Akira: Post-apocalypse/dystopian narratives in manga and anime

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I’m doing research for a paper I’ve got to write for my Literary and Cultural Studies class called ‘New Media Narratives’. The unit started out with a bunch of stuff on cyberpunk and contemporary science fiction, cyberspace, games in film and that sort of thing. And it’s shifting towards technology as a mode of production for things like games, a sort of real world science fiction that constructs these ‘new media’ narratives. I felt like I was putting a bit of a stretch on the unit when I decided I wanted to look at post-apocalyptic fiction, and use Akira as a case study, but I think particularly with the content covered early on in the unit, cyberpunk and all that, I should be able to tie in new media narratives, remediation and that sort of thing into it.

One of the recent changes I’ve made with this topic is going from post-apocalyptic fiction to looking at dystopian fiction, which is a little broader, and allows me to analyse a whole bunch of texts that don’t have an explicit apocalypse per se, yet there is still a chaos and lack of control that raises the sorts of issues I wanted to deal with going into this. I’m sure I’ll end up bringing about the apocalypse again to address issues specifically in Akira, but that can be something that develops as the assignment gets right down to the core. Another development I’ve had was pretty obvious, but in the anxiety of choosing a topic and coming up with a solid focus question, it slipped momentarily through the cracks.

Of course, when I look at Akira, I’ll be looking at its cultural context. This means analysing other manga and anime around that time (I’m thinking not just 1980s, but anything late 20th century onwards) and why Akira and other similar texts of this period are significant to the post-apocalypse/dystopian genres and why they’re significant to their culture. Again, the simple answer to that second question was blatantly obvious, yet they’re delivered in the form of two hard hitting words: ‘Hiroshima’ and ‘Nagasaki’. Right from the opening pages of Akira we are confronted with the horror of Japan being thrown into chaos and destruction on a scale comparable to the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Knowing this, and keeping this in mind when looking for resource materials allows me to really focus my assignment on the key issues I should be looking at. Today I watched the Studio Ghibli film ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ to get a feel for a more realistic portrayal of this type of apocalypse. This subject matter is pretty heavy hitting stuff, and I think I’ll come out the other end of this assignment severely exhausted, yet ultimately rewarded for having been there. On that same note, the endless stream of post-apocalyptic/dystopian films coming out of the US at the moment can probably be attributed to 9/11. And even before then, the sorts of anxieties raised in post-apocalyptic texts seem to draw heavily on the suffering and mass casualties of war. The nature of apocalypses can stretch from stuff like viral breakouts and natural disasters and such, but I think the ones centred on war are the hardest hitting, most disastrous (and at times, self-destructive) narratives around.

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