[Spoilers] The implications of Tetsuo’s final transformation in Akira(1998)

Akira(1998) is a cyberpunk film set in the futuristic city of Neo-Tokyo, following the transformation of Tetsuo, a member of a biker gang who develops psychic powers. The film takes on an ambivalent approach to the ‘rational’ pursuits of power and knowledge, presenting a narrative of ascension towards a particular notion of the epitome of human perfectibility, namely omnipotence and immortality, through the marriage of the technological and the biological.

Over the course of film Tetsuo’s powers are shown to grow, progressively breaking the boundaries between the biological and the mechanical, culminating in Tetsuo’s evolution into a monstrous semi-organic amoebic mass that is singularly focused on growth through expansion and consumption of its environment. Akira, whose reappearance serves as an ex-Machina, interrupts this transformation and transports himself along with Tetsuo to another universe, and presumably a higher mode of existence from where we hear Tetsuo’s final assertion of “I am Tetsuo”.

The cosmic imagery presented along with his final assertion paints a picture of Tetsuo as a Godlike being with the power to create an entire universe among other things. The implication is that the abilities displayed by Tetsuo are emancipatory forces that help him not only completely overpower the material world, but also allow him transcend the ‘human condition’, and even a number of possible ‘post-human’ conditions as he achieves a perfect state of being.

So, what do Tetsuo’s final words mean? While the phrase be read as simply an assertion of existence, the continuation of ‘I am’ in terms of ‘I am Tetsuo’ betrays the uncertainty of the transcendence of that transformation. If the implication is that despite being reincarnated as a being of infinite power, Tetsuo’s subjective self-understanding remains mostly unchanged, then it is reasonable to understand his transformation as simply a transformation in the facticity of his existence. As such, despite having a near infinite capability to shape the universe around him, Tetsuo is still limited by human ontology, bearing greater resemblance to a god rather than God, an unlikely ubermensch who must still contend with the problems of meaning and existence.

To me Tetsuo’s final transformation reveals the underlying contradictions of capitalist/technocratic transhumanism(s), of visions of iterative techno-biological transformations charting a path through various ‘post-human’ states of being, inevitably towards some profound ascension guided solely by a masculine consumerist pursuit of power and control. While the ‘facts’ of sex, race, or even death may be ‘overcome’ by such processes, without a sufficiently ‘inward-looking’ approach the result is likely a beastly god-head with unlimited ways, and without a will to a way.

One thought on “[Spoilers] The implications of Tetsuo’s final transformation in Akira(1998)

  1. Aditya,

    Beautifully written analysis of Tetsuo’s final transformation. I wonder, however, at your assertion that “the implication is that the abilities displayed by Tetsuo are emancipatory forces that help him not only completely overpower the material world, but also allow him transcend the ‘human condition,’ and even a number of possible ‘post-human’ conditions as he achieves a perfect state of being.”

    For me, there is something awful and frightening about Tetsuo’s final transition from human to the unknown–something that you seem to hint at in your final paragraph. Thus the scene might be read not only as transcendence to a new, “perfect” plane of existence, but rather as a kind of horrific death (perhaps something akin to a transformation into a Lovecraftian Old One). The imagery also brings to mind the bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki (the white dome expanding over Neo-Tokyo), which I also found disturbing and ambivalent.

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