“Akira” – Chris Luedtke

Akira is commonly known as a breakthrough Japanese anime that took the world by storm with its ultraviolent, apocalyptic view of the future. A tone of hype has surrounding this movie since its initial release back in 1988. It has been hailed by as a masterpiece by many critics since and has gathered a strong cult following. In fact, back in the area of 1997, there was a “Best of Japanese Anime” 1-800 number people could call that used Akira as the introductory title (those that actually stuck with that subscription are probably sorry right now, since Record of Lodoss War was the only other title I remember being worth a damn).

The first time I saw this film, I was twelve and got it from my local library. Super-excited to see it, I popped it in, immediately recalling all the commercials I had seen for it. After two hours and four minutes, the screen went black; the film was over, and I felt cheated. What a violently confusing film! How could anyone follow this?! The story felt so muddled, and the characters were so out there that I couldn’t like it even after doing more research on it. Returning it to the library, I told
myself I wasn’t about to give up on Japanese anime and went on to purchase X a few years later.

At Wal-Mart back in 2004, I saw Akira for $7.50 and figured, “Why not?” Anime is something that is rarely cheap, and I still remember a few scenes that I liked a lot, so it was worth it at least for nostalgia’s sake. Throwing it in the DVD player yet again, I this time emerged with an absolute fascination for everything the film had to offer.

Sure, the animation is a little dated, but it still looks better than a lot of what is produced today with CGI. Producers used way more night shots than are generally used in regular anime due to the extra coloring. It’s gritty and dark but has a gorgeous kind of twilight to it, especially when one concerns themselves with the acid-trip like sequences that some of the characters go into. Seriously, those are mind-blowing. Character animations are still looking extremely original compared to what is produced today. In fact, the closest I’ve seen to Akira’s character design is the long-running TV series “Dragonball Z,” and even that only carries similarities in the eye areas.

The story is extraordinarily deep and almost comparable to Neon Genesis Evangelion, except for the fact that no one has ever gotten to the bottom of NGE, whereas Akira is a feasible pursuit. It’s nice to see another anime where the depth of the human psyche comes into play as a major driving force behind all of the events. Not to say that most animes lack this, but few can go as deep as Akira.

Characters in Akira aren’t ones you’re soon to forget. Villains and heroes alike (if you can really call them that) are incredibly human. The children psionics are probably two of the most disturbing character designs I’ve ever come across in an animated film or live one. I see a lot of people draw from the frustrated Tetsuo Shima (voiced by Nozomu Sasaki) and the cocky best friend Shôtarô Kaneda (voiced by Mitsuo Iwata). However, few animes have ever been able to pull off some of the twists with these two that Akira does with them.

A landmark anime? I would certainly attest to that. Even today, this is still an extremely original piece of work. It’s nice to see that the plot isn’t something that could really be ripped off due to its sheer complexity; the general characters have been copied a lot, but that should be the testament to this films impact on the anime world. If you haven’t seen it before, you really should, even if you don’t like anime.

Rating: ★★★★

-Chris Luedtke

Leave a Reply