Akira and the Evolution of Pain

Hi there my friends! Today I posted a new video to my YouTube channel exploring themes of pain, trauma, and healing in Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime masterpiece Akira. It’s no secret around these parts that my life has been forever changed and improved through the arts, and this is one film that came up for me just when I needed it most. Below is the video, and below that is a transcript of the video for you to read through. I hope you enjoy it!

Part I: Introduction

If you don’t know the story of Akira, let me break it down for you as quickly and succinctly as possible. On July 16 of 1988, Tokyo is destroyed by a superpowered psychic named Akira in a, for lack of a better word, big ass explosion. 31 years later in 2019, the city has been rebuilt into Neo-Tokyo, and it is a society of extremes: poverty, civil unrest, and glamorous, technicolor violence. A place where despite the constant battling they are going to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games. This is where we meet Tetsuo. He’s a member of a motorcycle gang comprised solely of angsty youths led by his best friend Kaneda.

 

Our introduction to the group is on a wild, and probably standard, night. They take off to start a battle with a rival motorcycle gang and get more than they bargained for. And while that is going on, we the viewers witness the city police murder a man as he is attempting to flee with a small child. That child continues to run from the city until he collides with Tetsuo, throwing young man from his motorcycle with psychokinetic power. Tetsuo and the child are apprehended by an appropriately shady government agency and whisked away to a facility to be poked and prodded. That’s where Tetsuo discovers he possesses terrifying powers.

 

Kaneda and the rest of the gang are apprehended when they witness Tetsuo being taken. At the police station Kaneda meets Kei, a young girl who is an activist and member of the resistance of Neo-Tokyo. From there, Kaneda begins to work with Kei to infiltrate the government facility in order to rescue Tetsuo and find out what kind of horrors are being enacted. 

Part II : The World Around Tetsuo and Kaneda

Katsuhiro Otomo,the writer and director of the film as well as the writer and artist of the manga, stated that he wanted to capture the feel and nature of Tokyo in vivid detail on screen in a way he couldn’t on the pages of a manga. He said:

“There were so many interesting people… Student demonstrations, bikers, political movements, gangsters, homeless youth… All part of the Tokyo scene that surrounded me. In Akira, I projected these elements into the future, as science-fiction.”

 

While Otomo expertly captured the grit and wonderment associated with our modern world, he also projected a depiction of pain and trauma that places Akira squarely at the forefront of cinema. Tetsuo and Kaneda exist in a world of contradictions: isolation but expansion, oppression but freedom, knowledge but ignorance. It’s a world on the cusp of two eternal transformations: destruction and rebirth. The film feels so prescient today, because we ourselves are struggling to make sense of very similar parameters. The film was at the forefront of exploring the insidiousness and truthfully vague nature of pain. In following Tetsuo and Kaneda we learn that trauma isn’t always clear-cut. It’s abandonment, cruel living conditions, verbal abuse, profiling, and poverty in addition to sexual and physical violence. Through Tetsuo we discover how the pain we carry in our minds can last long after the external wounds have healed.

 

Part III: The Evolution of Pain

 

When I talk about pain, it encompasses the physical way Tetsuo’s body bends and bloats to transform into a techno-flesh monstrosity, yes. But I also mean pain in the emotional, some would say abstract sense. It’s a feeling that changes with us, adapting, growing, and bursting forth when we least expect it. Pain changes while remaining the same. We humans may create technicolor dreamlands that have the power to descend into darkness, but we are never far removed from the curious apes we once were. Similarly, pain changes while remaining true to its nature. And each character is forced to adapt to the ever-evolving pain in our own way. Where Kaneda turns the pain into apathy – except were Kei and his friends are concerned – Tetsuo is a proxy for the rage associated with trauma and the pain that accompanies survival.

Earlier, I mentioned that Tetsuo was apprehended and imprisoned with a small boy. Well, that small boy is one of three beings with psychic abilities that Tetsuo meets while imprisoned. Known as The Espers, they are actually adults trapped in the bodies of the children they were 31 years ago. They were the contemporaries of Akira and witnessed first-hand what his power could do. And they know the weight of pain better than most.

