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Because There’s An Akira Visual Homage That Does More Than Just Look Hell Of Cool

We all recognize it — about 1.5 seconds of animation that is one of the most spectacularly recognizable bits of animation of the last 30 years.

We’ll recognize Kaneda’s bike slide from Akira for as long as animation exists, and it’s spawned a host of tributes for no other reason that it looks hell of cool, doing as much to establish the bleeding-edge aesthetic of Neo-Tokyo¹ as any part of the movie.

And yet, it’s maybe not the most arresting image in the Akira canon. There’s one image, from the original manga, of the title character, small atop an oversized, ruined throne, an empty dictator of a ruined empire.

It speaks of a desperate attempt to maintain the façade of order amidst destruction. It’s ice-cold, chilling down to the marrow². Even if you don’t know the context (and it comes more than 1000 pages into story), you can tell everything that image is conveying. It’s powerful. And because it’s not there just to be hell of cool, it hasn’t had a plethora of pastiches and tributes.

Until today.

Over at The Nib, Omar Khouri and Yazan Al-Saadi, who live and work in Lebanon, have produced a primer on the state of Syria after nearly a decade of civil war. And to bookend the piece, there sits Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, small atop an oversized, ruined throne, an empty dictator of a ruined empire.

He’s less figurehead than Akira of the Great Tokyo Empire, but the image is no less arresting or powerful. It’s viscerally disturbing, given that what’s happened to Syria is not the result of insane psychics, but rather the hatreds and love of power of ordinary men, who would rather destroy that which they cannot control.

Eight Years Of Unrest In Syria is a sad, necessary piece of journalism. It’s too small to contain a full accounting of the horrors that the people of Syria have suffered, but it’s a damn good introduction. And it reminds us that just as Akira is the story of how one destruction of [Neo-]Tokyo inevitably scatters the seeds that will lead to the next, if the underlying causes remain unaddressed and truth, accountability, and justice are absent. Without a reconciliation process, there can be no real rebuilding.

Kudos to Al-Saadi and Khouri for their reportage — not least because running stories critical of the Assad regime is not a safe activity — and to The Nib for bringing us voices and stories from around the world³ that would otherwise likely go unseen on these shores.

And if you haven’t yet, go read Akira — it’s a much larger, more nuanced story than the movie (which, let’s be clear, is a masterpiece). There’s a lot there that has particular resonance today, even before you consider that the story features the 2020 Olympics taking place in Tokyo; while there don’t appear to be murderous biker gangs and telekinetic children running around the Olympics site causing catastrophic destruction, these days nothing surprises me.

Spam of the day:

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Why? Unless it can be explained in small words by Tucker Carlson or works by stealing his hamburders, he’ll neither understand nor care.

¹ It occurs almost exactly five minutes into the film.

² More than a little appropriate for Akira.

³ Also running today, a reflection on the New Zealand shooting republished from The Spinoff in Auckland

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