This time we’ll look at two comic-based films based on Japanese manga set on post-apocalyptic contexts. Firstly, Akira directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, set in a future Neo-Tokyo, and then, Alita: Battle Angel, set in a similar environment. Both of these, as well as a slew of other Japanese manga turned into film and television, del with common themes around government, socio-economic divisions, and the nature of being human in light of catastrophic changes to the world. Other similar film and TV works, all heavily influenced by manga, include:
- Bubblegum Crisis (1987-1991)
- Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996, 1997, 2007-2021)
- Ghost in the Shell (1995-current)
- Appleseed (1998, 2994, 2011, 2014)
Creator/Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
The 1988 anime, Akira, is one of the seminal Japanese cyberpunk films that laid the foundation for many others that followed. The film is based on Otomo’s manga of the same name, published between 1982 and 1990, which brought Japanese comics to mainstream Western audiences. Originally published in black and white, a colourised version was published by Marvel Comics when the the film was released.
While the film is named after the character, Akira, the protagonists are primarily a motorcycle gang, led by Sh?tar? Kaneda, who get caught up in events between an the autocratic government in Neo-Tokyo and a resistance movement seeking to undermine the state. The city of Neo-Tokyo has been rebuilt since a cataclysm created Akiria and his “superpower” back in 1988. When Kanada’s best friend, Tetsuo Shima, begins to develop the same telekinetic and psychic powers as Akira he comes a person-of-interest to the government authorities. Kaneda and others liberate the imprisoned Akira to get him to help Tetsuo. In the end, Akira and Tetsuo transcend their humanity and move on another plane of existence.
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Set in the future, sometime after a cataclysmic event devastated the Earth some 300 years before the film’s setting, Alita: Battle Angel is a CGI-based film that draws on the manga, Battle Angel Alita (1990-1995), created by Yukito Kishiro. There was also a 1993 anime film, Battle Angel (known in Japan as Gunnm).
The film focuses upon a cybernetic girl found by Dr. Dyson while scavenging. The body is incomplete, but has a preserve human brain, and the doctor reconstructs and activates the cyborg, naming her Alita after his dead daughter. The film is then, in part, a coming of age film for Alita as the learns about the world she now lives in, falls in love, and suffers joys and tragedies. Alita possesses advanced combat programmes from the time of the Fall, and is later transferred to a combat-ready body when her first one is damaged.
The villains are both local criminals preying on cyborgs in the neighbourhood and the overlord of the city, Nova, who exists in his floating, heavenly city above the city below where Alita lives. Suffice to say, Alita becomes an avenging angel on behalf of those afflicted by the villains, but by the end of the film, little has happened to change the world – a sequel might do that, but the ending felt flat to me. Perhaps, too much time spent on the CGI and not enough on plot climax and closure?
Anyway, the film is mostly entertaining, if less satisfying than it might be. It does not plumb some of the philosophical depths that Akira, Ghost in the Shell, or Appleseed do.