Kiyoko, number 25 (girl) Takashi, number 26 (boy who was escaping) and Masaru, number 27 (floating wheelchair) represent the adult effects of pain and trauma. Literally stunted in growth as many of us are emotionally, they creak and whisper as though the act of living were a marathon. They are what Tetsuo will become in time if he remains trapped in his cycle of suffering.

But where the Espers were unable to escape the cycle of abuse, Tetsuo adopts a very modern approach: burning shit down. He seeks out Akira for help after being told by Kiyoko that he is still alive and hidden underground. Tetsuo becomes so consumed by the power – his rage – that he is destroyed then remade into the mass I referenced earlier. He is twisted until he crushes and murders those around him. When he finally succumbs to the suffering, Akira appears.

 

The boy Akira (or number 28) represents inherited, generational trauma. He is Tetsuo’s past, as well as his potential future. When we try to contain and bury the trauma, it explodes. In that regard Tetsuo is a natural progression. Tetsuo didn’t find relief from the agony until someone who understood the weight manifested to aid him : Akira himself. And that’s often what it takes to survive the ever-changing nature of pain and trauma – the empathy of others, especially those who have themselves seen it.

Part IV: Closing

Who are we when we find relief? Who can we become? Free. Things go differently in the manga, which I highly recommend, but the film itself ends with Tetsuo’s transcendence. He goes to another plane, another Universe, perhaps another dimension to begin again. Perfect or not, Akira helps him to escape.

 

I’ve stated again and again that pain is an ever-changing force, adapting to us as we attempt to outrun it. It is messy as hell, unfair, and eventually forces us to make an impossible choice. Do we fight back to go forward or do we remain wrapped in that warm embrace of sorrow? Who can we become when we find relief, and at what cost? That, it seems, is up to us.

 

 

3 Comic Book Stories That Inspired Me To Stop Being A Dick :)

Forgive the language, Mom!

It’s time for me to break some bad news to ya, kid. Whether you like it or not, you have been someone’s worst nightmare. You might not even know it, but I can guarantee you there is someone in the world who wishes they’d never met you. While I’d like to pretend this doesn’t matter, I want to confront it head on for what it is: a terrible aspect of being a human that we have the power to change. Sure, we have bad days – sometimes bad years! – but what if we were capable of learning how to cut the impulse off at the base before it can sprout branches? What if we could learn to stop being (for lack of a better word) such raging assholes?

While it might be tempting to claim we’re perfect angels, it’s healthy to admit that sometimes even good people can be total jerks. One of the most difficult steps in the quest to better ourselves is coming to terms with our selfishness, rage, cruelty, and ignorance, dissecting where those actions are coming from, then putting in the work to become better versions of ourselves.

When I first started going to therapy I saw myself as the one true victim, and in many ways I was. However, the changes started happening when I forgave myself for the things that I couldn’t control AND took responsibility for the hardships I created, whether for myself, or others. Acknowledging my own mistakes didn’t negate the suffering I survived; on the contrary, I learned to recognize how complex life can be and was finally able to release a lot of the internalized rage I was carrying.

An even bigger piece of my journey in releasing my crappy attitude was – you guessed it – comics! I picked up some of my favorites and dove back into them with a new perspective on the world and myself, and was blown away by how my interpretation of their messages had changed. When you’ve got nothing to do but heal and read, you’d be amazed at what you can absorb. As I read, I started to understand the greatest message of all was being transmitted loud and clear: be kind. Be patient. And best of all, be the kind of hero you have the power to be.

Without further ado, here they are!

Origin: Wolverine

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Wolverine has always been one of my favorite characters. He’s small, surly, and witty with a touch of heart to balance it all out. Logan, as he is known when he’s with his X family, always rushed into battle to defend the innocent and punish the evil for their misdeeds in a way that few could, so I thought of him as untouchable. When this comic arc premiered, I was elated to be able to get a glimpse at how he got his start, however I wasn’t prepared for how sad it would make me. After reading it as a teen I put it away until it was time for me to discover my own healing factor. Upon re-reading, I learned that even the strongest of us can survive and inflict pain, but that the real test is doing the right thing even when we want to lash out. The storyline reveals how just a few acts of cruelty can change the lives of many people over and over again ad infinitum. It made me question how my actions could affect people even beyond my reach.

