Sci-Fi Guide Reviews – Anime Movies – Akira:

Warning! Warning! This following review discusses extensively my thoughts on the movie Akira along with related material and so contains major spoilers for Red Dwarf. Read ahead at your own risk…

First of all, sorry for the lateness of this post, I meant to get this out ages ago but with the Winter holidays and then going back to work, I never got the time to write this review and so I watched the film again and here’s it finally after being promised for a month. So due to me discussing Cyberpunk a few weeks ago on The Galaxy Wide Sci-Fi Guide, one of the things I did to prepare was watching Akira. Whilst I didn’t mention it extensively in the actual discussion, instead, I thought it best to review it here or even recommend it to those of you who haven’t yet seen this film. Thanks for baring with me and I hope that you enjoy today’s post.

Before I get into my thoughts on the movie, first a bit of a synopsis to refresh your memory. Taking place in a future Neo-Tokyo years after a nuclear level event caused the city to be destroyed, we follow a rebuilt cyberpunk world were the public are under repression from a powerful government and is riddled with gangs, this is where the story starts. The main plot follows several teenagers who get mixed up in a phychic program, a secret project kept from the rest of the world used to glimpse into humanity’s untapped potential.

This, however, goes wrong when one of the teenage gang members gets nabbed by the armed forces to conduct several experiment on him which end up giving him phycokenetic abilities. The main problem here is that he (Tetsuo) goes power hungry after being negleted for his life and put down by other members of the gang, leading him to go on a super-powered tamtrum to find the largest source of power in the city, Akira. It’s then up to his friend Keneda along with the army and a bunch of other phychics to stop Tetsuo from taking his rage out on the city. Another problem is that he’s about to die because of this if he doesn’t get proper treatment leading to Akira having to be released to reverse this and save the world giving us one of the most horrifying transformations in animation history.

Now that I’ve recapped the main plot of Akira, now onto my thoughts on the movie. And what a movie it is, Akira creates this big cyberpunk world that feels lived in, that has a lot of history and through the use of animation brings life to it like most cyberpunk movies and even books can not. The world is grim, repressed and shows how a world after a large nuclear level event can lead to a total change in how that part of the world works and how it rebuilds after the fact. But its not just the great world-building that makes Akira great cyberpunk or even a great movie for that fact, it is how it presents its in the story, themes and animation that allows the film to really shine in the field of cyberpunk.

As I described, the government holds a tight grip on society, everyone is held under a tight grasp which isn’t made better by the irresponsible scientists and greedy politicians looking after this corrupted world, 31 years after the bombing of Japan which was then revolutionised into a cyberpunk esc Neo-Tokyo. Whilst the film has great world building that really pops and feels unique in taking a new perspective in the post-nuclear world which is helped by some fantastic animation (which I will discuss in a minute), the main great thing about Akira as a film is how it presents the consequences to unethical experimentation and humanity’s lack of paying careful attention to the results that may occur if an experiment goes wrong. How it can effect our society but usually how most politcains and officials who caused this mess get off nearly scott-free.

It present interesting concepts and brings fantastic animation, atmosphere and direction to the picture making it a unique project that also feels very well produces and realised in presenting this story and concepts. The film is very high concept but what it does with that concept and its basic characters such as Testuo and Keneda are used to present the corruption of power and how the wrong person gaining it within our society can have major consequences to our world such as shown in Tetsuo’s greed for power which is then fed and he takes advantage of it, eventually leading to his grumsome downfall and the death of someone he really cares about.

It’s easy to see why this was such a breakthrough film when it came out in the late 80’s, (1988 to be precise) popularising Japanese animation in the west of the world and proving to be revolutionary in the creation of many other Sci-Fi such as cyberpunk and even animation in general. It has a distinct style that also doesn’t go into a lot of the anime tropes that may usually turn someone away from Japanese animation, which has been a problem for me in the past, which can be seen as inspiration to the fantastic show Cowboy Bebop (as in how distinct it creates its animation style and story), Stranger Things and in the film Chronicle (both telling a similar story with a telekenetic character with limitless power).

It is also fantastic at using imagery to present its story rather then words or dialogue. You get a great sense that this world is dystopian, corrupt after the nuclear event/large scale disaster causing the society to radicalise. It’s a world that doesn’t just battle against Tetsuo but actually makes him into a mad psychopath that wants to use his powers for his own gain, going against his friends and everyone else that goes in his way. The world makes our characters radical, they aren’t just radical just because they choose to, it’s the only way they can survive in this cyberpunk world.

There are still some problems with the film such as the second half has way too many plot threads to introduce in a little time period, the English dub is very dated and has bad lip syncing (although the original Japanese version is really well done). However, these factors don’t devalue how great or impactful this film is. The visuals are mind boggling and used techniques not used before at that time allowing them to present animation in full 24 frames per second.

It presents great sci-fi themes in a great way and creates a fantastic world even with it’s basic but detailed character development. It is also a film with a great soundtrack that helps present these fantastic visuals. It’s a film that revolutionised animation right across the world, allowing for more mature stories and passion to be presented in a medium that would usually be seen as “kid stuff”. It was not just a way to sell children toys but act as a way to present mind-boggling world and story thats only limit is your imagination. The world feels alive, the film feels so distinct, deep in its presentation of themes and acts as an alternative to studios like Disney.

In conclusion, Akira personifies what makes animation and the cyberpunk sub-genre of Sci-Fi great. The imagery and storytelling are fantastic here and we really feel the intimate effect of the disaster on the movie’s characters and the people within that world. It looks at the past and future and looks at the effects of the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima. Many Science Fiction themes are presented and in a great way even though some of it feels very condensed due to the story being adapted from a Manga series (Japanese comicbook).

This is what I love about Akira, it’s just a true testiment to visual storytelling and the creating of a fully developed world with interesting and developed characters that seemingly have basic personalities. It’s a film that feels timeless, feels like something that could easily be made today with a distinct form of visual presentation. If you haven’t checked this film out and read this, please give it a go, even if you aren’t a fan of anime or animation. It’s a great, beautiful experience and if you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

That’s me for this review fellow future thinkers, I hope you enjoyed reading my take of the revolutionary Sci-Fi animated film, Akira. It’s a film I loved watching and enjoy talking about and discussing even though I didn’t get to bring it up in my Cyberpunk post. It’s a film based in creating a fully realised world, characters and themes even with some minor problems in pacing. Anyway, what are your thoughts on Akira, did you like it, were mixed or hated it? Let me know in the comments below…

Michael McGrady, Signing off.

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