A sign indicates the countdown to the days before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Next to it, a graffiti: “Cancel them.” Looking almost real today, this scene has further reinforced the fascination exercised by Akira, the cult manga from which it emerged.
Created by Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira was first published in installments in Japan between 1982 and 1990. The work was condensed in 1988 into an animated film (anime) of the same name, which gave it worldwide popularity.
The action takes place in 2019 in a sinister megalopolis called ‘New Tokyo’, built near the old capital, wiped off the map by a mysterious explosion in December 1982, which triggered the Third World War.
The story revolves around Tetsuo, a member of a gang of young criminals, who is on a motorcycle, and whose life will change when he becomes aware of his ultra-powerful psychic powers, also coveted by the army.
Akira’s universe is summed up in one word: cyberpunk. A futuristic world, with evolved technology, but with a huge gap between rich and low people, “says Matthieu Pinon, French specialist in manga and Japanese animation, questioned by the AFP agency.
Without being a central element, the Olympic Games appear repeatedly in this work resolutely ‘anti-system’, and present striking similarities with the true Tokyo 2020 Games, now postponed to 2021.
Not only were the Akira Games due to be held in Tokyo in 2020, but “the story unfolds in a way that suggests that its annulment or postponement seems inevitable,” observes Kaichiro Morikawa, a specialist in Japanese pop culture at Meiji University in Tokyo. .
The Japanese government called Tokyo 2020 the “Reconstruction Games”, to testify the return to the foreground of the country after the tragedy of the earthquake and the 2011 tsunami, which caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
In Akira, too, “you can imagine that the Olympics are seeking (by the authorities) to find a kind of greatness after the destruction,” estimates comic book specialist Patrick Gaumer.
The Olympic Stadium in fiction is thus built on the site of the devastated “old city” of Tokyo, near the crater left by the mysterious cataclysm of 1982, a transparent allusion to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, he adds. Gaumer.
But in recent weeks, it is especially the image of the Games countdown with the protest message “Cancel them” that has gone viral on social media, as the coronavirus pandemic made the celebration increasingly unlikely from the real Tokyo 2020 Games, to force its postponement.
Another striking similarity to reality: In the original Japanese manga edition, a double-page transition between two volumes features bogus newspaper articles. “The WHO criticizes the measures taken against the virus,” says one of them.
However, that detail is outside the intrigue in the script, that “you have to see it as an element that adds to the environment, nothing more,” according to Pinon.
Akira, prophetic work? In reality, it is “rather a reinterpretation of the recent past” of Japan, postwar, “projected in the near future of fiction,” explains researcher Kaichiro Morikawa.
The most significant events of our time, in which the author Katsuhiro Otomo (born in 1954) grew up, are mixed: the Tokyo-64 Games, which marked the renewal of the country after the Second World War and the trauma of the bombs atomic, in addition to “the student and union demonstrations of 1968, the authoritarianism of the government of the time, the frantic urbanism of Tokyo,” lists Matthieu Pinon.
As Akira’s curious coincidences with the news of the Tokyo 2020 Games, “all I can say is that such a similarity adds a strange sense of reality to the reading of what was already a masterpiece”, Morikawa concludes.