As with the preceding volumes, there is a summary of the story so far and a quick thumbnail of each character so that you can get back on track if it's been a while since you finished the last book.
Volume 5 starts with a helicopter arriving at the scene of mass destruction at Neo-Tokyo, the first few pages are colour before reverting to black and white. The rescue doesn't go to plan however and a familiar face soon commandeers the helicopter. It becomes clear that a significant amount of time has passed and Akira is viewed by many as the new Messiah, a child who will take control and lead the world into a new age. The streets are reminiscent of something from Lord of the Flies with social order breaking down as food becomes scarce. The city is buzzing with anarchy as gangs roam amongst the rubble of half-destroyed city. International politics have come into play as other countries seek to exploit the situation in Japan while others are terrified by the events there - the world seems worried they are staring at the brink of the Fourth World War.
This is the darkest volume yet with some of Akira's mob demonstrating debased and sickening behaviour as they exploit their power. The real evil depicted here isn't from those who have ethereal powers, but instead comes from 'normal' degenerates who dish out violence, abuse the weak and attempt to satisfy their desire for sexual relief through force. I've said before that the strongest artwork in the Akira Manga series occurs when the city is shown, and as this volume in its entirety is set in Neo-Tokyo then we are treated to plenty of exquisite cityscapes which capture the grim nature of the surroundings.
The groups we've seen over the last few volumes are fractured now, separated and finding their personal circumstances completely changed. Volume 4 feels like the books are re-energised by the chaos. You'd think that the absence of Kaneda would mean that the story suffers - but it doesn't as there is so much going on. There are reminders of Kaneda and you find yourself wondering what happened to him during the events at the end of Volume 3 - it's hinted that he still has a part to play and I hope we get to see him again. Tetsuo is developed further and through his flashbacks we find ourselves discovering secrets about his past, moments of his life which he was never able to recall until now. It's not just his history that the book covers either, the back story behind the whole project which resulted in Akira and the other 'strange children' is revealed in this volume.
In a nutshell: After the dramatic final moments of the third volume we find Neo-Tokyo in ruins and the usual characters (well, most of them!) scrabbling around and hoping to prevent the total collapse of the city into mob rule. This is the most mature of the volumes yet and builds on the epic feel of the story, the cliff-hanger at the end will leave you hungry for the next book.