Even if you’ve not really heard of many anime titles the chances are that you know about Akira. An amalgamation of cool sci-fi and impressive fantasy, this famous animated movie was/is very influential (as much as it is also very heavily influenced by genre predecessors) and holds up to this day as a classic of the form.
The story goes like this: After WWIII there is unrest and unhappiness breeding within the crowds of Neo-Tokyo. Terrorist acts are commited while many youths end up banding together in bike gangs and engaging in high speed chases that cause plenty of destruction along the way. On one such chase young Tetsuo is badly wounded and taken away by some government people. While his friends wonder just what the hell is going on, Tetsuo begins to recover and finds that he has been imbued with some very impressive new powers. But is he ready to handle them? There are rumours that Akira had the same powers and went so out of control that he was the cause of WWIII. Kaneda is a friend of Tetsuo and wants to help. Kei, a young girl involved with a terrorist organisation, also finds herself drawn in to the strange situation, along with some other kids who have also been given some impressive powers. Can they stop Tetsuo from making a big mistake or will Akira get back on the scene to cast his deadly shadow over everything?
While the animation has been overtaken by numerous movies that have come along since the debut of Akira, this film remains the grandfather of them all. It certainly wasn’t the first anime movie but it was the first to really seep into the pop culture consciousness years before audiences were familiar with the delights of the subgenre (1988 was a good year for animation lovers, being the same year that My Neighbour Totoro was also released). Akira blasted onto cinema screens and the home entertainment market and, for a while at least, was the epitome of cool. It had great action, some wild violence and a teen-pleasing view of the young managing to try and succeed where elders had so far failed.
Standard manga rules apply, so you’ll find many of the characters SHOUTING UNNECESSARILY AND BEING OVERLY DRAMATIC even during the calmer moments, but that’s all part of the fun. The potential hero and heroine (Kaneda and Kei) are appealing enough and the obstacles they face on their journey throughout the film are well developed. The big ongoing problem that Kaneda has is the fact that his friend, Tetsuo, has become so dangerous and doesn’t seem to want any help.
Katsuhiro Ohtomo wrote the original material and does a great job of paring things down, with the help of Izo Hashimoto, and making a cinematic spectacle. He also does equally well in the role of director, treating the material with care and managing to appeal to both fans and newcomers, many of whom would become huge lovers of anime thanks to their initial exposure to this film.
A decent vocal cast, superb design work and animation and a scale that really couldn’t be matched by anything live-action at that time, Akira remains an entertaining and important piece of anime.
DIRECTOR: KATSUHIRO OHTOMO
WRITER: IZO HASHIMOTO, KATSUHIRO OHTOMO
STARS: MITSUO IWATA, NOZOMU SASAKI, MAMI KOYAMA
RUNTIME: 124 MINS APPROX