Akira Review
20 Mar 2010   Anime /Reviews

Akira Review

Akira is the anti-thesis to Disney in any way you can think of.

In other words: you can take almost anything except animation and the negative version is Akira. Where Disney is easy to understand, Akira is hard to understand. Where Disney is fluffy, Akira is hard as a brick. Where Disney animates people as if they are bad over-acting actors, Akira is about realistic animation. Where Disney is “for children”, Akira is for adults etc etc pp ad nauseam, I think you get the picture.

I really can understand that Akira, at the time of its release in 1988, blew the mind of western audiences.

Basically this is also the reason you have to watch Akira, even if you don’t like anime or animation. Even with all its flaws Akira is not called a landmark animation, even a classic, for no reason.

You have to be prepared, though, because Akira really wastes no time to get started. In some ten minutes or so we get introduced to so many plot elements that you get dizzy. Heck, even after a second watching I got confused and had problems understanding all that’s going on.

Moreover, its story is so packed full of characters you get even more dizzy. It’s not only that there enough main characters to fill a whole series (Kaneda, Testuo, Rai, Rei, the Colonel, the shriveling kids, the scientist and so on). No, there are enough to fill a whole stadium since there a tons of minor people in this flick which seem to play a bigger role in the two-thousand page manga but get only some seconds or minutes screentime in the movie. I almost started to play a drinking game.

Here’s my initial rundown: the ex-army kind-of type leader of the Clowns, the strange religious cult leader, the shrimp of a politican (although he played a bigger role here) and the cute little Akira (who casually kills millions of people in some mere minutes – way to go brat!!). I am sure I forgot to mention some other guys here, so be free to add them in the comments.

akira-tetsuo-kaneda

As the story moves on it at least gets a little bit more understandable but at the end the shriveling kids could have used some more time to spoiler us their plan. I have a feeling of what they did, but some confirmation would be so awesome you almost won’t believe it.

Seriously! Where other movies and series go over-the-top, Akira doesn’t even bother us with some more detailed explanations. Well, at least, it’s enough information here to let the people get started with interpretations. And there still is the manga. But I am lazy after all…

On the other hand the overall atmosphere Akira builds up is fantastic and almost unmatched. Sure, we have Blade Runner and its companions but Akira doesn’t go for melancholic or depressing but for eerie, massive, cold and technological. I think it’s mostly the contrast at work here that makes the atmosphere so unnerving.

akira-neo-tokyo

On the hand one we have a super-mega-city with buildings as massive as you can think them. On the other hand you have a sleazy and derelict feeling at every corner. It’s as if the city is on the verge of falling apart and therefore a perfect metaphor for the society. I certainly wouldn’t want to live there. I think I would hang myself after two months max. Or even earlier considering that Neo-Tokyo very often feels like a ghost town since there are no people around. Budget limitations certainly have their advantages.

But that doesn’t mean they had no budget. It’s quite the contrary because…holy shit the animation is fantastically, epically awesome, even decades later and even though you sometimes can see the limits of analogue recording. Akira even gets some bonus points from me for animating technical stuff like weapons, vehicles and so on without.any.hiccup.whatsoever. Not to Disney: watch it, learn from Akira and start the mea culpa route please.

Effects animation? On of the best I have ever seen. Explosions look beautiful as does smoke and even shards of glass! I get the feeling the animator of the glass shards must have committed suicide afterwards because he couldn’t do anything else anymore. In one scene at the beginning you see literally thousands of them moving smoothly. It’s short but utterly amazing. Again, at that time anyone else wouldn’t have animated it and today anyone would use 3D but they wasted even one life to go full force with it.

akira-shards

The same can be said about the background art which you simply can call Background.Art.Porn! Almost every single shot is wallpaper material and I think I could pause any second and ooze at the detail they went for. I even remember the moment when as a kid I reached for the VHS case to confirm I didn’t watch a live-action movie. It is that amazingly detailed. This especially holds true for the city and its enormous buildings. Basically behind every single window you can see something. What do you think? How many people did they waste for that? It had to be hundreds.

akira-kaneda-being-badass

Fuck yeah, Kaneda being badass. By the way: the other guy was in fact driving his bike…

Akira has its flaws as I already stated. But seriously, if you are even slightly interested in animation go watch Akira now! If you are sick of the usual kiddy-shit you get served, go watch Akira now. If you want to start looking beyond Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar: Go. Watch. Akira. Now!

