I have been staring at my computer screen for what seems a decade, trying to sum up what Akira feels like to watch - after a considerable period of hesitation, I offer the following graceless suggestion: think Ghibli on acid. Although relentlessly brutal and disturbing, Akira remains strictly philosophical at heart with its exploration of human evolution set against a backdrop of human decay. As such, it has that energising creativity to be found in Ghibli productions; and yet, due to the level of bizarre savagery, it also makes me feel like I'm experiencing a rather bad hallucinatory trip.
Opening with a stark ‘beginning of the end' setting reminiscent of many parts of the world even today, Akira quickly establishes a dark, unnerving mood. Rather than alien invaders or malfunctioning supercomputers, Neo-Tokyo suffers from good old-fashioned social disintegration; the city is a place where violent demonstrations and wannabe messiahs sprout like weeds, and all the while the authorities are struggling to hold onto power. Being a fan of cynical portrayals of humanity, I immediately connected with Akira's world and found myself easily swept away despite some of its plot-related lapses.
Moreover, Akira's individual scenes are brilliantly directed. First and foremost, it offers plenty of action sequences with fluid, fast-paced stunts and gory violence. Squeamish viewers will probably not appreciate such detail but I find the violence is rarely gratuitous and actually enhances the story's emotional impact; specifically, the explosive psychic battles provide the plot with some valuable momentum. However, even the ordinary non-action scenes are wholly gripping due to the tense characterisation and world detail. For example, Kaori at the laundrette remains one of my favourite moments for no other reason than the disheartening features of the room and the realistic touch of the girl on the telephone in the background.
As hinted above, not all is perfect, and at least one qualification is in order; cramming in six manga volumes of politics, metaphysics and the end of the world, it probably comes as no surprise to say Akira's plot progression is far from seamless. For instance, after waking up to find himself in a strange hospital, Tetsuo stumbles to his escape, turning up at his girlfriend's place a couple of scenes later without explanation of how he got there. Granted, these ‘gaps' are rare and, being absorbed by the milieu, I get the impression that I have not missed much, but they are inelegant nonetheless.
Akira's only ‘imperfection' animation-wise is its age, although, in more important respects - colour scheme, character design, motion etc - not one thing needs amending. With detailed hand-drawn images and such a high quality concept, this movie doesn't come off bad at all in comparison to more recent features.
For anyone suspicious of 1980s interpretations of the future, fear not: far from having a cheesy concept where bad hair and even worse clothes dominate the scene, Akira opts for a timeless gritty feel. On the one hand, the character designs are simplistic; Kei the terrorist, for example, is difficult to recognise as a female at first because of her rather androgynous design, and, apart from a couple of too-short trousers, the clothes could belong to any futuristic era.
The details of the city environments, on the other hand, are remarkable; everything from the use of shadow to the weird skin tones in neon lighting helps to give Akira a manic depressive appeal. As mentioned before, this attention to detail also extends to the blood and gore used liberally throughout.
Both the Japanese and the English dubs are of a high calibre in terms of drama, but the Americans outperform the Japanese in terms of suitability. Kaneda's Japanese voice, as an example, just seems too reedy for a street-wise leader of his age.
Complementing the twisted mood of the movie is a unique experimental soundtrack which mostly involves percussion music and spooky chanting. This one is worth owning if you like your music a bit ‘out there'; for example, the high-octane bike chase is accompanied by a breathy piece with dramatic power drums and some of Tetsuo's crazy scenes use a rather discordant but chilling choral theme.
Unsurprisingly, Akira leaves absolutely no room for kind-hearted altruists. Most of the characters are either acting for explicitly non-ideal reasons or their motivations are left unsaid, so warming to any of them is a pointless exercise at best. However, a cast does not have to be likeable to be good, and despite each character being rarely more than one-dimensional, the cast as a whole makes for a believable mix of creepy villains, antiheroes, and tragic victims. Still, only the three centremost characters, Kaneda, Tetsuo, and the Colonel, are actually memorable in their own right.
Kaneda is a street-wise brat who knows how to handle himself, but what strikes me the most about him is his sense of humour; he is genuinely amusing when he talks back to police officers and his flippant remarks help alleviate the tension at all the right times. Still, while he is admirable in that delinquent way, he is not the kind of person you necessarily want to spend more than ninety minutes with.
His best friend, Tetsuo, on the other hand, gives the impression of a victim frustrated by the lack of control in his life. The traumas and transformations he faces as a result of his godlike development make for some of the best scenes of the entire film.
Arguably the most complex character is the Colonel because, in the midst of all this madness, he is the only one willing to make pragmatic, commonsensical decisions. Interestingly, this does not make him the good guy in any strict sense because his uncompromising methods leave a lot to be desired, and, as with many of the other characters, I am undecided whether to cheer him on or not.
