A lot of people are familiar with the film version of Akira. Readily available in the US, it's become a keystone in many American anime collections and is revered by many as one of the best Anime films ever made.
Of course, along with the praise comes the obvious (and, in many cases, justified) complaints regarding the movie's plot and pacing. As wide in scope as the movie is, it's also exceedingly vauge on many topics, and it seems like it only offers a glimpse into something much larger as opposed to being a singular narrative in and of itself.
Well, Akira fans, your boat has come in. The original Japanese Mangas (comics) are now available in the US, and to those unfamiliar with the works of Mr. Otomo, brace yourself. This is the world of Akira as it was originally concieved, and the result is simply breathtaking. If you thought the movie lacked scope, wait 'till you get ahold of these books.
The futuristic story of Akira revolves around several factions - government, anti-government, spiritual, political, and more - all struggling against each other in an attempt to unearth a secret that started the third world war. That secret is a child, Akira, subjected to tests and adjustments by a government project to bring his latent psychic abilities to their full potential. Now, he is gifted with a complete attunement to the ebbs and flows of all the energies in the universe...And the ability to control them. He is the ultimate evolution of humanity, and the most dangerous and uncontrollable weapon ever unearthed by science. After an unleashing of his energy sets off World War III, he is locked deep underground at absolute zero, kept asleep until modern science can figure out a way to deal with him.
I won't get into the story for anyone who doesn't know it (it's significantly expanded and altered when compared to the movie version). For anyone expecting a graphic novel version of the events in the movie, however, you're going to be surprised. Many of the characters that made simple cameo appearances in the film, such as Joker or Lady Miyako, are now key characters who play major roles in the unfolding plot. Other principles, such as Tetsuo, are altered slightly in order to fill their original roles.
Tetsuo is not the runt of the biker group, as he was in the movie. In fact, he's much more agressive and dark in the comics, and the deep friendship between Kaneda and Tetsuo that was evident in the final scenes of the movie is replaced with an intense sense of rivalry. You get the impression that, rather than Kaneda defending Tetsuo in the early years, they've been bucking heads for a long time. For his part, Kaneda seems to have lost some intelligence and gained some coarseness, but since the focus of the story no longer rests on his shoulders alone, this fits very well (though you do want to smack him sometimes.)
Kei is similar to her movie counterpart, at least in the first novel, though Ryu is much more prominent in his role. The Colonel has a fantastic charatcer development that was only hinted at in the movie, but you'll need to get the books that come later in the series for that.
The first book follows the plot of the movie pretty well, and while it has several additions added in, those who have seen the movie will feel right at home. The second book in the series is the same way. It's starting with book three that things become radically different from anything in the movie, but the first two are important in that much is clarified, and after reading them you can go back to the movie and notice things that you might have missed the first time around.
A note on the artwork and translation: The artwork is top notch, but in the first book the style is quite different than the later installment. The characters look fairly rough to begin with, Kei and the Colonel in particular, though they fall into their usual forms fairly quick. Otomo's astounding attention to detail shines through from the very first panel, however, and the cityscapes are simply breathtaking.
The artwork is flipped to accomodate english readers, and it's sometimes a little weird as the flow gets interrupted in spots. The translation is also pretty accurate. The dialouge isn't the greatest prose ever written or anything, but it's a far better translation than one might expect.
It's worth noting that the books have not been edited in any way, as should be expected. Still, this regulates it to the 13 and up crowd, at least. The violence is quite bloody and frequent (the Akira series is known for frequent exploding heads), so concerned parents might want to pass this series up. There's also rampant profanity throughout the book, which (oddly) gets more prominent as the series progresses (by book 5, the F-word is thrown out on a regular basis, in book 1 it appears once.) There is also a fair amount of nudity, mostly upper female but some male as well, so if that sort of thing worries you, take note. It's a series meant for mature readers, and while Kudos should go to Dark Horse for not butchering it, don't fall under the common American assumption that, because it's a comic, it's therefore kiddie stuff.
This series is a true landmark in science fiction storytelling, and I highly reccomend it to anyone who's ever wanted to read a thought provoking, action packed, and genuinely startling story that will keep you turning the pages until you hit the back cover.
This is only the first book, and chances are, once you read this one, you'll wind up buying the other 5.