It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen an adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, but with Taika Waititi’s recent attachment to a new live-action film based on the original manga, now seems like a perfect time to dive into some of the differences an adaptation of the manga will bring to the big screen. So if you’ve only seen the anime film and you’re wondering who Lady Miyako is and why she has a man's voice (in the dub), or you’re wondering why Akira never actually made an in-the-flesh appearance, we’ll highlight some of the differences in the manga we can’t wait to see come to the big screen. Especially when the anime ends at just about the halfway mark of the manga, approximately a thousand pages before its conclusion.
While you probably couldn’t tell from the few scenes that she was a part of in the film, the messiah-like cult leader Lady Miyako actually had a decent role to play in the events of the manga. The Lady Miyako of the manga is yet another child the government of Japan experimented on after granting her immense psychic abilities. While she managed to escape the government facility others like Tetsuo are taken to and experimented on, she fights to expose the government's experiments and the effects they’ve had on her. Much like the Colonel Shikishima, she is one of the few people in the manga looking out for the people of Japan. She even helps train Kei to fight off Tetsuo during the climax of the manga.
While the anime puts a lot of effort into humanizing Tetsuo, making it understandable how a troubled young boy could, after waking up with a strange new set of psychic powers, decide to use these new powers to elevate his status in a cruel and violent world. In the manga, however, there’s not much in the way of making excuses for Tetsuo’s actions. He learns of his new abilities and almost immediately begins using them to hurt people, get drugs, and amass power in Neo Tokyo. Tetsuo also manages to find Akira, in the flesh, and after freeing him, begins to take control of Neo Tokyo. Or whatever they’ve decided to leave in the ruinous remains of Neo Tokyo after Akira blows it to pieces... again, and Tetsuo punches a gigantic and devastating crater in the moon.
While the drugs that Tetsuo pops really only play a relatively insignificant role in the anime, much of Tetsuo’s storyline in the manga revolves around the drugs he frequently abuses and the effect they have on his abilities. Tetsuo, after discovering his abilities and the massive hangover their use leaves him with, begins popping any and every pill he can find. Or force others to find for him. While the pills in the government lab are designed primarily to suppress abilities, Tetsuo’s crew eventually manages to synthesize a stimulant version of the drug, which Tetsuo then abuses on an inhuman level. Neo Tokyo Beware.
In the anime, Kaori is kind of made out be Tetsuo’s girlfriend, if you can even call their relationship that. Kaori is the girl that Tetsuo fails to save when the joker gang attacks them early on in the film. In the manga, however, Kaori is introduced as a sex slave that’s been brought in for Tetsuo after the collapse of Neo Tokyo due to Akira’s reawakening. While her fate in both the anime and manga is the same, the way she perishes is quite different; in the film Kaori is accidentally absorbed into the giant gross baby-thing Tetsuo becomes, and in the manga, she’s actually killed while trying to warn Tetsuo of an incoming assassination attempt conducted by his own subordinates.
If you were watching the anime and found yourself wondering how it is that Kei manages to establish a psychic link with the children the government experimented on or how she managed to deflect Tetsu’s psionic attack, then you’ll probably want to check out the manga. The short of it is that Kei, much like Tetsuo, has developed psychic psionic abilities throughout the events of the manga. In fact, as I mentioned earlier when we were talking about Lady Miyako, Kei is later training as a sort of antithesis to Tetsuo. Kei eventually manages to bring him down with the help of Lady Miyako and a telepathic power transfer.
While Kaneda’s character and personality don’t actually change that much between the anime and the manga, there are some important events that happen to Kaneda and certain decisions that he makes, that just aren’t brought up in the anime. For instance, in the anime, Kaneda seems ready to fight (and scream) for the soul of his friend Tetsuo to the bitter end. In the manga, however, Kaneda pretty much gives up on any hopes he had for Tetsuo the second Tetsuo decides to start killing the members of Kaneda’s biker gang in order to try to establish his dominance over Kaneda. From the moment Testuo murders Yamagata, the gloves come off and Kaneda is ready to take Tetsuo out, no matter the cost. The manga also allows Kaneda to flesh out his relationship with Kei a bit more, even leading to a kiss shared between the young pair.
Probably the biggest change from the manga to the anime was that of all the changes made to the titular character, Akira. In the anime, viewers may have noticed a very distinct lack of Akira. Other than his name being mentioned a few times, and his disembodied organs seen in sealed container, Akira was nowhere to be found. In the manga, while Akira doesn’t talk much, he plays a much bigger role. After Tetsuo frees him from deep inside a government facility designed to keep Akira in a deep stasis, Akira awakens, sending a blinding destructive white light throughout Neo Tokyo. From the rubble, Tetsuo, in an apprentice like position begins amassing power and people on behalf of “Lord Akira”. There’s so much more to add, but you’ll just have to check it out in the manga yourself.