Akira (1988)

31 years after a mysterious explosion decimated Tokyo and thrust the rest of the planet into a Third World War, Shotaro Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata) and his gang of bikers are caught up in a skirmish with the rival Clowns faction in the dystopian streets of Neo-Tokyo. When their youngest member, Tetsuo (Nozomu Sasaki), has a run in with what at first glance appears to be a young, wrinkled boy, a dormant psychic power is unleashed which begins to exasperate existing insecurities. With Tetsuo soon captured by the same government-run organisation holding the boy, Kaneda joins forces to with Kei (Mami Koyama), a young revolutionary, in a bid to save his friend. As Tetsuo grows more powerful, however, and seeks to release the true cause of the war, the God-like Akira, it might just be Kaneda who is in the most danger of all.

Having recently watched Chronicle at the cinema, I, like many others, was immediately struck by the similarities it bore to 1988’s animated cyberpunk extravaganza, Akira. With fond memories of the science fiction classic, and inspired by the quality of its most recent imitator, I ordered the movie online and eagerly awaited the chance to review it anew. Even twenty-four years on from its initial release, however, Akira is still as absolutely astonishing as ever, its stunning visuals and memorable characters an instant reminder of why the film has been met with such resilient acclaim.

In a world so saturated in CG digimation and eye popping 3D, Akira is an enduring reminder of just how impressive and effective more traditional animation techniques can be at telling stories, even on scales even as grandiose as these. A film which heralded the arrival of a new wave of anime in the contemporary west, Akira was also innovative in terms of which technologies and techniques were used in its native Japan, as Japanese animation took hold in the mainstream consciousness as it never had before. More than just gaining popularity, the genre has has eanrt credibility as Akira proved manga – and animation in general – to be more than mere children’s entertainment (or very adult).

After eight years’ spent compiling his 2000-page opus, the manga’s creator Katsuhiro Otomo set about adapting Akira for the big screen. Condensed and heavily amended, this new Akira – and anime – was a very different beast, with a number of the characters and subplots sidelined or retired, the most notable casualty in fact proving to be the film’s namesake, Akira. The result is taut and streamlined, the action paced beautifully as the set pieces increase sequentially in size and scope. From inter-gang skirmishes to the climactic apocalyptic struggle between warring superpowers, Akira is as impressing in its scale as it is in its attention to even the minutest of detail, with the central relationships proving every bit as engaging as the gorgeous designs and peerless animation.

This is all the more surprising when you consider just how painstaking the animation process must have been. Without advanced computer systems to assist them, the images had to be hand-drawn, painted and arranged largely out of order and in different shifts. With Otomo deciding to follow the American tradition of recording the voices before animating the lip movements, and the animators wishing to push the boundaries regarding both character design and the film’s use of colour, there was really no way of predicting the quality of the finished product. Needless to say, the hard work has more than paid off.

Boasting mature themes, complex characters and visuals that range from the sublime to the downright deranged – Tetsuo’s transformation out-Things The ThingAkira was and remains a staggering achievement in animation. Influencing everything from Studio Ghibli to The Matrix (and perhaps more obviously The Animatrix), Otomo’s film is as iconic as it is hugely important in the history of cinema.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Akira (1988)

  1. Pingback: Chronicle (2012) « popcornaddict

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