Akira book 2: Akira I (Wolverhampton Wanderers nil)
After the climactic battle between Tetsuo and the biker gangs at the end of book 1, Tetsuo is now part of the Government’s psychic programme, given the Number 41, Kaneda and Kei are prisoners of the army, and the psychic children are becoming aware of Tetsuo, and are increasingly worried about how he might awaken Akira. As Doctor Onishi’s desire to control and harness Akira’s power blinds him to Tetsuo’s increasingly sinister nature, The Colonel is worried about keeping him under control, and the children find allies to use in their fight with Tetsuo.
So this book is a much faster read than book 1, largely because the bulk of the pagecount goes to two big action sequences, the sprawling chase and fight involving Kei and Kaneda, Tetsuo, the Colonel and the psychic kids in the army headquarters; and Tetsuo going to see Akira, with the Colonel, Ryu, and Kei and Kaneda’s interactions with different elements. But in between these two sequences there are some notable moments, particularly the introduction of two new characters who are very important moving forward - Lady Miyako, an escapee from the psychic programme turned religious leader, and the power behind Nezu - the opposition politician and secret leader of the resistance; and Chiyoko, a muscular woman in the resistance who Kei calls her aunt like she calls Ryu her brother.
Also, if you’re only familiar with the anime of Akira, this is the point where the similarities between the two works stop. Until this point the broad strokes of the two stories are similar enough - and there are many moments in the anime taken directly from the manga, of course, but Akira’s nature in the manga is radically different from the anime, and the movie is almost finished at the point where this book finishes.
So what does this book add to the mix? Mostly scope and scale - the first action sequence is all in a single building - a very large one, but it’s all corridors and rooms. And the second one, while it’s mostly in the underground complex which houses Akira, it’s huge, with one of the setpieces being soldiers on flying platforms attacking Tetsuo in a massive lift shaft. The action also moves outwards to reveal the underground complex is under the crater in the middle of Neo-Tokyo, allowing for some amazing city shots, which in Otomo’s attention to detail show a path into the crater that maps onto the closeup scenes. The story also moves from a tale of two bike punks caught up in crazy shit to a grander scale, in which Tetsuo has stumbled onto an amazing power which could kill millions, especially if he awakens Akira, and the Colonel at least treats him as a threat on that level, going so far as to use an orbital laser weapon against him. And even with this grander scale, Kei and Kaneda remain relevant and vital as protagonists, the degree to which they’re intertwined with the plot never feels forced.