Akira is an action fest kind of movie with an unexpected philosophical and sociological depth; sure, plot progression is disjointed on occasion and the cast is not phenomenally sympathetic, but I could offer Akira nothing less than a high score. As a thrilling sci-fi with a unique ‘brink of madness' approach, it makes a powerful and lasting impression.
Time is a funny thing. A veil more than a man-made concept, it is the ultimate in distorting, masking and outright changing our perception of the world around us. Go ahead, go revisit a Looney Tunes episode, you'll find it awful. Or perhaps take another look at the Titanic film your parents rented as a kid, you'll appreciate it.
So yes, Akira, right, this is a review. The point I'm trying to make is, the perception people have of something can evolve over time, often beyond its merits. Something's legacy can often grow past it's own shadow, and we remember it as more grandiose when we should.
Akira falls victim to this. Not bad by any means, but something mediocre has since been seen as something "epic", to use a trite word. So why is this? Well let us take a trip back to somewhat glorious 1988. Peepshow, Suffer and Green had all just been released and the world was finally getting an animated film from Japan that wasn't all robots or shenanigans.
Anime fans from all around flocked to their local nickelodeon to see said film, Akira. Their thoughts upon leaving? "Well that was pretty good." By and large, nothing beyond that.
How it grew to the "gold-standard" that it holds today I'll never know. The direction, the art, the voice acting, hell, even the writing, virtually none of these qualities excel to the point of influence. So that's out, but what about pure enjoyment, or simple likability? Well, for "my first anime", sure. But a serious fan of the medium? No sir, not at all.
So where to start? Well, how about our bland framing device also known as the plot? I'd rather not, to be honest. The less I spend talking about this thing the better, but the people must know, and on I press!
Combine the silly gang antics of West Side Story with a touch of over-the-top Mad Max and perhaps a bad episode of the Twilight Zone (Read: All of them) and you have Akira's ridiculous story. (And if these combined elements sound good to you, please finish asphyxiating yourself, as you're obviously halfway through and already brain-dead.) Oh, and a silly, Napoleonic revenge plot. Joy.
Does much more need to be said? It's ineffective, it's silly, and it just tries to tie together the numerous set-pieces scattered throughout the film. It has clearly taken a back seat to some of the other elements in the movie, and that will simply not cut it.
The art, thankfully, fares better, but it still falls under our "mediocre" umbrella that is the true nature of the film. Everything is drawn technically well, but it has no style of it's own. It's very "color by numbers". This is a man, this is a building. It is *not* the artist's own person, or the artist's own building, and that is a rather missed opportunity.
Not to mention every frame of the film has that grainy, low quality tint to it that colored every piece of '80s animation. Not a particular fault of the filmmaker's, but it does detract from latter day enjoyment.
Sadly each character who is animated is there in sight only. We don't feel their presence, nor we perceive them as a representation of a person. They are cartoons, and nothing more.
The lack of personality is simply staggering given the film's (Unearned) legacy. Damsel in distress Kei, McGuffin Akira, blind rage Tetsuo or needless asshole Kaneda. They are all interchangeable with thousands of thousands of characters from other shows.
We watch all of them "do", and none of them "be", and that is a trap plenty of amateur screenwriters fall into.
Voice acting is equally bland, no outstanding performance on either end of the quality spectrum.
So why, we ask, do people love this movie so much? Much like the adoration of Led Zeppelin, it is mob mentality. A few people like it, some silly sheep bah in agreement, and suddenly half the world holds something near-worthless in high esteem. Is it deserving? No, shoot no.
But should you watch it? Ultimately, I'd say yes. It may not be the greatest animated film of all time, nor the worst one, but there is obviously a large grey area here, and it can fall anywhere therein for each viewer. We can all develop our own opinions, but reviews are here as a guiding source, and this reviewer says it's worth taking a look at.
If only to get the legions of sheeple off your back for not having seen it already.
With its dynamic action, grand scale and incredibly detailed animation, Akira is often claimed to be a milestone in the history of anime. However, there are two crucial aspects it lacks to be considered a truly great show.
