The Boys are Back – Akira Review
Special Features: (Please note, this review was done based on the BluRay edition)
Last week, I saw a beautiful thing. Akira. On Bluray.
I praised the circumstances which had lead me to now own a high definition tv, and a PS3 so that I could watch it in its full glory, instead of having to pass it over to my brother to review. It was a joyous occasion.
What is Akira? I know that there is a shamefully large number of people within the anime community who have heard of it, but never actually seen it for themselves. Shame on you. At least once you’ve read this, you can pretend you’ve watched it until you actually get around to it.
Akira is a seminal piece of Anime movie history. It is widely credited with being the film which opened up the Western world to anime. Made in 1988, it takes a lot in style from the Russian classic Solaris (no, not the George Clooney remake, which sort of missed the point a lot), and there are even a few cheeky nods to Tron in the designs of the futuristic motobikes and the patterns of their blazing tail lights. It is on the Empire 500 Greatest Movies of All Time list, one of only 4 anime movies featured. (The other three are Ghibli). It was made on a budget of approximately $10 million, and uses full animation techniques of 12 or 24 frames per second – something which most Ghibli movies don’t do.
The Blu-Ray opens straight onto the film – no fuss with adverts, no fiddling with menus. The first scene is Tokyo, July 16 1988, and we watch as what appears to be an atomic bomb decimates the city, in silence. World War Three is triggered. And then we cut to thirty one years later, and Neo-Tokyo is a run down, post-apocalyptic hell, with corruption and public discontent high. We follow a motorcycle gang, in particular Tetsuo Shima and Shotaro Kaneda, as their paths begin together, and then split and run parallel towards a final ending. Tetsuo is injured in an encounter with the ‘Clown Gang’, as he tries to dodge a strangely aged and mottled little boy. The army appear, and capture both the boy and Tetsuo, leaving Kaneda and the rest of the gang confused and angry, wondering if they’ll ever see Tetsuo again. As we follow Tetsuo, we discover the Army are experimenting with psychics – the young, grey children we have seen are their subjects, and the cause of the explosion we viewed at the start was another – Akira – who has since been destroyed. Upon monitoring Tetsuo, they see that he has psychic abilities, close to the level of Akira’s. The colonel in charge reluctantly allows the scientists to continue to observe him, with the proviso that if it gets out of hand, Tetsuo is to be destroyed.
For the sake of plot, I think you can imagine whether the scientists follow orders or not.
At the same time, Kaneda discovers a purpose and a cause, as he falls in with a group of rebels whilst he looks for Tetsuo and tries to win over the driven and beautiful Kei.
Inspired by the culture of Tokyo in the 1970s, creator and director Katsuhiro Otomo said, “There were so many interesting people… Student demonstrations, bikers, political movements, gangsters, homeless youth… All part of the Tokyo scene that surrounded me. In Akira, I projected these elements into the future, as science-fiction.” His underestanding of this, his fascination with the things he saw and the world that surrounded him, is clear in Akira. The sense of futility and powerlessness is clear, along with the feeling of upcoming revolution. It is delicately plotted, artistically paced and beautifully realised.
The soundtrack is composed of simple beats and vocals, nothing overly melodic – very stark, and almost industrial sounds. Equally, Otomo isn’t afraid to use silence, and he deploys it effectively and deftly. The soundtrack complements, illustrates and enhances the film, rather than overpowering it or distracting.
The visuals have been painstakingly upgraded as well, wonderfully clear on my TV, there is no sign of pixellating around focal points as sometimes occurs when it upscales, and the animation is gloriously smooth and glossy. There is perhaps some trouble in tracking the faster moving shots, but that is a minor grumble. Equally, as it was dubbed about 20 years ago, the time perhaps hasn’t been taken to smooth the lip synching as it has in more recent films. Again, a minor thing and it is easily forgotten in the spectacle that is taking place in front of you.
Akira is clearly influenced by its media contemporaries across the pond. You can see strong hints to films such as Mad Max and Robocop in terms of style and setting, and also the levels of violence shown in it.
Whilst it is a seminal piece of anime history, however, Akira won’t be for everyone. First of all, it is long. Totally aside from a run time of just over 2 hours, it feels long. A lot of the film feels unrelated until it is pulled together deftly at the very end. Perhaps this is because it is an adaptation of a very hefty manga, but it feels like perhaps there could be more to it than there is already, and that sense can make the film seem to stretch in places. Equally, it is filled with grim violence, and some grotesque supernatural horror elements which some people may find offputting. Other people might love it to tiny little bits.
But, whilst it is long, and violent, and dark, and the dubbing doesn’t quite sync to the lips, Akira is a work of art in its own way. You can see where it has influenced the styles of later anime movies, and you get a sense of scope and depth, of a deeper story out there, which you don’t always get from movies. Certainly, if you want a film that challenges you, that will make you feel something – be it bad or good – and that really shows you why this is the film which brought anime to the western world, then really you can’t afford to miss this.
Also, did I mention? The Blu-Ray is pretty.
To buy the Akira manga, vist our online store.
For a more in-depth article on the background of Akira, and an interview with Otomo, read Empire Online’s Background Article.