Previous guest-blogger Eugene Ahn aka Adam WarRock (http://adamwarrock.com) is an indie geek rapper whose new EP, Neo-Tokyo, is an homage to the anime film, Akira. The 7-track record is available for $5 at http://adamwarrock.com/neotokyo, and the the music video is posted below. Why Akira? Let him explain…
Akira was the first time I ever thought about the world ending.
The 1988 seminal anime film, based on the sprawling manga-opus by Katsuhiro Otomo, is regarded by almost everyone as the “first anime,” or more specifically, the first anime to really matter in the US. It came at the tail end of a cold war, where nuclear armageddon was only an abstract notion to most of the pre-teen children who were raised in the shadow of a faceless enemy, baptized in an esoteric notion of nationalism. By the time that most of us saw it, probably rented from a Blockbuster or seen at a friend’s place, it created this weird dissonance inside of you as your brain tried to comprehend this medium, heretofore a “kid’s thing,” now showing you a melange of politics, sci-fi, horror, and mind-twisting psychology, all very much “adult” notions.
The film’s ending, one of those definitively final, yet unclear and open-ended denouements that became the hallmark of so many other anime series after, left a generation of fans excited, confused, and unsettled. It made us think about armageddon and death in a way that nothing else even tried touching. When the final frame of the movie plays, with Tetsuo stating “I am… Tetsuo,” it was a moment of creation and destruction, of self-realization and questioning. It was confusing and awesome. It was memorable.
Having rewatched Akira multiple times for my new EP, Neo-Tokyo, it’s probably the first time I’ve revisited the flick with any kind of intense dedication beyond seeing it playing late at night on television, or images flashing on tv screens at nightclubs that like to pretend they’re cooler than they are. Not only does it hold up visually (the digital remaster is striking, considering that it’s such an old animated film on high-definition hardware), but the plot opens itself up in ways that I couldn’t comprehend as a teenager. Sure, the whole “world is ending” motif is still there, told from the point of view of a people who have seen too many wars, and have themselves seen the effects of a nuclear world-ending event. At the core are the two protagonists, Tetsuo and Kaneda, friends with a past who have very much outgrown each other. Kaneda, holding on to a strange form of honor in fighting to defeat and save his friend who he had arguably neglected and marginalized; and Tetsuo, a man gone mad with power, trying to save himself from pain while exacting a blind kind of vengeance on everyone around him, and at times, focused intensely on a friend who saved him so many years ago. Watching them fight and banter is childish and petulant, while also important, emotional and affecting.
When I sat down to make a new EP, for some reason I kept thinking about Akira. Maybe it’s because beatmaker DicepticoN’s style is pret-a-porter as soundtrack of a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Japanese biker gang techno-thriller. Maybe it’s because it’s 2012, and people idly joke about the end of the world (as the Mayans have told us), reminding me of when I first thought about what it would be like to see the world end. Maybe I’ve seen too many friendships crumble into ash for both deserved and undeserved reasons; and in a weird way, watching Tetsuo and Kaneda fight, whether it’s for the world or for their own pride, it makes more sense to me now more than ever. So I started writing an EP that took cues from that relationship, and the film that would lead me to become a huge fan of anime for a large portion of my life. It seemed as good a place to start as any.
In the wake of Neo-Tokyo’s cinematic destruction, I’ve seen everything from zombie apocalypses to natural disasters to alien invasions in movies, trying to tell me what the end of the world will, should, or could look like. Yet when it comes to the end of the world, I always think about that white ball explosion from 1988, where Tokyo was destroyed because of 28. In my older age, I think often about how losing friends, the end of relationships, the destruction of familiar relationships can feel like the world is ending, in small, meaningful ways. I think about Kaneda and Tetsuo, and Kei and Ryu, and the espers sacrificing themselves to save them. It’s no mistake that Akira is seen as the alpha of second-wave anime, and while I love seeing dudes fight on bikes and Tetsuo’s arm explode, the human story at the center is what makes it lasting. That’s what makes me think about it when I think about the end of the world, and how messy, imperfect and abusive notions like friendship and duty can be.