Dhe highway divides a sea of houses. Neon signs shimmer in the streets. And at the foot of the skyscrapers are street gangs, whose members bully the city and run their businesses in the slums. This is not “Metropolis”, this is Neo Tokyo – Japan’s capital in 2019 as imagined by comic artists in the 1980s.
This comic Tokyo is a metropolis built on nuclear-contaminated rubble, a projection surface for social abysses – a dystopian “Gotham City”, which the manga artist Katsuhiro Ōtomo has memorialized with the comic series and the anime “Akira”. The Tchoban Foundation in Berlin is now showing the architectural drawings from Ōtomo’s manga and the cartoon, which tell the story of two outlaws, for the first time. The brutalist and whimsical architecture of the city plays a crucial role in this.
Memory of Caspar David Friedrich
At the time of its creation in 1988, Akira was the most expensive anime of all time and marked a pinnacle in the creation of realistic background paintings. The film adaptation of the manga was responsible for the international boom in Japanese animation that began in the 1990s. The show shows 59 production backgrounds, layout drawings, concept drawings and imageboards and introduces the possibilities, but also the difficulties of the architectural design of manga and anime. Not only is the development process of an animated film shown in all its facets, but also presented which works from the history of architecture and art inspired the manga artists to their works.
Since the largest part of the budget for the production of an animated film goes to the personnel costs, sophisticated representation of architecture is a special challenge. Aside from the sophisticated architectural graphics, both the editing and animation of “Akira” were unlike anything seen before. Because the film, including the special effects, was produced entirely on paper. Thousands of sketches were made for the architectural design, immersing the viewer in the surreal urban landscape.
A drawing of the dump on which Neo Tokyo is built underscores this: Debris juts out of the mould, with a ray of sunshine breaking through the black sky in the background. In another drawing, the skyscrapers in the background light up purple and white. They exude the promise of any big city: freedom and anonymity. In the foreground are the buildings of the past: Art Deco houses, silent witnesses of the 1920s. Another drawing shows bridges that lead across the street canyons and connect high-rise buildings. They are illuminated in neon green, with an almost Babylonian tower rising behind them. The streets, on the other hand, shimmer reddish. Garbage and debris lie on the sidewalks. There is only one approach to Neo Tokyo, and the sketch showing it suggests a source of inspiration for the manga background: crumbled towers stand like monoliths and shards of ice on the island, the streets are empty. This is reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich’s “Sea of Ice”. There are also sketches for railway stations, temples and government buildings.
Ōtomo’s style is heavily influenced by French comic artists such as Jean Giraud aka Moebius. Ōtomo replaced the expressive exaggeration of facial expressions and gestures that is otherwise prevalent in manga with factual hyperrealism. Characteristic is the bleak portrayed urban future, the accurate depiction of machines and the constantly escalating violence.
The story of “Akira”, which combines the genres of horror film and science fiction, is much more far-reaching. In 1988 there was a nuclear explosion in Tokyo, which wiped out the entire city and led to the outbreak of World War III. Thirty years later it is rebuilt. The futuristic metropolis shines in parts more than ever, but there is also poverty, gangs and gangs who tyrannize the city and want to fight for their piece of the pie. Crime, riots and bombings are a regular occurrence in the streets.
The Tokyo of our (Alb) dreams
But the books are not only a hopeless and culturally pessimistic future dystopia, but also the intimate story of the youth Shōtarō Kaneda, leader of a motorcycle gang, and his best friend Tetsuo Shima. Due to a genetic mutation, he has supernatural abilities that are first discovered by the military and then by the enemy gangs. They ensure that a Robin Hood story develops, embedded in the architectural drawings.
The work of architect Kenzo Tange had a major influence on the design of Neo Tokyo. The idea of building new quarters for the fast-growing city on a landfill site in Tokyo Bay stems directly from his 1961 urban plan Inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The Tokyo of our (Alb) dreams, as the Tchoban show shows, is nowhere as beautiful, so full of references and at the same time as uncanny as in “Akira”.
Akira – The architecture of Neo Tokyo. In the Tchoban Foundation, Berlin; until September 4th. The companion book “Anime Architecture – Imagined Worlds and Endless Megacities” by Stefan Riekeles (published by Thames & Hudson) costs 37 euros.
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