Though talk of a Hollywood-made version of Akira has been around for years, it's been all the buzz amongst fans of the classic manga and anime since the project was greenlit last month. Unfortunately, that buzz hasn't been good. Many have said that this film has become an example of "whitewashing," with Caucasian actors now linked to play Japanese characters and a purported change in setting from Neo-Tokyo to Neo-New York.
Akira's influence has reached far and wide. Katsuhiro Otomo, who created the original manga, also directed the anime. Despite the differences between the two works, when it comes to Akira, we're largely seeing one man's vision of a deeply unsettling future. That's about to change.
I've been grumbling about this newfangled version of Akira alongside my fellow anime aficionados for months. (Let it be known on the record that I would much rather see a live action Cowboy Bebop starring Keanu Reeves.) But, for purposes of this story, I talked to someone far more knowledgeable of the world created by Otomo.
Joe Peacock is an Atlanta-based writer. He's also curator of the traveling exhibit "Art of Akira," which launched at Pittsburgh's ToonSeum and has since hit Pixar, Scotland Loves Animation, Otakon and Dragon*Con.
"Art of Akira" is a result of Peacock's long-running obsession with the manga and film. He first saw the film when he was 13, in 1990, at a University of Georgia screening where Akira played in Japanese and without subtitles. When the movie was eventually released on laserdisc, he began collecting production art. The work featured in the exhibit comes from his own collection, a 15,000+ piece behemoth that's among the largest in the world.
Of all the anime and comic books Peacock has collected over the years, Akira holds a special place for him.
"The major thing is that Akira came to me at the right time in my life. It hit me on multiple aspects," he says.
Peacock admits that the film has its flaws. He will even point out those flaws at his convention presentations. However, he maintains that it's a "fantastic adaptation" of the manga. It's a 24 frame-per-second, hand-drawn work of art that mimics many of the techniques used in live action film.
"When we saw it in the West," says Peacock, "it was really the first and only animation to emulate film."
For that, and other reasons, Peacock considers Akira "the finest animated production ever made." Undoubtedly, someone with this kind of passion for the original would have some strong opinions about the forthcoming film.