Akira Research

For my essay I wanted to do it on Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo. I knew I wanted to base my essay on Japanese Animation but felt Studio Ghibli would have been done too often and I wanted to explore something that was familiar but not as familiar as Studio Ghibli.

I also love Akira so doing research and understanding an animation I already have a interest in is a bonus! I knew I wanted to do a comparison of the artist’s newer work and older work (Akira). One of his most recent works is Combustible. In style i find it’s very different, i’m choosing this angle to explore through my essay

I found a few web links that helped me in my initial research and quotes which outlined the impact of Akira and finding more about Combustible;

Akira: the future-Tokyo story that brought anime west

  • Internet lore has it that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas turned down the chance to pick up the rights to the exalted 1988 anime Akira, believing it to be unmarketable in America 
  • “I started thinking [Akira] was more than a great film,” Andy Frain, Manga Entertainment’s founder, later recalled. “This might be a phenomenon. Were there more films like this in Japan? If so, we could treat them in music terms like Def Jam, a genre in itself.” 
  • Led by Akira, anime expanded the idea of what animation could be: violent, abrasive, radically stylised, thoughtful and above all, adult. It arguably readjusted expectations ahead of the later revitalisation and maturation of the industry under Pixar – sweeping away the prejudice that anything with drawings was for kids 
  • The Wachowskis put their debt on the record with their spin-off The Animatrix in 2003, just as Quentin Tarantino did with The Origin of O-Ren, the cartoon segment of Kill Bill Volume I.But anime’s relationship with the western mainstream was elusive – all about influence, rather than grabbing the headlines directly itself. There was a lack of true breakthrough titles to follow Akira, which eventually grossed $80m globally

The Impact of Akira

  • Then again, Akira’s success led directly to Ghost in the Shell. Akira’s comic publisher Kodansha and Frain’s new British label Manga Entertainment both sought another world hit, finding it in Mamoru Oshii’s melancholy cyberpunk drama. Ghost in the Shell had vastly different pacing, narration and sensibilities from Akira, but the brand accommodated both. Interestingly, there were more echoes of Ghost in the Shell than Akira in the Matrix films, Hollywood’s most anime-flavoured franchise to date. Most obviously, the Trinity character played by Carrie-Anne Moss recalls Ghost in the Shell’s glowering cyborg, Major Kusanagi. It was also Ghost in the Shell’s studio, Production IG, that later made the animation in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1. While Katsuhiro Otomo has continued working on anime spectaculars, his work can seem subsumed in the brand he helped start, which now accommodates child-friendly anime in Britain: for example, Pokémon, Spirited Away and Naruto.And yet, the technical and artistic virtues perceived by Rayns and Maslin in Akira mean that the film still stands out as one of the best-made anime in the medium, as striking and pungent as it was in 1988. So far, its Western homages have been small-scale; they include the Kanye West/Daft Punk music video for “Stronger” (where West plays Tetsuo) and the 2000 animated film, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, where the characters are chased by an Akira-style weapons satellite raining fire, drawn by the original Akiraanimator, Hiroyuki Aoyama.

Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira Then & Now

  • The animators used 327 colours, including 50 specially created for the film and 97 shades of red, and every one shines through. The fat, meaty soundtrack is as visceral now as on first hearing. With over 160,000 cels, Akira has smooth, convincing animation. A brief flirtation with computer graphics, still in their infancy in anime, is well integrated into the glossy package.

Katsuhiro Otomo Interview

So, talking about your new work, Combustible, its theme is clearly two young people who are trapped in their society, and their attempts to break free from that trap. What inspired that theme?
The basic theme of the storyline is fairly typical of old Japanese literature, called kabuki or joruri. For example, the story of Yaoya Oshichi is, more or less, the same basic story as Combustible. I wanted to take that old theme that we used to have in Japan 300 years ago, and describe with recent technologies, in anime form.
Combustible uses a lot of modern animation techniques, but are their some methods you took from the old analog days of anime as well?
I like to work on both sides, with both hand-drawing and computer graphics. Back a couple years ago everyone was working only with computer graphics, using LCD tablets and the like, but now people are coming back to hand-drawing style. Some parts of the process use tablets, and coloring is still done digitally. But I’m trying to bring as much classic draftsmanship back to the craft as possible.


Otomo Packs a Lifetime in 12-Minute ‘Combustible’

  • “I’ve always wanted to create a story about Edo,” he tells Animag. “The theme of this work is based around classic tales from the Edo era such as Yaoya Oshichi and the comic Kaji Musuko, which are commonly used for Kabuki or Joruri programs. I wanted to take that old theme that we used to have in Japan 300 years ago, and describe with recent technologies, in anime form.”
  • “We relied on CG in order to complete the project within the development period,” says Ŏtomo. “The mob scenes, special effects and some of the other more detailed tasks would take a long time to animate had we chosen to do all of it with hand-drawn animation.”

I also found this article which makes the connections between history and Japanese animation

The deep influence of the A-bomb on anime and manga

  • “The message seems to be that adults can be reckless when man’s desire for power and ambition outweigh what is important on Earth. And the children, still untainted by the vices that overtake humanity in adulthood and innocent enough to the point of thinking rationally, are the ones who end up making the most practical decisions overall.”

  • “The directors and artists who witnessed the devastation firsthand were at the forefront of this movement. Yet to this day – 70 years after the bombs – these themes continue to be explored by their successors.”

Synopsis of Short Peace- Combustible (Doesn’t require quoting)

Short Peace Review

“ The artwork on this short was outstanding, done in a very traditional style, as if you were watching an animated film through the lens of an traditional Japanese scroll or painting. Otomo and his artists copied the intricate patterns of Owaka’s kimono from period fabrics, and the stylized flames are modeled on the prints of Yoshitoshi and other great ukiyo-e artists. The story was enjoyable, and was actually enlightening to see how traditional Japanese fire-fighting was conducted. Amazing story with a tragic ending, Possessions just barely edges this one out.”

Here is some books I was able to find that I could get access to:

  • Akira BFI Film Classics by Michelle Le Blanc, Colin Odell
  • The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation By Jonathan Clements, Helen McCarthy
  • Full Metal Apache: Transactions Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America By Takayuki Tatsum
  • Nightmare Japan: Contemporary Japanese Horror Cinema By Jay McRo


With all of that research I can write my structure and even start the essay as I have basic knowledge in this post. I would say I need more information just so I can explore further into the essay!


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