Akira is the most expensive anime film that has ever existed. At least in terms of retro anime films because I’m not sure how much modern films cost. It cost about 9 million dollars in 1988 money or 20 million in 2019 money to produce. With that appeal, it is also possibly the most impactful and influential anime thing in the modern era of anime for the medium itself and for fans that watch anime. I’m not in the generation of anime fans that has been awoken to what anime is by this film, but I’ve heard the stories of how people have come into contact with this film and blown away by it changing their lives forever. After watching it myself, all I can say is that I believe it. It’s that kind of film that after watching it, you know that you may never watch anything like it again. I haven’t even talked about the film itself yet. What a way to intro something, huh? Good thing I haven’t completely given away my opinion on it, right?
This film is a weird adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga Akira. Of course, there are a lot changes that needed to be made considering that the manga is multiple volumes long and the film has a limited amount of time. Or two hours. There is no way that multiple volumes of manga can fit two hours unless the thing is too fast and doesn’t make sense. Both are written by the infamous Katsuhiro Otomo and I heard the film takes roughly the first volumes and the last volumes in it. That means a lot of characters sadly won’t get the development that they could have gotten. We only learn a little bit about the main biker gang besides the two main characters and then only establish a few other characters so the plot can function. That’s kind of why the plot doesn’t work as well as it could. It works and that’s about all you can say really.
In 1988, a singular event happened which completely wiped Tokyo off the map. It’s similar to a Nuclear Explosion, but has no radiation behind it. After that, all that could be done is rebuilding the city. Then the film jumps to the year 2019 and takes place in a newly rebuilt Tokyo now called Neo Tokyo. They plan on hosting the Olympics in 2020 which is a coincedence probably. In this new, beautiful looking city are a lot of bad things like city wide corruption, anti government protests, street and motorcycle gangs all over the place, and who knows what else is reigning down bad on these citizens. It’s just a bad city to even know of or even thinking about. Still, that is the world that Akira takes place in. No other way to get around that really.
This film’s plot has three major parts that meander a little bit until they connect in the middle part somehow. The first part is how you learn about our main protagonist Kaneda and his friend who grew up with him, Tetsuo. Plus biker Gangs! The Pills Gang specifically which the two are apart of! The first time you see them, they and two other members are flying around the city on their bikes fighting against the clown motorbike gang. A lot of high speed hijinks, chaos, and violence happens with people dying at high speeds. At the same time, we are shown the vast cityscapes of Neo Tokyo at the same time. Plus massive anti government riots. That’s the second important thing. While there are mass riots going on, there is a small anti government group somewhere pushing all of this forward. Unfortunately, that small group is just a plot point to allow everything go forward. Even Kei, the protagonist’s “love interest” is there to move the plot forward.
Lastly, there is the military run by Colonel Shikishima who works alongside a doctor who controls a group of psychic kids. Kids that are grey and wrinkly like old people. The Colonel has to deal tons of talk from city officials that want to fire him. Of course, that doesn’t happen because of the colonel’s coup. Then there is the talk of the legendary Akira who is held in a frozen area next to the stadium for Tokyo 2020 Olympics. With all of that set up, the plot starts when one psychic kid escapes and runs into Tetsuo during one of the biker gang fights. Tetsuo crashes and his psychic abilities begin to awaken. He’s immediately taken to the military hospital by the military leaving the other motorcycle kids captured. Then, it all happens. Kaneda jumps into the fold, somehow becomes apart of the anti government group to track down Tetsuo and the rest is history.
The main connecting tissue is Tetsuo and Kaneda’s relationship. Maybe it’s not as developed as it could be because it’s one of many of things crammed into this film, but it’s there and it feels at least a little bit real. Real enough for the attachment to come across. It’s first given to us by a flashback where Tetsuo and Kaneda where at the orphanage and Kaneda protected Tetsuo and moves to where Tetsuo trying to make his way outside of Kaneda’s protection in the beginning of the film. When Tetsuo tried to figured out Kaneda’s bike, that was him trying to show Kaneda that he doesn’t need him anymore. Of course, Tetsuo didn’t know how to figure it out for a while. When Tetsuo gained access to psychic powers, his personality changed to show Kaneda how much stronger he is now. Of course, that shows that nothing really changed. On top of the crazy and scary visual effects, Tetsuo thematically pushed himself too far to where not even Kaneda could save him.
