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Akira (1988) Review

Updated on April 18, 2017


Akira Screenprint
Akira Screenprint

Akira (1988) is a cyberpunk, science fiction animated film directed and created by Katsuhiro Otomo. The film is based on the manga of the same name. The movie's takes place in a society where technology and lawlessness coexist. It's a dystopian future where motorcycle gangs rule separate territories of Tokyo and espers (psychic individuals) cause citywide fear. In 2019, teenager and motorcycle gang leader Shotaro Kaneda (Cam Clarke) is caught in a battle between his best friend Tetsuo Shima (Jan Rabson) and a powerful psychic Akira.


Kaneda and his red motorcycle
Kaneda and his red motorcycle

Akira takes place after a psychic singularity (caused by the powerful esper Akira) destroys Tokyo in 1988; 31 years later in 2019 Neo-Tokyo the threat of Akira has risen once again. 2019 Tokyo is a lawless, futuristic society. The small city now resembles a megalopolis. Bosozuku (Japanese motorcycle) gangs rule the streets and fight for territory. Technology has advanced to the point where holo-projection and orbital weaponry. Other areas of science have benefitted as well with the creation of drugs that can prolong the lifespan of an individual. However, the vacuum created by the incident has allowed the city to overrun with crime and mischief.

Another threat in the movie are the government scientists and their imprisonment of espers. During a brawl between Kaneda's gang (the Capsules) and another Bosozuku gang, Tetsuo crashes his bike in an attempt to avoid hitting an esper. Tetsuo is extremely hurt and eventually hospitalized. Soon after, it is discovered that he is developing psychic powers on a massive scale. Colonel Shikishima (Japan Self-Defense Forces) and Kei (revolutionary member) along with the Capsules fight to get their friend back and ultimately prevent him from being consumed by Akira.


Kaneda holding orbital weaponry.
Kaneda holding orbital weaponry.

Character Design

The artwork and character design in the film are really unique. The characters faces are noticeably round with huge, slanted foreheads and slanted eyes. Their appearance is very "Asian" in the argument that most anime characters look American. Also, bodies are drawn muscularly with broad shoulders. Not everyone looks this way though, some are subtly drawn differently which allow the character designs to clash in an interesting way.


Akira's trippy nightmare sequence
Akira's trippy nightmare sequence

The cel animation featured in the movie is gritty, life-like and full of character. The colors in the film don't particularly pop out and instead have a washed out tone to them. However, in contrast to the grittiness of the film itself, it works. For the animation itself, the characters' faces when they talk contain little intricate details that make them life like. The cheeks, mouth, and eyes all move independently and even more with subtly. As for other elements, including lights, science fiction elements, and psychic abilities the film is very detailed. In regards to the English dub, it does it wonders since the voice actors performances come to life as a result of such beautiful animation.


Kaneda and Tetsuo riding in Neo-Tokyo during nighttime.
Kaneda and Tetsuo riding in Neo-Tokyo during nighttime.

Sometimes the cinematography allows the viewer to experience some of the film for themselves. The motorcycle scenes mounts the camera in the first-person view where all you see is the winding road in front of you. The nightmare sequence uses the first-person view to show the horror of being plunged through twisted hallways. Also, low camera angles are frequent allowing the film to appear larger than life.

Science Fiction

Tetsuo powers up.
Tetsuo powers up.

The science fiction featured in the film is extensive and sometimes grotesque. What causes this Sci-fi film to be different from the others are the presence of psychics called espers. Espers are psychic individuals who don't (usually) have control of their supernatural powers. However, when they are in control they can make the impossible, possible. Feats such as flying, mass growth, singularity blast, explosions, and more are show in the film. The added element of the supernatural truly makes Akira a memorable Sci-fi watch.


Akira's soundtrack is tribalistic and filled with instrumentals. The music hosts a vast variety of percussive instruments which reverberate to create one single harmony. Added with the harmony are the lively chants which continue to escalate. There's also splashes of classic Japanese music. With everything combined, there's an overarching sense of spiritualness which pleasantly washes over you.


Tetsuo falling
Tetsuo falling

The film can be graphic and requires a mature audience. Akira does not stray away from showing moral corruption or wickedness. In one scene, the girlfriend of one of the members of the Capsules is almost raped in the middle of a territory war. In another, a man is shot dead in front of a crowd by police with blood and flesh spurting everywhere. The film makes it clear that the world depicted is not a pretty or happy place.


So what makes Akira a cult classic? The film is science fiction to a T. There are singularity explosions, psychic entities, espers, technological advanced megalopolis, etc. But, what truly makes it memorable is its mature tone and depiction of a dystopian culture. It doesn't pull any punches in its narrative and adds extra drama with its friend vs. friend storyline. As a result, it is a film brimming with tension, grit and excitement.


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