Original Release Date: July 16, 1988 Directed By: Katsuhiro Otomo Genre: Action, Science Fiction Based on the Series Created By: Katsuhiro Otomo
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Akira. Reader discretion is advised.***
In 1988, a singularity annihilated Tokyo. What followed was the devastation of World War III.
The year is now 2019 and from the ashes of conflict arose Neo-Tokyo. However, the peace that once existed never truly returned. As it is, Neo-Tokyo is a cesspool of government corruption, violence, and upheaval.
Riding these dangerous streets is the biker gang The Capsules, and they are led by the reckless Shotaro Kaneda (voiced by Mitsuo Iwata). One night, Kaneda leads his group out on a mission of destruction, and among the ranks is Kaneda’s childhood friend Tetsuo Shima (voiced by Nozomu Sasaki). Little did they know, on this night, Kaneda and Tetsuo’s lives would change forever.
Without warning, Tetsuo crashes into a runaway esper, triggering his latent psychic powers. Upon doing so, Tetsuo is taken away to a top-secret military facility.
As it turns out, the singularity which destroyed Tokyo was perpetrated by a mysterious being known as Akira, and Tetsuo’s own abilities are eerily reminiscent. Unfortunately, Tetsuo is not keen on becoming a test subject, and thus, he embarks on a terrifying rampage of carnage and death.
Let’s get it out of the way:
I have seen Akira before. I enjoyed it, and I fully expected to do so again. To my not-surprise, I did. However, upon this rewatch, it is clear I missed something the first time. Until now, I failed to truly appreciate how remarkable this film is.
Thirty years after its premiere, Akira holds up incredibly. It does so both as a benchmark of stellar animation, as well as engaging storytelling. Specifically to that latter point, it’s nothing short of amazing — if not a little frightening — how relevant this movie has remained.
That said, seeing how this review is coming out the same year the film took place, 2019, and the depicted singularity has, thankfully, not happened yet, maybe we’re doing alright considering.
In any case, wow, this movie was gorgeous. And violent; oh, holy hell was it violent. But we shouldn’t get too hung up over that.
The opening scene of this film was quite the spectacle. It was super-fast, immensely colorful, and wonderfully tense. Also — and apparently, I had forgotten about this — the music in this scene, as well as throughout the entire movie, kicked so much ass.
And this was before Akira even introduced its supernatural elements. Once Tetsuo’s telekinetic powers unlocked, this film’s brutal animation was a sight to see.
Although this film’s visuals were great, the real teeth of Akira came from the world of Neo-Tokyo and Tetsuo’s story.
Considering the former, “despondent” is the word that comes to mind whenever I think about this city. On the surface, everything looked as though the place had come back to life following the end of the Third World War. The buildings were modern (for 1988), the infrastructure worked, and there was some semblance of order on the streets. Be that as is may, by no means had the people of Neo Tokyo recovered from the conflict. This place was dirty, dangerous, and constantly on the brink of conflict.
There was volatility in the air that went a long way into creating Akira’s grounded-ness. This was what prevented the movie from feeling over-the-top; kind of crazy when you think about some of the stuff that happened here.
Then when you add Tetsuo’s story, that was when the film took a turn – for the better. For example, his escape from the hospital was legitimately terrifying. Don’t let anyone tell you a teddy bear can’t be nightmare fuel.
Substantially, though, Tetsuo was a great character because he straddled the thin line between bloodthirsty monster and pitiable victim. On the one hand, he didn’t ask for his powers, and once he had them, they agitated some already deep feelings of resentment. On the other hand, he was given a choice, and with his abilities, there was no one who could tell him what to do.
There were instances in this film when Tetsuo was the despicable villain, the hurrah hero, and occasionally, both at the same time.
Akira was a snowball that got bigger and more destructive the longer it went on. In its wake, this movie left behind what is undoubtedly an enduring legacy of excellence. And on the off chance you haven’t seen this film, I encourage you to make it a priority.
There was something I noticed during this viewing of Akira I completely missed the first time I watched it.
Fight me on it if you wish, but Kaneda was not a good character. In fact, I would even go so far as to say he was extremely annoying.
Now, to be fair, in the first half of this movie, there was nothing wrong with Kaneda. The role he played was perfect for that part of the story; i.e., the part of the story before he confronted a superpowered Tetsuo. The film had yet to reach its peak grimness. Therefore, Kaneda’s form of comic relief – again, convince me I’m wrong – wasn’t juxtapositionally silly.
That started to change when Kaneda made it his mission to get inside the pants of the good looking resistance fighter, Kei (voiced by Mami Koyama), for the rest of the movie.
I’m serious. There were moments when death and destruction were all over the place, and Kaneda could only think about whether Kei was seeing anybody or not.
Kaneda’s goofball attitude then got particularly obnoxious during Akira’s climax. For some reason, a street punk could go toe to toe with the person who might have been the most powerful creature in the universe by slapstick-ing his way through fights; easily dodging debris and telekinetic attacks that insta-killed countless nameless characters in so many scenes prior.
I keep thinking to all the promotional material I have seen of Akira over the years. There is usually this awesome looking red leather jacket biker dude carrying a giant laser gun with a souped-up ride. That guy is not in this movie. Or, at least, he was not in it long enough for that to be the takeaway image.
Fortunately, Kaneda’s presence didn’t detract from anything. Akira was plenty strong enough to still be amazingly epic. This was just a tiny scuff on an otherwise pristine diamond.
This is a classic, and it’s clear why.
For the past three decades, this film has continually proven to be a genuine masterpiece. With the use of outstanding animation and powerful music, this movie told one of the most unforgettable stories of the entire anime medium.
With a location as iconic as Neo-Tokyo as its backdrop, this was something remarkable. And on top of that, we were given a lead character who can be summed up in three simple words:
He is Tetsuo.
Akira has earned a recommendation.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this film? What would be your advice concerning Akira? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.