X-Men Unlimited: Mystique

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Now, Mystique is known as a foe to the X-Men in the comics (not so much in those terrible films), so getting to see her background wasn’t something I was interested in at first. However, when my Dad encouraged me to read the arc as an adult I saw how complex the character was. Mystique, to me, represents the grey area we all exist in. She’s both victim and villain, nurturing mother and cold. Her story gave me a new appreciation of the other side of the story of life, where we all fail and bounce back.

Batman: Knightfall

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Batman is easily my favorite character. He’s complex, a bag of contradictions, and obsessive in a way that makes my obsessions and addictions seem quaint. What more can a girl like me ask of a superhero? I never really gravitated toward the Supermans and the Captain Americas of the comic world, because they represented a very specific type of perfection that I had no hope of ever achieving in the realm of reality. But a masked vigilante with trauma and attachment issues? That, I can work with. However, the real hero of this arc isn’t The Bat, it’s a Black woman who loves and rehabilitates him – Dr. Shondra Kinsloving. She’s not as big and powerful as Batman, and deals with a great deal of suffering, but manages to maintain an air of confident kindness. I don’t want to spoil the arc, but I will say that when I finished it I was left questioning who I would be when I got to the other side of my pain: someone I could respect, or a person no one would want to be around.

 

Comic books are our modern hero’s fables, the way we make sense of the world around us. No matter how far I get in my journey I keep getting the cosmic reminder that I have a couple lifetimes of learning to do. Luckily, I’ve got these blueprints to help me out along the way. What are you reading to make sense of the world at large?

Working From Home? I Got You, Boo.

I’ve been doing this whole writing thing for a minute, so I can safely say that working on your own time is a pain in the ass. Sure, it’s liberating and I have a different sense of fulfillment, but it is objectively difficult to keep myself in line! It’s easy to slack off when you only have to answer to yourself; no one is there to check over your shoulder, or shoot judgment your way for scrolling through Twitter for an hour.

Honestly? The whole thing can be a recipe for disaster.

However, after all this time, I’m finally getting the hang of it. So, today I want to share how I keep from freaking out while I work from home and maybe – just maybe – you won’t freak out either. Let’s get to it!

 

Get dressed

It’s oh-so-tempting to stay in those jammies, but trust me here: it’s a trap.

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First you stay in your pajamas, then you stay in bed, then you want five more minutes of sleep, THEN you start watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 until you’ve passed out in a puddle of slobber. The easiest way to avoid said trap is getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and putting on clothes. It sets the mind in motion to get ish done.

Eat something and get some water

Next up is my favorite part. FOOD. You’re just coming out of a temporary coma and that body needs fuel. So, you can have the coffee- and I’ll support a doughnut – but you have to make sure to drink some water as well. Staying properly hydrated can curve headaches, body pains, and that feeling of lethargy that hits us all after a few minutes of performing personhood.

Turn off your phone 

I think this one is the most difficult, but it’s also the best way to make sure you stay on track. I totally get it if you have safety reasons to keep your phone on, but perhaps consider notifying folks that for a few hours per day you won’t be available? I like to put my phone on airplane mode for 2 hours at a time, then check it to make sure I haven’t worked through the apocalypse. It might not sound like much, but those 2 hour increments give me a goal to work toward in a positive way, instead of feeling like punishment. But, I also make sure that I do no more than 20-30 minutes with the phone before powering back down.

beck bennett snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

 

Be sure to stretch

This is a new one for me, but it’s already making a difference in how I’m able to work. I kept going to bed with aches that I couldn’t explain in joints I didn’t know existed, so my husband suggested trying different yoga stretches to alleviate the tension. After a few days of stepping away from my desk to do light stretching and steady breathing every few hours (usually after checking my phone), I noticed an immediate difference. I also dread the work day less now that my body is feeling better.

Doing anything is difficult when you’re in physical pain, so be good to those joints.

 

Make a playlist that you can (realistically) work to

I’d like to believe my empowering club bangers and dancehall beats can power me through the day, but I’ve discovered the music I love to cut loose to was actually just derailing me. I can’t work in total silence, but having a party at my desk was becoming so distracting that I was barely typing anything, because I was too busy dancing.

mary j blige dancing GIF

You don’t have to listen to chamber music, or moody wailing, but I suggest creating a distinction between party time and business time. Music is a great way to relax  – just make sure you’re not so relaxed that your work is a secondary thought.

