© Asahi Shimbun

© Asahi Shimbun

Earlier today, the Asahi Shimbun reported that Katsuhiro Otomo was awarded the Japanese government’s Medal with Purple Ribbon. The award, which was created in 1955, is given to thsoe who contributed greatly to academic and artistic development. Otomo, who is best known for Akira, received the award for “his unparalleled skills in illustration, composition, storytelling and acute visual sense that went into the many excellent works he produced as a manga artist and animation film director over a long period of time, which resulted in garnering international attention and contributing to development of our country’s fine arts and culture.”

The award was given to sixteen individuals this year. It’s usually given to those who contribute to traditional art forms, so to see it go to a member of the animation industry is a rarity. So rare that, according to Asahi Shimbun, only three animation artists received the award prior to Otomo: Yoji Kuri, Taku Furukawa and Isao Takahata.

So, in plain English, this is a pretty huge deal.

Before we go into questions of “Why didn’t {Insert name here} receive the award,” let’s talk about the current situation.

Otomo’s consideration for the award seems a bit odd, given that he hasn’t had a giant global hit in ages. Memories was an arthouse-style anthology, Steamboy received a giant “meh” from critics, while failing to earn back its massive budget. Instead, one must look at the one title that really defined Otomo as a filmmaker, and as a figure in the anime industry at large.

Akira Movie PosterWhen it made its début in 1982, Akira was seen as a truly fantastic manga series. It tackled themes of power, corruption, and social isolation through the lens of a post-apocalyptic thriller. The series won high praise for its incredible art and fantastic storytelling, to the point that it won the Kodansha Manga Award for Best General Manga in 1984. Akira was so strong of a title that Marvel Comics would eventually pick it up in 1988, and release the title in its entirety under their Epic Comics imprint.

The impact of the manga is piddling, though, when one compares it to the film that it spawned. The Akira film was a landmark in the anime industry. It was a darling of critics and fans alike across the globe, who praise the film’s incredible visuals and well-told plot. It’s been hailed as one of the greatest animated films of all time, and served as an influence to filmmakers, animators, and manga artists alike. For example, it’s been cited as an inspiration for figures like the Wachowskis (The Matrix) and Josh Trank (Chronicle).

At the same time, Akira was able to reach beyond the scope of the typical anime series, to grab not just the western fans, but general audiences. Average adults that normally wouldn’t even think of touching something animated, let alone anime, were drawn to the film. From this crowd, Akira was able to create excited, devoted fans. It’s often cited as a major influence in the growth of anime in the west, and still stands as required viewing for many.

It’s through this one film, one that transformed an industry and kick-started a fanbase, that Otomo’s won the Medal with Purple Ribbon. Though this contribution was many years ago, it’s still paying in dividends today. Akira is a masterpiece – one that will outlive Otomo and, quite frankly, all of us. It will be something that will continue to inspire and engage audiences, year after year, until film itself ceases to exist.