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Akihabara@deep, Volume 1

Review

Akihabara@deep, Volume 1

written by Ira Ishida, illustrated by Makoto Akane

AKIHABARA@DEEP, based on a novel of the same name by Ira Ishida, boasts a novel’s elegant, controlled pacing. It begins modestly, with the seemingly ordinary Koji Shima, who ends up by chance in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. At first, he appears to be a fish out of water, baffled by the profusion of high technology and its hardcore aficionados. But as it turns out, there is much more to this young man’s story --- he is actually an infamous hacker who has previously been caught and punished for his computer crimes. He violates his parole by even touching a computer, but the otaku entrepreneurs Akira, Taiko, and Box need his expertise and understand those who, like Koji, know the meaning of failure. Their overtures to this end prove irresistible, and next thing Koji knows, he’s got a day job at an otaku-run tech startup inexplicably called AKIHABARA@DEEP, where he is known by his hacker codename “Page.”

Soon enough, the narrative begins to accelerate, and we learn that the members of AKIHABARA@DEEP are not just playing around with their impressive collection of cool stuff. They are trying to develop AI, and they are shockingly close. A chatterbot combined with a cute dolphin template that the team has been working on is proving disturbingly good at conversation. The otaku know they have something big on their hands—and it’s something that the powerful corporation DigiCap will stop at nothing to acquire for itself. AKIHABARA@DEEP’s prospects against their much bigger competitor are not looking all that good, and so by the end of volume one, that foursome makes an intriguing decision that may change the game entirely. They are going to consult Yui, the legendary “Mother of All Otaku.”

Surprisingly, the plot summary above does not entirely do this manga justice. Much of its quality relies upon its execution. Ishida combines an evangelical “Up with the Otaku!” style of prose with an anthropologist’s nuanced skill of observation and thick description. The tension between the Akihabara region as haven for misfits and Akihabara as Ground Zero for Japan’s high-tech corporate interests is a very real one and one of the defining features of the increasingly commodified, touristy Akihabara of today.

The characters are more freak-show spectacle than genuine and convincing. Box, for example, is obsessive-compulsive and afraid of germs, changing his gloves every two hours on the nose, while Taiko constructs entire universes in his head around the pretty girls he sees about the neighborhood. Akira is characterized primarily by her physical assets, not any nuanced personality. Page, the hero, remains a cipher. Although they are sure to make real otaku feel like upright members of Japanese society by comparison, at least for now, they are the series’ weakest point.

Makoto Akane’s clean-lined, attractively detailed artwork sets a perfect counterpoint for Ishida’s intriguing storyline. His Akihabara is beautiful, pitch-perfect in every panel. Backgrounds come to life and practically leap off the page. Character designs are attractive --- even a bit cute --- but not cloyingly so, and the style captures that signature vintage sh?nen manga sincerity to a tee. Happily, Media Blasters’ production of this particular volume does right by Akane’s artwork; besides the inclusion of four color pages, the monochrome artwork with its considerable use of gray tones has been lovingly reproduced on pristine, snow-white paper.

AKIHABARA@DEEP is an excellent property all around, and it is also one of the publisher’s best releases to date. In addition to the quality of the art reproduction discussed above, the lettering job is stellar, as is the English adaptation. Highly recommended and well worth checking out if you are interested in otaku culture or find yourself sympathetic to the otaku cause.

Reviewed by Casey Brienza on December 2, 2008

Akihabara@deep, Volume 1
written by Ira Ishida, illustrated by Makoto Akane

  • Publication Date: December 2, 2008
  • Genres: Manga
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Media Blasters
  • ISBN-10: 1598832956
  • ISBN-13: 9781598832952