Akira Review & Spotlight
Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo
So Manga Entertainment, the UK's largest Anime distributor celebrates their 25th anniversary this year and in honour of this great milestone they screened the 1988 Anime extravaganza, Akira, in an amazing remastered version across the UK in selected cinemas. This was something too epic to not see, Katsuhiro Ôtomo's masterpiece that paved the global way for Anime and Manga, gaining international attention and still remains to be one of the highest grossing films of '88.
But for those not familiar with Akira or it's legacy, Ôtomo-san's post-apocalyptic sci-fi started back in 1982 as a series of manga and continued on till 1990 until compiled and eventually released into six massive volumes that wouldn't look dissimilar to a collection of encyclopaedias. The art-work is incredible and set a standard for Manga, then doing the same for Anime when evolving into the feature length animation.
The full story of Akira, is the modern Iliad and Tolkien of Japanese pop culture, an incredible work of science fiction on such a scale it's truly epic by definition and only fans of the original Manga series might be disappointed with the film adaptation as the movie is considerably shorter. Whilst keeping the core of the story true to the Manga, viewers are missing, what I would estimate to be another 75% of the original plot. Yes, That much.
The story is set in Neo-Tokyo, around 2019 in the wake of an apparent nuclear disaster that decimated the city the year previous. The new city, though rapidly rebuilding is buried in politics, controversy, terrorism and an amphetamine-fuelled, cyberpunk culture that's rules the streets. Introducing Kaneda, the alpha-teen gangbanger who leads a biker gang of fellow juvenile delinquents and during a night clash with one of their oppositions, his friend Tetsuo has a near fatal accident when crossing the path of an escapee child, a government subject with incredible powers.
Tetsuo's recovery does not go well, basically being captured and monitored by the military, under the watchful eye of the colonel who is desperately trying to prevent a repeat incident that previously destroyed the city the year before. There's conspirators and treason within the government who know the truth about what happened and though it's not entirely clear the intentions of any of the parties, it boils down to harnessing or controlling the power Tetsuo has somehow contracted from his accidental meeting, leading to political intrigue, casting the government into turmoil and eventually a coup d'état with a rising spiritual revolution, riots and acts of terrorism.
Tetsuo starts to realise his powers and unfortunately takes a turn for the worse for mankind as his demonic rage obliterates anyone and anything that stands in his way of seeking out the absolute power, the child Akira. One way to describe him during the transition is being like Jack Torrance from The Shining, only with, literally the mind-blowing powers of Neo from The Matrix. The escape from the facility is bloody brutal.
The animation is still some of the best work I have ever seen, the violence portrayed is incredibly visceral with impressive action sequences that give the film a grand sense of scale and was innovative with out-of-focus perspectives. The opening bike chase in particular, with rear light trails, the velocity and detail gave the animation a level of realism not otherwise seen in animated movies. It's very surreal, but so elegantly done and borderline horrific with grotesque images but balanced with vibrant, illuminating scenes of technology, architecture and science. I know this was a challenging film to animate due to being loaded with gorgeous night scenes, the cityscapes and lighting effects, demanded so much more from the animators, but the final spectacle makes it all so worth it.
The soundtrack is marvellous with a complete mixture of modern electric guitar entwined with Balinese Tantric chanting, taiko drums and other traditional Japanese percussions. Composed by Yamashiro Shoji and performed by Geinoh Yamashirogumi, it fits the film so perfectly well with Kaneda's theme song being high-powered and full of attitude and then the ambient 'Winds over Neo-Tokyo' being very soothing and dreamy. The mixture of tech-noir and tradition is conveyed across amazingly well too, with tracks like 'Mutation' and 'Exodus from The Underground Fortress' but Requiem is my personal favourite track because it encompasses the essence of the entire soundtrack, giving a reprised merger of the key themes. I'm actually listening to it now while I write this.
This film was the ground-breaker, getting the rest of the world outside of Japan to notice and paved the way for international anime recognition. It was the main anime to reach wider audiences and was normally the gateway to other anime greats like Fist of North Star, Ninja Scroll and the more controversial Chôjin densetsu Urotsukidôji, better known as The Legend of The Overfiend that followed. Not forgetting to mention Ghost In The Shell. The films multiple posters are all iconic and instantly recognisable with Kaneda walking up to his bike being my personal favourite.
I was only a child when this was released and being considered an adult animation, no teenage geek could deny the attraction of super-bikes, ultra-violence and comedy in true Manga fashion where a lot of it happens in the background. This film inspired me like no other, and I would sit and draw manga for hours based on Akira. I wanted Kaneda's bike just like Tetsuo did, and his red jacket and wanted ride about town with my friends during the midnight hours whilst listening to the
soundtrack. I first recorded it off the TV on to VHS at a time where you had to be present to press record and pause during commercials. Then purchasing the proper video along with the imported soundtrack, eventually buying the DVD and upgraded to the special remastered editions. It's one of those films you must have, going through the ages of technology; I'm waiting for the special edition bluray.
Admittedly, I watched the film first before reading the comics, which, incidentally had not finish running until two years after the film's release. It was this pinnacle film that got me hooked on manga and anime so I started collecting the manga and continued reading Akira as Ôtomo-san original envisioned it. Some, like myself, could be disappointed with the much-butchered story of the film but it's Ôtomo-san creation of both anime and manga, so he had complete creative control and who's to argue?
The story continues after Akira with Neo-Tokyo in a state of emergency where a few stragglers of civilisation fight to survive in the desolate city among the spiritual zealots and Akira's Cult with Tetsuo at the throne. The full epic story has so much more to offer than the film ever did, and that's even with an already generous running time of 124mins there's no way they can fit the whole of the manga into one complete film missing characters and subplots like Lt. Yamada and the brutish heroine Chiyoko.
Could they continue, or, seeing the recent developments with live action like Ghost In The Shell, could a live action version be on the cards? I know it was an idea, and can imagine it constantly floating around in studio's dreams but the original budget for such a project skyrocketed beyond $300 million. Ignoring Rupert Sanders' incoming version of Ghost In The Shell, I would welcome a live action Akira, maybe with a reworked plot to allow it to go further like the comics do but keeping the iconic scenes from the anime that make it so awe-inspiring.
It's a masterpiece, an extraordinary testament to animation that perfectly bonds music, story, action and animation so gloriously well. It's the iconic film that placed anime where it is internationally today. Akira, the legendary anime that became the one of the most recognised, respected and revered pieces of animation in movie history.
Running Time: 9
The Cast: 9
Story: 9 (not 10 only because of the comic story)
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for being the ground-breaking, iconic masterpiece with some of greatest achievements in animation.