Akira and the Phases of the Hero/Leader Archetype: A Character Analysis

Blake C. PatriaStarred Page By Blake C. Patria, 27th Feb 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Film & TV>Anime

An analysis of characters in the film Akira, how they relate to power, responsibility, and personal growth, and how they can reflect the phases of a leader archetype. If you somehow have never seen this movie, then accept this as a spoiler alert.

If You Love It So Much, Then Why Don't You Marry It?

One of my favorite films is Akira. It is a Japanese Anime from the late 80s. It is based off of a manga series from the early 80s. The film is about the dystopian city of Neo Tokyo trying to hold itself together several decades after the third world war (which was triggered by a mysterious super-human named Akira). The citizens are protesting and rioting, the military is working with the police, the politicians are becoming corrupt, street crime is rampant, and scientists are studying the same mysteries that triggered the first fall of the city. Amidst all of this, a teenage boy (Tetsuo) in a street gang gets in a motorcycle accident, and is abducted by an army detachment deployed to arrest his gang for being too close to the crater of the original Tokyo.
As scientists experiment on Tetsuo, his best friend, Kaneda, joins forces with a "terrorist" (Kei) he has a crush on to save his friend. As you might have imagined, the scientists lose control of their experiment, and Tetsuo embarks on a personal mission to find Akira. This is when Colonel Shikishima must do everything in his power to stop him.

Power and Growth

This isn't so much a review as it is an analysis. I have seen this movie dozens of times, and I could probably write dozens of these (I'm tempted to). The subject matter I'm covering here is power and growth. Every time I watch Akira, I take something new from it. The last time I watched it, I realized that three major characters could represent three major phases in the growth of the hero/leader archetype.

Tetsuo Shima: Angsty Demigod

Tetsuo is the youngest member of The Capsules gang. He is an orphan, he's always picked on and hazed, he has a crappy bike, and he feels very small, almost powerless. This all changes after the experiments. He discovers several psychic powers, and escapes the hospital he is being treated in to learn more about Akira, and his connection to him. The entire army cannot stop him, and the conflict creates a lot of death and destruction. Many citizens of Neo Tokyo see this roving, young demigod, and mistake him for Akira, following him along with religious cults as he makes his way to where Akira was hidden by government scientists. In a way, he has become a leader, but only due to blindly desperate religious faith, and he takes no active responsibility in his followers.

Though Tetsuo is young and weak, the sudden endowment of power has a profound psychological effect on him. He abuses the power in revenge against the world he felt small and weak in. The childish use of his godlike powers makes him a sort of villain. He represents a mind that is not yet mature enough for such power.

Kaneda: The Young, Reckless Warrior

Though Kaneda is only a year Tetsuo's senior, he is not one to play "the victim". He is strong and decisive (if not impulsive), and is viewed by his entire gang as their leader. He has a very hot-shot bike, and a heroic amount of courage. Even when under the leadership of others, his survival instincts make him leader by default.

When Tetsuo runs amok, Kaneda takes it upon himself as Tetsuo's best friend to stop him. Armed only with his bike and a battery-powered military laser, Kaneda engages the destructive demigod throughout the chaos of the psychic attacks of Kei as possessed by other science experiments (Takashi, Kiyoko, and Masaru) and the military's use of an orbital laser.

The whole battle is mostly Tetsuo's grudge of how he felt Kaneda treated him. Kaneda's young but earthy wisdom can be seen in his statement to Tetsuo, "So now you're King of the Mountain . . . but it's all garbage!" a commentary on the price paid for Tetsuo's new-found confidence.

Kaneda could be compared to Han Solo. He is a charismatic rogue and a badass. He will go toe-to-toe with a demigod to keep his title.

The Colonel: Legendary Babysitter

If you are an Akira fan from childhood, and you find yourself relating to Colonel Shikishima after a few years, it probably means you are becoming some kind of adult.

The Colonel is a soldier. When asked by the corrupt politician Nezu why he still cares about a city in such a decline, The Colonel answers, "It's a soldier's duty. You wouldn't understand."