You know, most good old-school anime (Berserk, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, Area 88, Wings of Honneamise etc.) share two common traits, regardless of their genres: they give you some food for thought and some characters you can relate to. Even seemingly mindless action shows like Ninja Scroll or Fist of the North Star have impressive male leads acting with dignity in all the dire straits they get into, and that can teach you a thing or two. However, after analyzing Akira I concluded that despite showing some serious promise it delivers very little in those aspects. It takes place in a rotten, corrupted society, but never elaborates on the reasons for its decay. It comes up with its own concept of God, but never explains it. It has some characters, but you will hardly find something in common with them as they're just primitive, angry punks with unlikeable personalities & unrelatable motivations who keep making ugly faces and yelling each other's names (TETSUO!!! KANEDA!!!), much to the viewer's annoyance. In fact, the only idea you can infer from this movie is that a filthy society makes its younger generation aggressive, and their anger wipes out an old world so that a new one could emerge. However, that undoubtedly interesting reincarnation-like concept also remains undeveloped, because any relevant social commentary or explanation on the Akira phenomenon and those psychic powers the characters use is replaced with a non-stop sequence of action, violence and explosions. Which is admittedly entertaining, but only on the most basic level.
Perhaps, there are some concepts in the manga that the authors didn't manage to transfer into the show, but what matters now is the result. It seems the creators focused solely on action and production values, leaving out most original thoughts and character development. Therefore, this movie looks like a monumental work with an interesting yet undeveloped central theme and absolutely no characters to associate with.
So, Akira has two strong points: exciting, large-scale action and a very detailed, well-animated dystopian world. If that is what attracts you and you are ok with all the ugly imagery in this anime, go ahead and you won't regret it.
However, if you look for something intelligent, or beautiful, or something with interesting and likeable characters, I highly recommend you to look somewhere else.
Akira is regarded as one of the most famous anime movies of all times, hailed for its cinematography and historical importance as the title that showed the west how animation can be far more than kidstuff. But how does it stand the test of time after all these years?
The theme is definitely hard to work on a modern audience. Back then science fiction was all about making technology seem very dangerous and scary, able to destroy humanity, or help it evolve into a new form of existence. This is no longer the case, since by now technology is a wonderful thing, full of videogames we can escape to, and have cyber sex. This does not make it bad, just outdated and down to personal preferences.
The tone still works fine. It is rather campy but focused on being a dystopia, where civilization became decadent, politicians are incompetent, people riot and expect a messiah to deliberate them, before everything blows up to smithereens.
The plot was and is simple, a result of cramming a huge manga into about two hours, simplifying and changing considerably several points to the point all you are left with is a fairy tale version. Reading the manga to get the full picture is not excusing nor improving anything, so yes, it is nothing much to talk about.
The characters suffer a lot because of the simple plot. They feel bland and shallow, closer to plot devises than people. Although many of them have different goals and motivations, there simply isn’t much time dedicated on anyone besides Tetsuo. Who by the way is the antagonist, not even the protagonist. This role belongs to Kaneda, a standard delinquent teenager who could be easily replaced by anyone else in his gang and you wouldn’t tell the difference. It’s Tetsuo who constantly changes throughout the movie, from a weak underling, to super saiyan Vegeta, and eventually to a huge Kthulu baby.
There is a decent attempt to portray the psychological damage and frustration everybody feels, but it comes off rushed and even silly because of the over-expressive way the characters are drawn. I know many who have a hard time telling if they are being serious, or to distinguish men from women because of the rather simplistic facial structure.
The pretty colors are of course the thing that still looks gorgeous and decades better than most of any other animated title of today. Extremely detailed, with multiple layers of animation and a high frame rate, all of which is hand-drawn. It is a splendid piece of work, even if it’s otherwise a minor aspect of what makes a movie good.
The music part is hit or miss. Most of the songs contribute to the eerie atmosphere of the setting, with the voice acting ranging from decent to god awful. And this is not limited to the first English dub which was done back when voice acting was a job nobody gave a damn about. Even in the original language, the actors don’t use the proper tone of voice half the time. It’s a bit distracting but otherwise nothing you can’t get used to.
After this breakdown, it becomes a 50-50 chance for someone to like the movie, thus making it controversial.
Theme: based on preference
Characters: besides Tetsuo, no
Music: yes to BGM, mostly no to voice acting
I personally find it very inspirational, very close to the problems of the era it was made in, and not about beta males porking their sisters in some school. It’s also retro, so it automatically becomes better than most of anything that came out in the past decade. It has some major issues but at least it’s a dystopia that makes sense, and not a piece of shit, written by Urobutcher. This is more than enough to keep it in my favorite anime list, and if you disagree with that, it’s because you grew up at a time when technology is all about fun and games.
Tetsuo the Iron Man
Choujin Densetsu Urotsukidouji
Saw this in the theater when it came out in America. Kind of disappointing. The whole film feels like it is on the edge of something happening, but the something never happens. Even the score is like that, with a few pounding notes here and there, always feeling like some powerful, energetic theme is about to start, but never does. When it arrived, this was touted as the film that would make the world see anime as a great art form, but I think that oversold what this product is. If you liked "Ghost in the Shell," you'll probably like this, but "Ghost" was better.