The year is 1988. A large explosion reminiscent of those experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly half a century prior obliterates the city of Tokyo. It’s now 2019 and Neo Tokyo has arisen from the ashes like a dark phoenix. Gang wars are a frequent occurrence; one of the most notorious gang leaders is a young man named Kaneda. During a particular scuffle with a rival gang, Kaneda’s friend Tetsuo sets out to prove his worth… but only gets himself entangled in a government experiment to extract the powers of Akira…
summary by Kain
Highs: Eye-popping animation; dark, post-apocalyptic setting
Lows: Not self-sufficient; music drones on; who cares about the characters?
Well, here it is; yours truly, face to face with perhaps the most overly hyped anime of all time: Akira. I won’t ramble on and on about the historical significance of this film, nor will I offer it praise just because it is recognized as the anime that opened the floodgates to Western civilization. I am here to judge Akira on its merits alone and will likely ruffle a few thousand feathers in the process.
Let’s start off with the one thing that seems to attract people to Akira the most: the animation. I will be the first to admit that even against today’s standards the animation is close to being without equal. Being one of the first anime to showcase such an unrelenting, gritty style lent itself well to catering to the “eye candy priority” crowd.
There is a certain verisimilitude that draws parallels between the events in the anime and Japan during the past century. Some of these references are obvious (the post-“nuclear” world of Neo Tokyo resembling Japan’s Showa era, the time after World War II and leading up to the end of the 20th century), while others require a bit more insight (Tetsuo’s power is a xenophobic look on Western influence on Japan). My problem is that while the manga does an excellent job of fleshing out the story, the anime does not. Yes, I am very well aware of the implications of trying to stuff hundreds of pages into a movie format, but the slicing and dicing was done to such an extreme that the story borders on incoherency. The manga would have been better suited for television or an OVA format. There is just not enough time allotted to make it work.
I really wanted to appreciate and connect with Akira more than I had. The problem with producing a dark anime is an overzealousness to make the characters equally dark or even darker, thus making it extremely difficult to relate to them emotionally. If I can’t make an emotional investment in the characters, I can’t do the same for the anime.
Highs: Very high quality animation; freakish action scenes
Lows: Unrealistic and disposable characters; jury-rigged ending; ill-fitting music
If Akira is judged based on how closely it followed its manga counterpart, it failed horribly because of its vast differences; if it is judged based upon its sole value, then it is left being just below mediocre overall. Any comparisons would be completely unfair because it really does not follow the manga very much at all.
If there is one pro you have to give this movie, it is the animation. Even an obsessive-compulsive could flip through every frame looking for one bit of jumpiness or skipping around and will be disappointed to find none. The animation is on a level that rivals even the more recent releases of Disney, and with such fluid movement, it really helps to create some truly freakish and awesome action scenes. While I will not go as far as saying that it had good choreography, the action was well done and could easily grab anyone’s attention. Some scenes border on disgusting while others tiptoe along being interesting.
However, Akira has a lot dragging it down. A large part of that has to do with the characters. Many things that some of the characters do are just entirely unrealistic, such as jumping off motorcycles at high speeds or falling from high places without injury. As well, I never felt anything for the characters; most were merely there to die and served no greater purpose than pushing the plot along. While the ending is not quite a train wreck disaster, it is close. All of the proper connections are made to bind everything together at the very end, but this is done using whatever is available, which really is not very much or just is not that good; some things are summed up too quickly while others simply are not summed up at all. More on a note of personal tastes, I found the music to be unfit for the movie. While the intention of the music is to create a futuristic atmosphere, it does that part well but does not fit with the movie, simply not flowing with what is occurring at the times and places it is used.
After finishing Akira, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, not from dislike, but more because of a feeling of betrayal. Like X/1999, this movie would be better suited on the smaller screen; a modern remake of this classic movie for television or OVA would give it the chance to be much more faithful to its manga.
Highs: Polished animation, design and artwork; intense action
Lows: Key elements undeveloped; grating music
With its extra-fluid animation, intense action scenes and cool designs, Akira is a very fun movie to watch. The main problem comes with it trying to be more than that, as hints of depth only tease the viewer more than anything else. The only way to get something out of this anime is to pretend it is only the story of two angst-ridden teenagers trying not to let superpowers get in the way of their friendship.
I believe only two key elements had to be expanded to switch Akira from an okay anime to a great one. The most explicative scene in the movie is when Kay explains to Kaneda what she knows of Akira, which lasts a minute. Just a couple of minutes more and everything could have been incredibly clear. However, as is often the case in this anime, action sequences rich in explosion take priority. The other point I would most have like to see in greater detail is the state of Neo-Tokyo at the time. The stage is often an overlooked area of development in movies, and in a metropolis of obvious corruption where riots are frequent, extents and reasons need to be more than merely brushed upon.
Akira’s popularity is however not groundless. The tremendously good-looking animation goes hand in hand with extreme action. This combo comes with a side order of great cityscape designs and is supersized by originality. The theme itself is not completely unique, but no anime does it quite like Akira. The only things I can say against the technical side are that characters share designs that are too similar and I found the sound effects-based music, though appropriate, terribly unpleasant.
If Akira was recommended to you for its three-dimensional characters and engaging storyline, the person making the recommendation was probably talking about the manga. If you heard of it being a good way to kill time when you are in an action mood, then that is the Akira I know.
Akira is licensed in the U.S. by Funimation, and episodes may be viewed legally in the United States HERE.