Anime Film Review: Akira

Akira is a futuristic cyberpunk anime film based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1982 manga of the same name; not only did Otomo create the manga, he also directed the film. The film was released to Japanese theaters on July 16, 1988; at the time of its release in Japan, Akira was considered to be a domestic failure because the film couldn’t make back the high budget that it took to produce it.

Akira
Directed by: Katsuhiro Otomo
Written by: Katsuhiro Otomo and Izo Hashimoto
Starring: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Taro Ishida, Mizuho Suzuki, and Tetsusho Genda
Run Time: 124 minutes
Rated: R

Akira received a limited released in North America from late 1988 through 1989, and film critic Robert Ebert selected Akira as his “Video Pick of the Week” in 1989. While Akira wasn’t a domestic success in Japan, the film gained a following outside of Japan; it’s now considered a forerunner of the anime fandom that began in the Western world in the early 1990s.

The story of Akira begins in Tokyo in 1988, when a mysterious explosion destroys the city. The explosion is blamed on a nuclear bomb, and this leads to the outbreak of World War III. However, the explosion was actually caused by a boy named Akira who possesses tremendous powers.

The film then moves ahead in time to 2019, and Tokyo has been rebuilt as Neo-Tokyo on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay. Neo-Tokyo is led by a corrupt government, and terrorist insurgents are trying to destabilize the government. Early on, teenage bikers Kaneda and Tetsuo, along with their gang, have a run-in with a rival bike gang called The Clowns. As Tetsuo chases one of the Clowns into old Tokyo, he nearly crashes into a child; but before Tetsuo’s bike can hit the child, the bike suddenly explodes. The boy is an Esper, and Tetsuo finds himself entangled with this boy and other Espers. Meanwhile, Kaneda manages to end up in one of the terrorist insurgent groups, and the two storylines come together near the end for the film’s conclusion.

The film’s animation is phenomenal. Instead of cutting corners, as is the case with anime, the film has detailed scenes, lip-synched dialogue, and very fluid motion. The lip-synched dialogue is a major deal in Akira, since this is very rarely done in anime. Usually, an anime will be animated first before the voices are recorded.

From what I’ve read, more than 160,000 animation cels were used during the production of Akira. As I watched the film, I found myself marveling at the quality of the animation. I can also see how Akira’s art style ended up influencing some later anime productions.

The storyline presented in Akira is interesting, yet confusing at the same time. Personally, my biggest issue with the storytelling had to do with the end; I found it to be rather vague, and I was wondering what exactly it meant. From what I understand, the film was produced before the manga was completed, so this could account for the strange ending.

Even with the somewhat confusing storytelling in Akira, I can still understand why the film has becomes such an anime classic. If it wasn’t for Akira, then the Western world’s anime boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s might not have been what it was. Akira is a film that should really be in the home video collection of anyone who considers themselves to be a hardcore anime fan.

I wrote this review after watching Akira on a DVD that I checked out through the King County Library System.

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