30 years ago today, the film adaptation of the manga, Akira, released in theaters in Japan. The legacy of both the film and the manga are important and far-reaching, both in the broader science-fiction landscape, and the cultural acceptance of anime across the world. You can see its influence in video games, but direct adaptations of the property are non-existent in North America and disappointing in Japan. I wrote this feature back in December 2012, but my desire for a video game based in Neo-Tokyo are as strong as ever on the film’s 30th anniversary.
Akira (Amiga/CD32, 1994)
One of my favorite movies and comics of all time is Akira. I got my anime feet wet with Dragon Ball Z when I was young, but Akira was the first time I realized of what the medium was capable. After watching the movie dozens of times, I pursued the comics, and then watched the movie a dozen more times. Neo-Tokyo is one of my favorite fictional worlds, and the abrasive dynamic between friends Tetsuo and Kaneda has always fascinated me. I don’t know if it would work in a video game, but I would love to see somebody try.
For the uninitiated, Akira tells the complicated story of government experimentation gone terribly wrong, and the lasting effects it has on the individual citizens of a future Tokyo and politically across the entire country. The story mostly centers on two teenage orphans, Tetsuo and Kaneda, but there is a huge cast of characters, gangs, factions, government agencies, and telekinetic children who are too powerful for their own good. Tetsuo and Kaneda are members of a violent biker gang in a city frantically trying to rebuild itself, and things only get worse when the government steals Tetsuo and awakens his latent powers. It all gets very violent, very quickly.
Many of the themes and even story elements of Akira have made it into video games, perhaps most notably in Sucker Punch’s Infamous. Both Akira and Infamous open with a mysterious city-racking explosion, which sets the course for the rest of the story. Cole and Tetsuo are both overpowered super heroes with possibly misdirected senses of morality who are trying to figure out their roles both in what happened, and where they belong in this new society.
Akira (Famicom, 1988)
I got another minor taste of Akira in the form of The Lost and The Damned, Grand Theft Auto IV’s first DLC. It shared no themes with Akira whatsoever, but there were a few moments where you riding with your bike gang through Liberty City where I thought, “Man… I wish I was in Neo-Tokyo right now.”
The dream would be to explore a large, open-world Neo-Tokyo with visually distinct sections. Neo-Tokyo is broken apart into areas in the midst of being rebuilt. Some areas are completely unaffected by the explosion, while other areas have been completely abandoned and destroyed, ruled by the assorted biker gangs that have found refuge in the few remaining buildings that have not yet collapsed. The first 10 minutes of the film offers a sort of tour through the Blade Runner-esque city showing off many different areas in a short amount of time.
Then there is the consideration of who the player would actually control. I think regardless of what role you could conceivably take on, there could be interesting implications. You could be the severely overpowered Tetsuo and play a violent action game, or you could take on the role of Kaneda and try to tackle a giant any way you can. Even playing as a new character, or one who didn’t receive much exploration in either the film or comic could offer a different perspective on everything that happens.
Akira Psycho Ball (PlayStation2, 2002)
The first issue of the Akira manga was published in 1982, and the feature film released in 1988. The moment to strike on the series’ popularity has long since passed. There were three and a half attempts at a game though, which makes me slightly optimistic. All were exclusive to Japan, and only one released for the Nintendo Famicom, when Japan had Akira fever in 1988. In 1994 there was a game released for the Amiga, and in 2002 an Akira-themed pinball game released for the PlayStation 2. Apparently, the pinball game was the only game that was any good. There was a Super Famicom game in the works that was shown off briefly in 1993, but it was never completed.
I love the idea of a modern Akira video game, but I have little confidence in one ever existing. I will probably never know if it is a world that could actually work in an interactive medium, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wish for one.