Weird, wacky and at times downright disturbing, Katshurio Otomo’s anime epic “Akira” remains as cool and vivid as it was ground-breaking during its 1988 worldwide release. Featuring stellar animation and design work from its dedicated crew, Akira has gone on to easily become one of the most iconic as well as legendary staples of its genre, combining unique storytelling with a fresh design and going on to win the admiration and respect of critics and audiences alike for decades. Otomo’s vision of a disjointed, technologically superior but morally vapid future struck a chord with other anime productions, influencing the Neo-Tokyo look to new heights whilst making sure its lasting impact could be felt in works such as the “Ghost in the Shell” series, “Cowboy Bebop” and a plethora of Japanese video games including “Final Fantasy VII“.
Its story follows the adventures of Shotaro Kaneda, leader of the futuristic biker gang The Capsules, and his closest friend Tetsuo Shima a fellow gang member. Both men, who had previously spent their youth gallivanting around the newly constructed Neo-Tokyo, get caught up in a military conspiracy codenamed AKIRA. When Tetsuo is captured by government forces Kaneda has no choice but to try and save his friend whilst journeying throughout the city and encountering politicians, Eco-terrorists, rival gangs and morally questionable scientists to name but a few. If my description of the premise sounds vague believe me when I say that any annoyance is unintended. Akira‘s plot has so many weaves and threads running through it that it’s hard to reveal too much of the story without giving away crucial plot details. What can safely be said however is that once you witness the final climax and coda of the third act, provided you do not have a heart of stone, you will be haunted by some of the imagery contained for years to come.
However imagery and plot are not the only two elements that manage to make Akira as seminal a piece of fiction as its other anime contemporaries. The world of the film is in many ways a character in its own right. The buildings, streets, skyline, the countless masses of human traffic, Otomo’s vision of the disturbing future magnificently plays hand-in-hand with Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi juggernaut “Blade Runner“. The way in which the future is portrayed with giant corporations controlling the many gun-for-hire armies that patrol the streets may seem conventional now but for its time was a relatively new concept. The emotionless way in which protesters are brutally assaulted during some of the more graphic moments in the film can also act as a stark mirror for our society now as it stands today, some twenty six years since the film’s release.
But to call Akira a purely science-fiction escapism would be all too narrow a box for such a film like this to exist in. The writing between Kaneda and Tetsuo is both at times humorous and human, showing the prowess and confidence that writers Otomo and Izo Hashimoto placed in their chosen cast of voice actors. Even the English dub contains some perfectly fitting voices to the host of strange and unusual collection of characters on display. Needless to say Akira is widely considered to be a cornerstone of the abilities Japanese animation would increasingly showcase worldwide throughout the 1990’s. With fellow industry counterparts such as Hayao Miyazaki promoting works across the Pacific to the US and then Europe a constant continuation of interest in Akira is sure to be obtained. Although not the easiest watch, particularly for those who suffer from weak stomachs, Akira is a champion of both writing and style, infusing human-like characters with groundbreaking animation in a relentless synergy of ideas. It certainly could be said that had it never existed a different anime production would have eventually reached the wider world and stolen its title; logic I can’t quite honestly argue with to be completely honest. To be even more honest, I could not think of a better place for such an industry to start becoming so recognized as it is today.