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Anime Reviews: Akira
Its historic legacy matched only by its eye-popping visuals, Akira is, sadly, another victim of a studio attempting to adapt a huge story into a two-hour film.
Production: Tokyo Movie Shinsha / The Akira Committee Company Ltd.
Film Length: 124 minutes
Air Dates: 7/16/1988
Age Rating: 17+ (intense violence, strong language, brief partial nudity, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: On July 16th, 1988, a massive explosion in the city of Tokyo triggered the start of World War III, which brought humanity to its knees. A mere 31 years later, the city of Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of its predecessor, stands as a neon-lit monument to mankind's resilience as well as its corruption: self-interested politicians manipulate the masses for monetary gain, doomsday cults and student protests spring up at every turn, and motorcycle gangs terrorize the streets with their constant skirmishes. Kaneda, the leader of one such biker gang, rallies his friends to take on a rival gang, The Clowns. During the melee, one of Kaneda's gang members and closest friends, Tetsuo, crashes his bike into an unusual, pale, wrinkled-up boy, but a strange barrier prevents the boy from being harmed. Afterwards, the military police swoop in and take Tetsuo away for examination. Who is this pale boy, and what powers does he possess? And moreover, how will the incident affect Tetsuo, and will Kaneda be able to save him?
The Good: Legendary hand-drawn animation; cyberpunky setting; unique soundtrack
The Bad: Cardboard characters; nonsensical, incomprehensible plot; you call that an ending?
The Ugly: Tetsuo's massive, massive forehead
This one's really been a long time coming, hasn't it? To be honest, I have no idea how I've gone on this long without talking about the king of overhyped disappointment, Akira. Geez Louise, this movie is a turd. I mean, it's easily one of the most famous anime ever made, and its influence and legacy are so far-reaching that it's practically impossible to find any animator who's not been inspired by Akira at some point, but I'm gonna be perfectly honest here: I've never, ever liked this film. I get that it's somehow a classic, but I just can't bring myself to enjoy it. Why? Well, we'll get to that, but first we'll talk about the movie's good points, as I've so rigidly bound myself structurally to begin with. Let's get started!
Of course, by now, it's impossible to not know about Akira's legendary high-quality animation, done almost entirely by hand with maddeningly meticulous attention to detail. And if you didn't know about it, well, you do now! Character animation as smooth as a baby's bottom, entire structures drawn and redrawn frame by glorious frame, insane smoke cloud details, eye-popping destruction with thousands upon thousands of tiny pieces of debris flying about--there is not a single frame of this film that doesn't have perfection to the point of insanity etched all over it. Well, okay, maybe Katsuhiro Otomo's character designs might not sit well with some, but that's all a matter of taste, and his distinctive style adds a gritty, more realistic feel to the world of the film.
Speaking of which, one of the most undeniably awesome aspects of this much-lauded film is its dystopian futuristic cyberpunk-y setting. Even if I don't have a lot of patience for the plot, the world-building is phenomenally well done--the garish neon lights and the dingy, broken-down appearance everything has really makes me believe that this is a world where corrupt politicians and delinquent biker gangs would run out of control, and a lot of the cool high-tech stuff (like Kaneda's iconic red motorcycle) is, well, just that. It's cool. If you're into the really hard sci-fi stuff or just cyberpunk, then I can't really tell you to avoid Akira since you guys kinda have to grab whatever you can get, so this is probably a title you can put on your shelves if you wanna turn your brain off and see some cool sci-fi tech (if you haven't already snatched it, of course).
It's a bit unrelated from the setting, but the film's soundtrack is quite unique and gives it a very post-apocalyptic tribal feel, if that makes any sense. Take Kaneda's theme, for example--the primal percussion with the ominous chorus and doomy atmosphere create an almost maddening soundscape, as if the city of Neo-Tokyo were about to explode yet again. And it's friggin' cool. Another famous track from the film is called "Requiem," and its massive timpani, unsettling vocals, and positively eerie synths make the film feel that much more alien and uncomfortable, which was most likely the intent. Very haunting, very ethereal stuff, and it suits the film's unstable self-destructing world like a glove.
And that's where the positivity ends, sadly.
Despite the fact that Akira is a massively popular anime classic that has influenced countless animators and directors, there are many major issues that prevent me from liking this film--one of the chief ones being that the characters are all cardboard cutouts whose only jobs are to drive the film from Point A to Point B. Naturally, because the movie is adapted from a very long manga and stuff goes down, the characters go through radical changes throughout the story and behave differently with each twist and turn. This makes perfect sense, but because of how quickly each event goes by, these people just keep putting on different faces practically on a dime, and we never get a chance to really know who any of them are, what they want, why they are the way they are, or what motivates them. Literally all I know about Kaneda after watching this film several times over many years is that he's a hothead who tries to be a good guy to his friends and likes the ladies (and his motorcycle). And he's probably the most important character in the film, so that should tell you how much insight we get into the others. The end result is that the cast is as hollow and empty as the narrative's promises.
That reminds me, the story is absolute bollocks and madness. Once again, this paragraph can all be blamed on the fact that a 900+ page story has been crammed into a two-hour movie, but not a damn thing that happens makes any sense. For all the world-building the film does for mundane things, they really dropped the ball on filling us in on the plot. Basically Tokyo blows up because...reasons, and then World War III happens, but that's boring so we cut to 31 years later because...reasons, and we follow Kaneda and his gang because...reasons, and then riots and protests and doomsday cults happen because...reasons, and then the film has wrinkly psychic children because, well, reasons. It's not like I'd want to know anything about these things!! Why would I ever want to be invested in what's going on?! THAT'S JUST LUDICROUS!! I DON'T NEED NO STINKING CONTEXT!! HDHJWDHDHQJQHSFJHQSDHBDWJKLQWSK
Ahem. Now, then. The final point I must bring up involves the very trippy and whacked-out ending. Giant seizure-inducing balls of light are involved, along with incoherent visuals and nonsensical dialogue. I guess it's fitting that a clustercluck of a film ends on a clustercluck, but come on, they could've at least done a better job at tying up all the loose ends in a way that makes all the madness make sense, but nope. It's 2001: A Space Odyssey all over again, but this time with less context! Oh, joy! I SURE DO LOVE IT WHEN INCOMPREHENSIBLE FILMS END ON AN UNEXPLAINED KICK TO THE COGNITIVE NUTS!! ASDSDJJHDSJKDS
And so, those are my thoughts on the legendary Akira. To be perfectly honest, this is a film I can't NOT recommend, but don't be fooled into thinking it's good--it really, really isn't. Instead, the only way I can put into words how you should view this film is this: It's homework. If you want to be knowledgeable when it comes to anime or cyberpunk or just sci-fi in general, you have to stop having fun and do your damn homework first. Or you can look at it like taking your medicine: It's a very large, very pretty-looking pill you have to jam up your rectum (because of course it had to be a suppository) and deal with for a few hours. There will be very little fun involved, but if knowing your pop culture is a priority to you, then you chose this path. Prepare your anus--the suppository is coming.
Final Score: 5 out of 10. While the importance and influence of Akira cannot be denied, its nonexistent characters and nonsensical narrative ultimately destroy any enjoyment that could be gained from the film's enthralling cyberpunk setting and awe-inspiring animation.