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Akira Review

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Genre: Sci-fi Dystopia Disaster
Director: Katushiro Otomo
Distributor: Manga Entertainment UK
Duration: One movie – 124 minutes approx.
Production Creation: 1987

Plot Synopsis

Tokyo 1988. A massive black globe of terrible power destroys the city, killing everything and leaving nothing standing. This mysterious black globe brought with it the start of World War III and the subsequent destruction that would prevent any immediate reconstruction. Fast forward to 2019, the new Tokyo, known as Neo-Tokyo, is now a bustling metropolis built from the ashes of the old city.

People’s thoughts are no longer on what caused the original blast, but instead are focused on their everyday lives. Kaneda and his friend Tetsuo are out riding with their motorcycle gang and find themselves involved in a violent confrontation with a rival gang. After the battle, Tetsuo, sees a young child standing in the road, but is unable to stop his bike quick enough and crashes into the child. To everybody’s amazement, the kid remains unharmed yet Tetsuo lies on the ground, crumpled up and sporting serious injuries.

The child looks on with fear as military personnel separate the wounded biker from his friends and take him with them to an undisclosed location. Whispers of a new psychic power echo throughout Tokyo. What is Akira? What kind of power does Akira wield? What happened to Akira? And more importantly, will Akira be reborn into the world and see Tokyo destroyed once more?

The Review

The movie that single handedly made the west aware as to the quality and emotional power of Japanese animation, Akira is one of the most critically acclaimed and known anime throughout the world today. Enough with the superlatives and hyperbole, Akira is a production able to stand on it’s own merits.

First, let’s start with the production values. They are sky high. For a feature animated in 1987, it has few equals, even today. At its time, there was simply not an anime around that could compete with the technical quality of the show. Everything from lush, detailed cityscapes through to realistic, fluid character movement and hyper-detailed backgrounds of practically every kind, add up to a production that is as technically solid now, as it was all those years ago.

Everything about it just exudes a real sense of meticulous detail that you just don’t see in a lot of the anime today. Rarely is there a static scene in this anime. There’s always something going on in the background or foreground, each carrying a superb level detail, almost as if it was taken out of context and worked on individually and then ‘dropped’ back into the frame.

The soundtrack is also representative of this level of effort. Through a combination of older instruments and drums and newer, heavier guitar music, Akira’s soundtrack remains always mesmerising and unique. One of the most memorable aspects of the movie.

Heck, even the new dub that was recorded for the movie is pretty good. Whilst not the best dub i’ve heard (Kaneda still sounds a bit wussy in my opinion), it’s streets ahead of the ancient and totally incompetent Streamline dub that preceded it and made Akira a joke among some anime fans. Technically then, Akira is a masterpiece.

What about the plot and characters though? Okay, well it gets a bit kinda grey here i’m afraid. As technically masterful as the movie is, it was based on a manga of substantial size. Unfortunately, because of budget and time restraints, the committee that got the whole Akira project going in the first place must have vetoed the idea of making the series into an OAV, and instead made the decision to animate it into a single movie.

Whilst it’s a lot easier to allocate a larger budget to a single movie which is shorter than a multi-part OAV, the content invariably suffers due to compression of the original source material. As a result, Akira takes place literally slap bang halfway through the manga m that’s it based on, but finishes before the conclusion of the manga. This isn’t good, because it means the viewer is thrown literally in the deep end with no real idea of characters, secondary characters, their motives or other such important things that help us clarify the show that we are trying to watch.

During the running time of the movie, some light is shed on the characters and their personalities, such as Tetsuo’s inferiority complex in regard to his friend Kaneda, and how these feelings are magnified later on in the film when he does gain some measure of power. Some light too is also shed on the relationship between Kaneda and the resistance fighter Kei later on in the movie. That’s pretty much it though, as the rest of the biker gang that Tetsuo belongs too, and even Kaneda himself to a certain extent, aren’t really well detailed as characters and miss the kind of depth that they had to them in the manga.

The story too cries out for more running time and a tighter focus on how it develops, since it takes the average viewer at least three to four viewings of the anime, to gain some idea of just what the heck is going on. With the short running time that’s on offer (even though 124 minutes is long for a movie), there is simply not enough time to develop the story or the characters to any substantial degree. Sure we get some idea that Akira is some powerful psychic being and that he is tied up with the fate of Tokyo, but what do we *really* know about the story, assuming that we haven’t read the manga.

If it was the director’s intention that we do indeed have to read the manga before we watch the film, that comes across to me as some real lazy, arrogant and complacent directing. However, if he thought people should just be able to watch the movie without prior knowledge and understand what’s going on with the characters and the plot, not to mention the more subtle machinations of the plot, I feel as though too much is expected from us as an audience, since this essentially an incomplete adaptation of a superb manga.

Even with that said, this is a movie that deserves repeat viewings because there are so many layers and themes in the story, such as political and social corruption, dystopian ideals, insecurity etc…. but at the same time, because these themes haven’t been properly explored, it seems Akira would have been better served being produced as a multi-part OVA.

Hypothetically speaking, if Akira was produced in that format, I feel that where you might suffer with the technical quality of the production, the increased amount of depth that you could afford to the storyline and the characters would more than make up for it. If it was produced as an OVA, would it be as popular as it would be today? The answer would sadly be no. Akira as it stands now, introduced many more people to the anime medium as a one shot movie, since the movie format itself is relatively easier to digest than a multi-part production.

The short running time that Akira has, as cross-section of something that is much larger, meant that it was much more accessible to Joe Average who had never seen an anime before. Even though this person might not have completely understood what happened during the course of the anime, at least he would walk away with the impression that Akira and anime in general, is a refreshing world apart from traditional western conventions and animation. If produced in OAV format, I feel it would have been simply be too much to stomach. Sure, otakus all around the world would clamour for it, and it would sure be nice to see an OVA rendition now, but back then, when anime desperately needed to penetrate the west to expand, the movie format was the best way to go in my opinion.

Akira therefore, is not for the young or those with a short-attention span. Due to the massive compression that it has undergone from the source material, concentration is an absolute must if you want to get the most out of it. Sure, the technical aspects of this title are undeniably accomplished, but to get the most of it, you have to pay attention and be ready for a few repeat viewings. If you’ve got the time it might also pay to pick up the manga too.

It does come recommended and it is certainly required viewing simply because of what it is, but be prepared for a lot of hard work if you want to get the most from it.

Ratings Summary

Animation: A+
Art: A+
Music: A-
Content: C+

Overall: B-

Review by: JP Jones

Suitability for children

Akira is not one for the kids. There’s lots of violence, mild profanity, some nudity, an attempted rape and lots of grotesqueries at the end. The confusing plot also wouldn’t exactly win the kids over either. For those aged 15+ only.

If you liked this why not try…

Metropolis – Columbia Tri-Star Entertainment

Written by bitsnark

October 18, 2005 at 7:07 pm

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