Japan, 1988. An explosion caused by a young boy with psychic powers tears through the city of Tokyo and ignites the fuse that leads to World War III. In order to prevent any further destruction, he is captured and taken into custody, never to be heard from again. Now, in the year 2019, a restored version of the city known as Neo-Tokyo—an area rife with gang violence and terrorism against the current government—stands in its place. Here, Shoutarou Kaneda leads "the Capsules," a group of misfits known for riding large, custom motorcycles and being in constant conflict with their rivals "the Clowns." During one of these battles, Shoutarou's best friend Tetsuo Shima is caught up in an accident with an esper who finds himself in the streets of Tokyo after escaping confinement from a government institution. Through this encounter, Tetsuo begins to develop his own mysterious abilities, as the government seeks to quarantine this latest psychic in a desperate attempt to prevent him from unleashing the destructive power that could once again bring the city to its knees. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
Akira is a film adapted from the manga series of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo. The film was a huge success, even outside its native Japan, and is often heralded as one of the all-time greatest anime ever produced. I first saw this film in 2007, and I have no desire to see it again. I know “classic” anime and I tend to not mix very well, but I cannot understand why this film was and still is championed as a “great” example of anime. The only thing great about this film is how it teaches you what NOT to film in an action film.
It’s the future in Tokyo, or Neo-Tokyo, and everything has gone to Hell. The streets are a warzone between gangs, the government, and everyone else. In between all of this are a number of children with psychic powers that enable them to do pretty much whatever they want. One of these children is a teenager from a biker gang named Tetsuo. He and his friend Kaneda get caught up in the government’s attempt to . . .
I’m sorry, I’m giving this plot way too much credit. Do you want to know what I recall this movie being about? It’s a series of one senseless act of violence after another. Sure, there are scenes of expository dialog, and an important flashback, but this is pretty much the entire movie right here: someone gets the crap beaten out of them. Someone else gets shot. Someone else gets exploded. Someone else gets the crap beaten out of them. Throw in nonsensical psychic powers, among even more people dying whether they deserve it or not, throw in one of the worst endings in cinematic history, roll credits. The film does not even bother to explain most of the things that happen. It’s pretty much like all those mindless action flicks that plagued Hollywood in the 1980s, except animated. Then again, Akira was made in 1988, so I guess it was just following the leader in this regard. 3/10.
Akira is famous for its fluid animation. Indeed, it is the oldest anime I’ve seen that has motion as fluid as what you would expect from an American animated film. As gruesome as the violence is, it is well-crafted. So why then does this only get a 6? Two problems. One, the coloring. I know, this is a bit unfair, seeing as how Akira is a pre-digital anime, but the coloring is drab for the most part. At times, it is fitting of its dystopian setting, but other times, it’s just, well, drab. And two, this film has some of the most bland character designs I have ever seen in a theatrical animated film. It’s like the filmmakers weren’t even trying in this aspect. This and the coloring bogs down my score, but at least there’s no choppiness in the animation. 6/10.
The sound is alright. The soundtrack is eccentric, but works. The sound effects do their job. The ending credits song is lame retro 80s synth fluff, but it could’ve been worse.
I got to see parts of Akira in both Japanese and the English dub by Geneon. The Japanese dub is superb. Unlike most anime, Akira’s Japanese dialog was recorded before the animation work was completed, much like an American animation. Unfortunately, because of this, foreign language dubs look off compared to the original. Now, dub purists are probably thinking, “But . . . but . . . Johnny Yong Bosch! Wendee Lee! Joshua Seth!” Yes, I love them too, but honestly, if for whatever morbid reason you do decide to watch Akira, you’re better off seeing it in Japanese with the subtitles on. 7/10.
Characterization? What characterization? This, along with the threadbare plot, is what killed Akira for me. Who are these characters? Why are they doing the things they are doing? Why should I care for them? Only one character gets any such development, and that’s Tetsuo. We learn his motivation and his desire to strike back at the world, and why he and Kaneda are conflicted with fighting each other at the end, but that is it. Seriously, that’s all the characterization you get in this film. When a character dies, you don’t care for them, because you know nothing about them. The characters whose names I even remember are Kaneda, Tetsuo, and Akira, and that’s only because the first two keep shouting each other’s name, and the last has his name in the title. Like, for example, who was that girl Kaneda kept hitting on? The one that, thanks to the lackluster character designs, looks like a boy? What was her purpose in all of this? What about all those government guys? The rival biker gang? The other children with psychic powers? And why does Akira do what he does in the ending? None of this is either elaborated, or done in a way to make me care as an audience member. 2/10.
Enjoyment: If all you want to see are brutal, pointless acts of violence, then you’re in luck, because that’s exactly what Akira delivers, in spades. If you want more than that, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I know this is a compressed adaptation of a manga, and the manga is supposedly better, (I don’t know, I haven’t read the manga version of Akira) but couldn’t Otomo have made the anime at least stand on its own for those who haven’t read the manga? As it is, it is a confusing mess, chock to the brim with sensationalized violence. Now, mind you, I don’t mind seeing mature content in my entertainment. What I do mind is seeing “mature” content used only as a means to shock and awe the audience. That’s all Akira does, and somehow, it managed to delude a large number of anime fans into thinking it was “deep” and “meaningful”, when all it really is is a crappy 80s action flick that dissolves into nothing by the end. That’s about as much sense as I can make out of the ending anyways. 3/10.
Now before any of you say “You just hate Akira because you didn’t see it back when it first came out!”, I want to point out that that is a moot point to make. My favorite film by Hayao Miyazaki, Castle in the Sky, predates Akira by two years, and is a much, much, MUCH more enjoyable film than this. And also, Katsuhiro Otomo would go on to make the film Steamboy, which, unlike Akira, actually has a proper plot, characters worth giving a damn about, really nice coloring, and slightly less bland character art. So really, there’s no point in seeing Akira anymore, except to laugh at it, because as far as I’m concerned, the anime version of Akira is nothing more than a joke.