Powerful Panels: Akira #2 by Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira Vol. 1 No. 2 pg. 3 panel 1

The Akira series by Katsuhiro Otomo, originally published in America by Epic, are some of the finest comics ever created. Otomo fills each volume with stunning wordless panels, two-page spreads, and character close-ups. The story quickly picks up steam in issue No. 1, and by No. 2 the main character, Kaneda, has become loosely affiliated--due to his infatuation with this panel’s female shooter--with an anti-military terrorist group. The action-packed nature of the story forces the characters to mostly interact while on the run, under great duress. Since the characters aren’t given lots of time for interaction, Otomo’s art does a great job of telling us about the characters’ personality without having to write a word.

The panel itself shows Kei shooting a nameless soldier in the head. The soldier had Kaneda corned in an alley, and Kei sneaks up behind the soldier telling him to drop his weapon. In the panel directly preceding this one, the guard turns around as Kei yells, “Stop! Don’t…” Even with the panel taken out of context the reader can tell that Kei doesn’t want to shoot him here. Her character so far in the story has been tough as nails, whether dealing with life-threatening situations or throwing Kaneda’s advances back in his face.

In this panel, we get a first glimpse into a more complicated part of her personality. She waits until the last second to shoot the soldier, and the expression on her face shows how awkward and painful this situation is for her. The way her hand comes slightly off the handle of the gun shows she may not be as experienced as she leads on, but she’s still tough enough to do what needs to be done.

The panel initially jumps out from the others surrounding it for a couple of reasons. The most striking is that the panel has no background. Nothing else matters here except for those two characters. The bullet shell from Kei’s gun hangs in the air, adding a timeless slow motion effect. It increases the eerie feeling of death in the panel.

The way the onomatopoeia “BLAM” is placed also makes this panel unusual. Otomo uses onomatopoeia liberally but usually places it near the edges of the panel. Here, the “BLAM” is in the center, putting a focus slightly more on the action then the characters. The lack of an onomatopoeia scream for the soldier is disturbing. His death is silent, giving him no final say or giving the reader any resolution.

Steve Oliff’s computer assisted coloring is incredible and the reason I prefer the Epic version. This is something I notice sometimes with really good panels, but it's almost like the action takes place underwater. It gives the action a kind of slow-motion effect. The blood is colored a distinct red making it realistic and giving it an especially glob-like and surreal look.

The characters are outlined faintly in blue practically because light is shining on both of them, but also because thematically it gives them more importance. It highlights the fact that death, and how the characters deal with it, is going to be a big part of the story to come.

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