No other movie can be responsible for Western anime fandom than the epic classic Akira. A 1988 film that should have been dated still feels as crisp and awesomely mind-blowing as the first day it was on the silver screen. Even though years have gone on, the effects of Akira‘s legacy is still felt by the world of fandomonium today and probably forever.
In 1992, I was introduced to the world of anime through the wonders of VHS. I remember the first time I saw Akira and I thought it was the most visually stunning animation I have ever seen. I had no idea animation like that even existed. I grew up watching cartoons and I had no clue as to what anime even was until I sat down one evening in front of the television and saw this movie I rented on a whim.
After I watched it I had to watch it again because…well…I didn’t understand what the hell was going on! Even after the second time I watched it, I still didn’t get it. However, I loved every moment because it was just so visually stimulating. So I did what I normally do when I discover something new. I beat it to death with a stick for weeks and weeks and I make sure that everyone shares in the beat down. So I rented Akira the following weekend and invited my friends over to watch it with me. This time with popcorn and a few brewskies we sat down for the main event. At first they weren’t very interested in a dumb cartoon…
That is until the bike race! And if you have seen Akira you know what I mean. Once that music starts and the high impact race between the gangs start it was over. My friends enjoyed the movie and of course after that I had to own it. Unfortunately finding a copy of a foreign animation film before the invention of the internet was hard as hell.
Sometime in the late 1990’s I was able to finally find the movie and then it sat on my shelf for over a decade. Every time I looked at it I had to fight the urge to watch it every time I needed an anime fix. Then one day I was searching my Netflix queue and BAM! THERE IT WAS! AKIRA IN FREAKIN’ BLU-RAY BABY!
Sure I could have watched it on VHS but I ran into a problem. I had no VHS player. <.<
So thanks to NetFlix I received it in the mail, grabbed some popcorn, charged my surround sound, turned on the television, and watched it’s digitally remastered glory! AKIRA was back!
With a budget of 1.1 billion Yen ($11 million bucks) it was easily one of the most expensive animated movies of its time. Even by today’s standards it still stands undefeated against most animated movies of its genre. Every scene is loaded with tons of details and intense imagery. You will believe that Neo-Tokyo is indeed a real place and you forget that it’s even an animation. You see a very possible outlook of a future society where people are beat down and merely just getting by through life in this worn-down police state.
You can feel Neo-Tokyo’s imminent collapse and a feeling of all hell is about to break loose. You see parallels from our society and the society in the movie. The growing discontent between the common man and the super power elite who run everything and monitor and control every aspect of the citizens lives.
Nearly every scene you can tell the director Katsuhiro Otomo, put painstaking effort and energy into the entire feature. Each scene ripples into each other with an ethereal fluidity splashed with violence. This violence isn’t mindless and somehow used to tell a story on an epic scale and you can see where the dollars were spent on this movie. Early in the movie when the bike race begins you are quickly drawn into it hypnotically afraid to look away for fear you might yourself crash a bike and die in a fiery inferno.
Then as quickly as it started, it’s over. It is an event that you will never forget it.
Now even though the animation is spectacular, you need a great story to go with it. Granted I had to watch it a few times before I understood it. Akira has a notorious reputation for being utterly confusing and just plain strange. Especially towards the end, when the story begins to feel crunched. The end is still very visually stunning but confusing as hell. I never had anyone to explain it to me so I had to watch it multiple times without complaint.
As it begins there is World War III and the world was engulfed in a nuclear conflict. Humanity is nearly wiped out and the financial elite with the military as their bitch are tasked with rebuilding society in their view of a utopia. Which basically means your super rich rule over the super poor. Kinda like today. But like all super crazy elite they don’t know when to stop. Through the use of genetic engineering, pharmaceuticals, and good ol’ fashioned God sacrifice they attempt to master or evolve psychic abilities to form a weapon. Thus further stomping a boot on the face of humanity as it sits on verge of revolution.
A super being of God-like potential arrives, Akira, the magnitude of Jesus or some other trinity God (take your pick), comes to bring peace. But of course the elite kill him and dissect him so they can master these God-like talents to their own ends.
I won’t spoil the movie for you completely but with the basics covered I move on now to the characters. Kaneda is your typical anti-hero who has a really bad ass bike and loves the ladies. Kaneda is drawn into a climatic battle with his best friend Tetsuo who evolves immense psychic powers. Tetsuo eventually goes mad and corrupt with power. There are other characters but they play their minor roles and they do it well. The old-children with blue skin, the elite, the women, the mad scientist and let’s not forget the millions of people who DIE! >.>
With that being said there really isn’t a clear good guy or bad guy. The Colonel seems to be a pretty good guy who is trying to keep the city from falling apart into revolution and has to take his order from the financial elite. Tetsuo and Kaneda in their own way are basically young street punks just trying to make it day-to-day and are actually quite ordinary despite the road warrior scenarios they have become accustomed to in Neo-Tokyo.
The sound track is absolutely stunning and goes right along with the action. The voice acting is spectacular. Akira still stands as one of those movies that will always be modern and retro-distinctive. A tireless classic that just keeps racing and will always be the movie that I rate all other animations of its genre against.
Needless to say, animated features have a very high bar of achievement thanks to Akira.
Production Quality: 5
C E Metascore: 4 BUY IT!!!
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