Start and stop at the same time every day

Last but not least: time, baby, time. If you’re going all loosey-goosey with your time then chances are you’re going to put off starting to the last second. You know what that does? Keeps you at your desk too late, or you end up giving up, because you think the day is shot. Now, you don’t have to start at dawn, but I recommend thinking about your productivity schedule. What I mean by that is this: do you work best at 9 a.m? Are you more likely to hit your peak in the afternoon? Whatever works best for you, stick to it! Once you’ve decided your window of work time, don’t move it so that it becomes a routine.

 

hilarious kermit the frog GIF

And that’s it! These are just a few of the tips I’ve picked up along the way, however I think they’re totally the most useful. What about you? Do you work from home, and if so, how do you stay afloat?

Until next time, take care!

 

 

 

Self-Care 101: Sunshine

GIRL. (or guy)

Did you know seasonal depression is real, and definitely not something I made up to get out of going to a boring Christmas function? I could never quite put my finger on why it was so hard for me to leave bed from October to March (give or take a few weeks), yet it was easy as pie once the warmer weather rolled around. For a while I thought it was just due to my association of summer with freedom, but now I know it’s a legit thing.

James Curran GIF
Giphy

As we slide into colder weather, our bodies are directly affected by the seasonal change,  i.e. minimal exposure to the sun, our serotonin levels drop. This is important, because serotonin regulates our anxiety and overall mood, and decreased serotonin has been tied to depression. With less sunlight exposure comes decreased Vitamin D, increased likelihood of specific types of cancer, and skin conditions such as acne. Of course, you shouldn’t go outside sans sun protection like hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses, but being in the light more often than not is better for our bodies than staying in.  If you are physically, or mentally, unable to leave the house consider taking Vitamin D supplements and increasing your time with the windows and blinds open. I know better than most that sometimes just leaving the house is far too much to ask. Still, I get closer to being well by cracking open the window.

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So, slather on some sunscreen, run around in your neighborhood, and soak up that good stuff! If you aren’t able to yet, then sit by the window and listen to the world as it wakes back up. Just remember that feeling better after a long winter takes time and create enough space in your mind to be filled up with some joy. Tough? Yep. Good? Definitely.

June Mood: Sunny Disposition

As a child, I used to look at summer as a break from my daily responsibilities. It was when I could be free to come and go as I pleased, eat ice cream handed out by people who probably shouldn’t have been allowed to operate ice cream trucks, and escape reality into movies and books. I have been, and always will be, a warm weather child looking for the safest place to nap under a tree. I’m still channeling that kid who ran around in a swimming suit most days, but now the freedom I’m chasing is a bit more intentional and focused on a goal. That might sound counter-intuitive, as freedom is supposed to be all about eschewing plans, but as I really start to marinate in my 30’s I have discovered the joys of acting with intention in all things.

For some of us, freedom is frightening. For me, it’s a recipe for disaster. Without a goal, a journey, a prize, I start to flounder, and inevitably become upset with myself. For a long time I was aimless, and as a result, truly joyless. I didn’t see a point to most things and my primary concern was instant gratification wherever I could get it. I’m only now realizing how trauma, and the fear it instilled in me at a young age, has hindered me from being able to do things with not only intention, but confidence.

Every day is an opportunity to grow, if we’re lucky. So, I’m looking at summer as a continuation of the work and growth, not a break from it all. And you know what? It’s been a joy.

Now, on to the only two things for this month’s moody post. First, a beautiful piece of art that is a reminder I need to see every day. This piece is by Tyler Feder of the Roaring Softly shop on Etsy.

Anxious Girls are Brave Print Hand-Illustrated by roaringsoftly

Last, but never least, is a great video by The School of Life on “How to Overcome Trauma”. I post their videos so much (I know), because I love the clarity of their advice. It’s been a helpful tool for me as I continue to move with intention through my days and goals. This particular video arrived literally right on time for me and I hope you feel the same after watching. You can read their blog post with the video’s transcript, and other related content, {here}. Enjoy!