The Colonel is not distracted by political or economic gain, nor the scientific wonders of Akira's mysteries. He is only focused on his responsibilities in overseeing the government science projects relating to the superhuman powers of Akira. Despite his seemingly narrow perception of life, he is actually one of the characters with the most depth in the film.

He seems to view the test subjects (sometimes referred to as "Espers") Kiyoko, Takashi, and Masaru as his own children (though they only look like children, and are conditioned to live in the environment of a child. They are actually roughly the same age as The Colonel), and trust their visions with the understanding of somebody who has known them for many years. This proves vital to the plot.

When Kiyoko has an apocalyptic vision of the city where Akira returns, The Colonel goes to the city's government committee where he attempts to warn them, but they prove useless with a bunch of infighting.

Eventually, Tetsuo escapes, and The Colonel discovers that the head scientist, Dr. Onishi has been too mesmerized by the scientific data of the experiment to follow his direct orders to end the project once it started to look dangerous. He realizes that his responsibility is about to mirror the tragedy of Tokyo three decades before so he makes a move to stop it. When the rest of the government steps in to arrest him, he proves to be the superior leader in this crisis declaring martial law and arresting all of the politicians. By doing so, the entire army and city becomes his responsibility ("I'm in charge now.").

He does everything in his power to try to stop Tetsuo from reaching Akira, but must finally confront Tetsuo at the stadium beneath which Akira's dissected body is cryogenically frozen. He first tries to pacify Tetsuo with his words, telling him that Akira is dead, and the frozen specimen jars that Tetsuo was able to unearth are all that is left of him. Tetsuo finds this unacceptable, and continues to lash out with his powers so The Colonel decides to try and destroy him with an orbital laser, only succeeding in wounding him before he jumps into space, and destroys the satellite.

When Tetsuo's medication wears off, and he starts losing control of his power, The Colonel first approaches him with an almost paternal concern, but Tetsuo begins to devour himself and everything around him in an unstoppable mutation. With nothing left but a pistol, The Colonel orders the Espers to flee to safety, and engages Tetsuo's rolling mass of mutating flesh only to be devoured himself.

Akira, like the messianic figure that he is, returns from the dead to absorb Tetsuo and what is left of the city with his immense power, sucking it all into a singularity where anybody involved lives the memories of Akira, the Espers, and Tetsuo.

Kaneda, Kei, Kai (one of Kaneda's friends), and The Colonel safely return to the devastated city. Akira, The Espers, and Tetsuo vanish into the singularity.

A voice declares "I am Tetsuo.", entire galaxies emerge from what looks like an iris, and the credits roll.

What we pick up from this regarding The Colonel is that he is willing to go toe-to-toe with a demigod that mutates into a grotesque mass of ravenous bio-mechanical flesh subject to some kind of city-consuming rapture that converts matter into a whole other universe . . . simply because it is his duty.

If You Read This Without Seeing the Film

If you've never seen this movie before, you should do yourself a favor, and check it out--especially if you're a fan of Japanese animation. I myself still enjoy an anime here or there, but I mostly stick with the classics where things were still fresh (you know what I mean; teenagers shooting powers at each other gets pretty old after a few years). This one stands by itself though; the way it was animated, the subject matter, the music, and so many other things make this movie more than just a Japanimation flick. I was pretty young the first time I saw it, but some people would probably not consider this a kid's cartoon . . . though you can probably let them watch it anyway just to see what happens, but don't blame me if your kid starts speaking Japanese, and having apocalyptic dreams.


Akira, Anime, Character Analysis, Classic, Film, Japan, Japanese Animation, Kaneda, Leader Archetype, Neo-Tokyo, Psychic Powers, Religious, Science Fiction, Tetsuo, The Colonel

Meet the author

author avatar Blake C. Patria
My name is Blake C. Patria. I am a musician, a writer, a philanthropist, a philosopher, etc. I enjoy science and its fictions. I also enjoy philosophy and Punk Rock. My work will tell more :)

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
28th Feb 2014 (#)

a great review this...thank you..

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