Maybe I need address Akira a little bit here considering that the entire film is named for him after all. A major background event through out movie was the worship of Akira. I say this because it doesn’t majorly affect the plot as well as it could, but it’s definitely out there in the open. Akira was a psychic kid that appeared a while ago who caused the explosion in the beginning of the film and then completely disappeared for reasons that appear later on in movie. Still, that didn’t stop the religious fanatics. When Tetsuo took to the city and attacked one place after another on his way to destroying Akira, there was a reasonably large religious escort following him with banners and everything to worship the new Akira. You know, as far as they know. Too bad they don’t last very long together.
Akira’s visuals are the selling point of the show and why the mind blowing to so many people. It’s an absolutely stunning film because they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. I know saying that is an old phrase that can be annoying because of how often it’s said by old people, but it’s true here. Let me give you an example of why. You know how animation cells used to be color back in the day? You know, painting animation cells? Well, tons and tons of colored paints needed to be invented for this film to even exist. How insane is that? While the character designs for each character could be argued in looking similar in some ways, but that doesn’t hurt the film in my eyes because of the beauty of the animation behind each character that makes them different. Then there are tons of cityscape shots that are as beautiful as they could be with some completely unnecessary shots of pipes out of the middle of nowhere like when Tetsuo tosses an empty can that make into the movie too. Plus, the animation. Oh my god, it’s just so crisp and beautiful. It’s so good that instead of recording voice actors after the animation with lip flaps, all the acting was done first so everything feels natural. Oh and the motorcycle and psychic powers scenes were grounded somehow and made everything feel realistic in some ways. OH, I guess there is some body horror too.
The movie’s Mechanical Design is absolutely stunning too. Motorcycles flying around the streets and bridge areas of Neo Tokyo feel like they have a lot of weight to them. Also, watching all sorts of mechanical things like tanks, hover copters with Gatling guns, helicopters, and such work and then blow up in a very detailed sort of explosion has to be considered one of the many joys of watching Akira. Oh, I should also mention the satellite canon too. It looked pretty cool before it blew up and crashed from outer space into Earth’s orbit in a very realistic sort way. In all seriousness though, the grounded nature of the mechanical design working like they should against invincible psychic powers creates a believable background to everything that happens in Akira and I’m glad that so much effort was put into those aspects.
I know that I am and am not alone with my opinion of Akira when it comes to all the flaws, but I do like the film. It’s plot and story are bare bones almost to the point to allow the visuals to speak for it instead, but I still think the plot is pretty solid regardless. Even with the questionable middle that gels the beginning and the end together awkwardly, Tetsuo and Kanade’s friendship and relationship could be felt through out the course of the entire film. That isn’t nothing, it’s a lot of something. Plus, the background settings of protests against the government adds a little more background to the material at hand which adds a lot of atmosphere. Add in the brilliant visuals and visual effects that the film is known for and you have the Earth Shattering movie called Akira. In this modern age where we can watch anime and Akira whenever we want to, it doesn’t have as strong as an effect that it had back in the beginning of anime culture. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t recommend watching the film. I think that every anime fan should at least experience it once to understand the importance it had in spreading the anime community to what we know of it now. So yes, solid.
Thank you for reading my first post of Halloween Post Apocalyptic/Sci Fi Film Week. Ok, so sometimes I’m bad at naming things. Go figure. Did this appearing on a Monday completely shock you? Maybe unexpected? Good if it did. Otherwise, nothing else will shock you. What will the next movie I focus on be? I’ll give you a hint. Otomo wrote it. Until tomorrow, everyone.