, and senior illustrator of the project to bring his work to the big screen.
In 1988 Akira was released in Japan and was the biggest box office hit that year. The audiences were amazed not only by the story, but also by the fantastic rendering of the post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo and its inhabitants.
The above video is the first part of a four video interview on YouTube. If you’re interested in hearing more about Otomo from the great man himself, they’re definitely worth a watch.
Since Akira, Otomo has directed several other films including the live action films World Apartment Horror and Mushishi. The other anime works he has directed are the Cannon Fodder portion of Memories, and Steamboy. Both are stunning and very visually impressive films that must be seen by any fan of anime.
Live Action Akira Film
There are also suspicions that a live action version of Akira may come to surface. In 2002 there were talks that Warner Brothers had acquired the rights to create an American live action remake of the film. Since then the project has gone through many strange stages and as of January 6th, 2012, the production has been shut down for the fourth time since its inception. Will this film ever come to fruition? Who knows, but you can read about it more over on Akira’s Wikipedia page here.
My Personal Experience with Otomo’s Work
I first started getting into Japanese culture and anime around the time I was in high school. I started off like many anime initiates did with Dragon Ball Z, various Toonami shows, and of course, Pokemon. While I enjoyed them, I still saw them as cartoons and nothing that serious or mature. And then I saw Akira.
Up until this point, I had never seen anything quite like it. I rented the movie with a friend and we were both blown away by how awesome it was and how different it was from all the anime we had been exposed to up to that point. We loved it and later went on to buy all the manga books for Akira and tore through those as well.
Akira was responsible for maturing my anime tastes and ever since then, fluffy shows like Dragon Ball and Pokemon just didn’t seem the same anymore. Of course I still enjoy the odd fluff anime, but without Otomo’s Akira I don’t think I would have been inspired to explore the more mature side that anime had to offer.
Otomo is Recognized with GENGA
Otomo now even has a special art exhibition just for him and his work. Earlier this month, an exhibition known as GENGA featuring a selection of his works debuted at the Arts Chiyoda Center in Tokyo. The event showcases approximately 2,300 manuscripts and original pictures, and even includes a life size replica of Kaneda’s iconic red motorcycle from Akira (pictured above).
Also on display are 3,000 manga pages encompassing Otomo’s career from his his early success with Domu: A Child’s Dream, to later less successful works such as his 1996 Batman manga. Visitors will also get an exclusive first look at the his latest short film entitled Fire. You can read more about it as well as check out tons more pictures of the exhibit over at Crunchyroll.
Like I mentioned above, Katsuhiro Otomo’s hometown is Miyagi, one of the prefectures hardest hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake. In remembrance of victims of the disaster, he promises to donate 30% of all ticket proceeds to charity. What a stand up fellow he is, wouldn’t you agree?
So tell me, how did you first get into anime? Did Otomo’s Akira change your view of anime as it did mine? Let us know in the comments!