Tag Archives: pop-culture

Akira (Book One) by Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira book oneSince the western release of the anime film version of Katsuhiro Otomo’s early 1980s manga Akira it has entered the western pop culture lexicon like few other things from the Far East, arguably kick starting the ongoing fascination with Japanese culture in the western world that spans from the films of Studio Ghibli to the likes of Pokemon.

Despite having seen the film long ago and the many references to it in cinema since, I had yet to go back to the original manga until now. So, while I had some expectations, I didn’t have a total grasp of what it might be like.

This first book of the series kicks off by introducing us to a teenage bike gang (bōsōzoku) in Post-World War Three Neo-Tokyo, and we are dropped into a slightly familiar, exaggerated gang culture of Japanese youth (if this exists in real life or just in manga and anime I’m not able to say, but it certainly has a ring of truth) in a vaguely totalitarian society where we soon discover something is amiss with superpowered mutant humans being hidden, somewhat unsuccessfully, by mysterious government agencies.

Akira - Kaneda and Tetsuo

Kaneda and Tetsuo

The story itself is one that has become somewhat cliché, but this feels like where it started, so we follow gang member Kaneda as he becomes embroiled in this mystery following the apparent death and resurrection of fellow young biker Tetsuo.

While the story is undeniably engrossing what sets Akira apart, and at the time of its original publication must have been fairly astonishing, is the pace of the storytelling and action. While American comics traditionally were fairly verbose works, with long passages of expository dialogue, in Akira much of this is removed and Otomo allows the images to do the heavy lifting.

So we race through the society and city which is never explained explicitly but we explore it much as we might in a film, through the detailed visuals. Similarly the characters are revealed to us as much through action as anything else and, while they are mostly fairly typical, it isn’t long before we get behind Kaneda and get a genuine sense of mystery over the fate of Tetsuo that builds to this part’s climax.

Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo

While American comics have since caught up with this style it’s hard not to recognise the pioneering nature of Akira as it races along like its characters. While this first volume is clearly just getting the story up and running, it is as engaging and engrossing as any comics I’ve read and, as well as being a notable historical artefact of the medium, remains a compelling read with some excellent artwork.

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Breaking Bad


breaking bad logoHaving become a genuine pop-culture (if not cultural, is pop-culture now a redundant term?) phenomenon over its last season, Breaking Bad is something I came to late, but with its final episode airing this past weekend, I have caught up with and thought I’d join the rest of the world in sharing my thoughts.

I had, of course, heard of Breaking Bad, and the name Heisenberg had come to mean more than ‘just’ the guy who came up with an uncertainty principle, though I had not seen any of it until the middle of August – since then however I have changed this.

Walter White - Bryan Cranston

Walter White – Bryan Cranston

Much talk has been made of the series as a whole being a morality tale and certainly, on one level, it is as we see an everyman ‘break bad’ and the repercussion that come from this.

However, there is another side to this in that it constantly challenges us to relate to Walter White (Bryan Cranston) as the protagonist, of course as the series moves on this becomes harder and harder to do as Walt’s list of crimes and atrocities escalates making him undeniably, at best, an anti-hero, but there always seems to be something trying to drag us back onto his side no matter what he’s done.

So much so that, by the absolute end, we are almost again sympathetic towards this man we have seen manufacture and deal crystal meth, kill and have people killed and act in some of the most morally reprehensible ways committed to TV by a protagonist.

Breaking Bad - Jesse and Walter

Jesse and Walter

This is partially done through the show’s amazing slow burn of a development that started in its first episode (first broadcast in 2008) where we meet the mild-mannered Walter and his family – this is where, as a newcomer, I have a question in my head about the series.

Certainly I have enjoyed it a huge amount, to be totally honest I think it is probably the best TV I’ve ever seen, but I wonder if this slow burn, particularly during the second season, would have left me drift off too far and would have lost me had I watched it as it was broadcast? Of course I watched that series over a week, so we’ll never know, but that is probably the place where it most ran the risk of losing my interest.

Hank and Walter

Hank and Walter

The slow burn, in the end though, pays off in ways I have never seen in television as all the pieces slot into place perfectly and even characters who still felt underdeveloped (i.e. the fairly archetypal Neo-Nazis) completed the puzzle that has been the last few years of Walter White’s life, while also leaving a few things open enough to show that this is based in an approximation of the real world and, thankfully, completely steers away from directly showing any kind of confirmed happy endings, though they are suggested.

Walter and Jesse

Walter and Jesse

This is just a part of the amazing way in which the show as a whole has been put together. Clearly led by a head writer (and creator Vince Gilligan) with an aim, stylistically the show has matched this with similar grace notes appearing throughout that pull the whole series together, again in a way I’d not seen before.

So we get spectacular montages, often set to fantastically appropriate pop-rock songs, alongside convention defying POV shots (the advent of the GoPro and its ilk clearly having been a big thing here) and a deft use of comedy that has us laughing one minute and shocked at scenes of utter brutality the next in a way that sits just right.

Breaking Bad castThe other thing pulled me in and kept me there were the characters. I’ve mentioned Walt above but without his extended family, both actual and metaphorical, the show would have been lost. Highlights among these are Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) who acts as something of a moral barometer and counterpoint to Walter in almost all regards and grows into the backbone of the show almost as much as the protagonist.

Then there are brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) and Walt’s wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) who, while not always fully rounded are used to get us into the space of different aspects of Walt and show us other sides of him, while also, particularly in the case of Hank, become our hero/antagonist at times.

Saul Goodman - Bob Odenkirk

Saul Goodman – Bob Odenkirk

Beyond this there are major but slightly more bit-part players who also help highlight aspects of Walter and his degeneration/regeneration including crystal meth kingpin Gus Fring, ‘cleaner’ (amongst other things) Mike (Jonathan Banks) and lawyer (and often comic relief) Saul (Bob Odenkirk).

What this highlights though is just how much this is all Walter White’s story as every character seems designed to reflect a part of him – again down to the brilliant design of Gilligan and his team, while also being characters we feel for in their own right.

Walt as Heisenberg

Walt as Heisenberg

If season two was the shows slow point, certainly the second half of season five is where it cranked everything up to a new gear of speed as the plot rocketed along. This may have left a few events seemingly dealt with a little too quickly, but never at the expense of emotion or story as certain episode, third to last Ozymandias in particular, left me shattered but having to know what came next, which is surely the aim of any serial drama from the tripe of soap opera land to the epics of HBO and, such as this, AMC.

Ending a series like Breaking Bad is never going to be an easy task, but it is something that has been done in fine style and has cemented a show that, up to this point has been teetering on the edge of classic TV, into being something entirely complete in a way few TV shows ever manage (see The X-Files or many others for examples where they go on too long or just meander out of ideas) – so, if you’ve read this and not seen it I strongly recommend you go out and see it and I hope I’ve not spoiled it too much.

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