The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
In the wake of World War III in 1988 after a mysterious explosion, the city of Tokyo is leveled into a ruined crater with no buildings left standing. What looks like a bomb decimates the houses, the population, and everything else within the radius of the shockwave. 31 years after the event in 2019 a new city rises from the ashes: Neo-Tokyo. The sprawling metropolis is every bit a dystopia, where many residents live in squalor and poverty whist the dark hand of the military looms overhead. The city is home to two rival gangs: the Clowns and the Capsules. It is in the Capsules that we are introduced to the two main characters in the film; Tetsuo and Kaneda. One day whilst on a journey to attack the Clowns Tetsuo runs into a strange kid with the face of an old man, and is thrown from his bike trying to swerve to avoid him. Unfortunately the military was looking for the very person Tetsuo came close to colliding with and in one fell swoop they capture them both. As he slowly starts making sense of what is happening he realizes a startling fact; the kid is a psychic. And that's not all, as something's awoken his own latent powers aswell, and he now has the ability to unleash havoc and destruction upon the world. From then on the central conflict of the film is unleashed as the taste of power slowly corrupts Tetsuo and comes to a head against Kaneda's unshakeable spirit. And above it all looms the shadow of a mysterious figure that is only discussed in hushed whispers, a shadow known as Akira...
First and foremost, the title suggests a gross misconception. This film is not about the character Akira. He's not even a major player in the storyline. It is very much grounded in the struggle between Tetsuo and Kaneda with little room for anyone else of much importance. As the story progresses the nobodies from a biker gang get embroiled in a power struggle between factions in the military and government of Neo-Tokyo. Generals, politicians, scientists, they all want to get their hands on people who have the untapped potential brought by the skills of the psychics and are willing to go to any lengths to commandeer them for themselves. It doesn't help that there are rebel factions and extremist groups who are dissatisfied with the oppressive regime and will fight to the death to overthrow it. All the factors pull together to threaten to rip Neo-Tokyo apart.
Central to the conflict is the character of Tetsuo. Coming from a rough lifestyle where he's constantly involved in turf wars and other fights he has to learn to be able to defend himself. He has a girl he loves, he lives and develops relationships and does battle in this type of environment. But he wasn't always used to it. When he was new to it all he gets protected and taken under the wing of Kaneda. Immensely grateful to him they develop a friendship, although it could be more accurately described as an older and younger brother. But over time this slowly creeps into feelings of resentment and jealously. He lives in the shadow of the well-liked Kaneda and is unable to dig himself out of that ditch and make an identity for himself. These manifest as Tetsuo finally awakens as an esper and seeks to take his revenge out the world he feels has done him wrong.
Opposing him is the aforementioned Kaneda. The founder of the Capsules and the figurehead around which the gang gathers, he's a well-respected and fair leader. Oh, and he's also got a bitchin' motorcycle. As the movie goes on he has to witness the downwards spiral of his best friend as Tetsuo starts to become unstable and lash out more and more against the ones who were once closest to him. He's very loyal to his group members however and tries his absolute best to resolve problems between them as amicably as possible. But if necessary he won't shirk from his duties and knock some sense into them until they see reason. He also develops a blossoming interest in a girl named Kei who is part of one of the anti-government factions vying to overthrow the corpulent corruption and usher in a more peaceful and honest political climate.
Honestly, I barely remember any of the other characters aside from vague outlines even though I only watched it in January. There were the three psychic children who I wasn't particularly fond of, a general I wasn't particularly fond of, a scientist I wasn't particularly fon... you get the picture. The film very much focuses on the main characters with little attention paid to building up anyone else into something that you'll remember after all is said and done. And at the end of the day all they really serve to do is enhance the world's narrative and not really much else.
The visuals of Akira are its strongest feature. Even for a movie produced in the 1980s the cyberpunk aesthetic is quite striking, most notably in the gorgeous sight of Neo-Tokyo at nighttime. Akira is the film that ushered in an era of higher production values as the animators did such shocking feats as fully animated the faces and mouths. The character animations shown throughout the movie are still fluid and actually hold up pretty well in modern times. However, I have to pick at the designs for the children espers. They are extremely odd-looking. I know that's part of what makes the characters who they are but I disliked their looks so much that I dropped the film the first time I tried to watch it and it took me a year before I actually came back and finished it. The music of the anime is perfectly suited to the atmosphere contained in and only clenches the hold of the aura of cyberpunk that enshrouds the movie. I especially liked the track "Winds Over Neo-Tokyo", which almost reminds me of Vangelis's Blade Runner soundtrack. Last but not least, there are two dubs for this film as well as subs. And honestly out of all three options I recommend you go with Geneon and Pioneer's dub, as it is really enjoyable work that doesn't distract too much from the action on-screen.
Final verdict: 7.25. Akira is a film that is without a doubt a veritable icon amongst the anime industry, a cultural tour-de-force that brought with it the tantalizing possibility to western audiences that anime can be more than merely Japanese cartoons. There's no denying that. But whilst I can appreciate what this brought to the medium that I love so well I feel as if the history of the film precedes it in such a way that it reaches excessively high expectations. Expectations that it could never hope to reach. What you have here is a decent movie that is cerebral and will make you think, with some really good animation and music behind it. It doesn't get particularly great however. The characters are mostly forgettable aside from the two primary focal points. And it feels like the story tries too hard to push in elements that makes it seem as if they're TRYING to make it more allegoric and philosophical than it actually is. I recommend it much like I did Ghost In The Shell; to see something pivotal from the history of the medium. I look at it as a portent that brought us to where we are today, a landmark on the road that brings us everything from Evangelion to Naruto. It's not super entertaining but it is a reminder of how far we've gotten, and that is enough to warrant a viewing to see for yourself.