Akira certainly did predict the 2020 Tokyo Olympics 19 years ahead. The manga—created by Katsuhiko Otomo (above)—and ensuing anime are set against the backdrop of the impending 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It also appears that one panel in the manga refers to measures for combating a contagious disease.
As pointed out on the popular Japanese gaming site Hachima Kikou, in the 2001 third volume of Akira one panel reads, “The WHO (World Health Organization) criticizes [Neo-Tokyo’s] epidemic countermeasures.”
The Japanese word that appears in the text, 伝染病 (densenbyou), can be translated as “epidemic.” (Here is another example.) The WHO has declared covid-19 a global pandemic. Last year, Japanese officials continually said that the Olympics were on schedule, but the 2020 games were ultimately delayed to the following summer.
As The Japan Times, where I am a columnist, previously reported, the Japanese government has been facing criticism for its response to the coronavirus.
However, in the anime, it’s being pointed out that the graffiti on this Tokyo Olympic countdown clock reads chuushi (中止), meaning “stop”, “suspend”, or even “cancel.” The on-screen text reads chuushi da chuushi (中止だ中止), meaning, “Cancel it, just cancel it.”
The International Olympic Committee wants to vaccinate athletes so the Olympics can be held, while the organization’s longest-serving member Dick Pound is uncertain they will definitely happen. “I can’t be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus,” explained Pound.
This week, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said there was a “sense of crisis” as he declared a state of emergency in Tokyo, where covid-19 is posting record numbers for the metropolis. This is the first state of emergency that has been declared in Japan since last spring.
“We are having too many cases to trace right now, and the state of emergency is coming too late,” Fumie Sakamoto, an infection control manager at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo, told The New York Times. “It’s better now than never, but it should have been declared probably in the fall last year.”
As The New York Times adds, covid-19 related deaths have doubled in the last month. Yesterday, Tokyo reported 2,447 cases, its most cases ever. For a metropolis of nine million people, those numbers are far, far lower than what is being experienced in the West, where sporting events are still being held. So if the numbers do stay relatively low, there is reason for optimism that the Olympics can be held. The problem, of course, is always the trend lines.
What strengthens the Akira connection is that public opinion in Japan echoes the graffiti scrawled in the anime. According to a March 2020 poll, a majority of Japanese want the Olympics postponed. A December 2020 poll by broadcaster NHK revealed that only 27 percent of respondents believed the Olympics should be held.
“I think it’s difficult. It’s impossible to hold the Olympics,” said 75-year-old Tatsuhiko Akamasu, a resident of neighboring Saitama. “It’s only two and a half months until the torch relay. I don’t think we can get the virus under control during this period.”
The concern, again, is that the trend lines, which if not reversed, will continue to rise and that already strained hospitals will be overwhelmed. Over 15,000 athletes are expected to arrive in Tokyo in less than 200 days.
This isn’t the only thing the Akira manga seemed to have foreshadowed. In 2019, it was pointed out that that the Hong Kong protesters were using street signs as shields as in the manga. These predictions are, no doubt, unfortunate real-world coincidences that if anything show just how relevant Akira still is after all these years.
This article was originally published on February 17, 2020. It has since been updated.