By the way I still stand by my word that the opening shot of Akira is still one of the best ever.

So, I think I have talked enough. Now it’s your turn. Did you already watch Akira? Do you like or hate the movie? Let us know!

Rating
Despite it's flaws a classic and a must see movie.

Comments

  • Personally, I have mixed feelings for the movie; *spoilers to ender’s game and akira* it’s a lot like Ender’s Game series in the sense that it starts off with a rather easy to follow plot that, while mentally stimulating, won’t keep you up at night… but towards the end… *shudder* that’s when it gets REALLY philosophical, really brain-aching, and makes you question human life. Basically, it’s a heavy movie that you really can’t just relax and watch; it also means that it’s a very deep, unique, and involving movie.

    I also like the animation; I don’t generally like anime, just because of how freaking weird the expressions are, and it feels like I have no idea what the hell is going are. However, Akira goes for a realistic look that is neither over-the-top nor unbelievable. The story is also very involving, which makes the movie less accessible but also makes the movie all the better to re-watch. The one thing that bothered the hell out of me, though, is Kaori; I mean, they really sent this character through hell and back… then back to hell again. I mean, crap, man, she is in very few scenes, and every scene is just a gauntlet. Let’s do a list of ll the scenes she’s in: 1) she asks where Tetsuo is, then is left behind. 2) she brings tetsuo some food, then runs away with him (with many a “shut up”s) 3) The clowns attack and… well, you know what happens next. 4) After awakening with a really bad black eye, bloody (and a potentially broken nose), and a crappy trench coat to cover up, she is then neglected, told to shut up and go away, and disappears for half the movie. 5) after heading to wherever she heads to, she meats up with tetsuo, where she is forced to stay by his side. This reminds me of a dog-owner relationship, only the owner is a giant jubba the hut. 6) anyhow, the last scene Kaoli is in where she gets sucked into Tetsuo and dies a very horrific death. Funny enough, nobody seams to mind; Tetsuo freaks out at first, but by the end everyone’s fine. Well, that’s the life of whats-her-face. Just about all the other characters’ deaths matter (the bartender, one of kaneda’s friends who went in the bar, and others), except Kaoli’s, which wouldn’t have bothered me had it not been for the fact that she was tortured throughout the whole movie… and that wouldn’t even had bothered me if it weren’t for the fact that nobody really did anything else, either. Nobody cared about that blow to the face. They don’t care. They’re pigs on the wings, and yes, pink floyd references are fully intended. Well… that was my opinion of the movie… see you in a while, alligator.

    • Gunther Heinrich

      Yep, Akira for sure is a movie you don’t just watch for fun. Not only is it brainy but also dark and depressing on every corner possible.
      Regarding Kaori: Your comment really made me think about the purpose of her role in the movie. Why is she in there? After much thinking I believe I got the answer. I address this in a separate blog post since a comment would’ve been way too long. Click here to read it.

      As for the fact that everyone seems to treat her death with a “So what?” attitude: I believe that there are two reasons for this behavior. For one I get the feeling that Kaori never was a big part of Kaneda’s gang. I noticed that when she was walking with the group after they got their teacher beat up – she simply doesn’t fit in. Besides her symbolic role in the movie (see my blog post) I think that for the other the “So what?” attitude of everyone at the end could also be blamed to the fact that at the end the whole city lies in ruins. Moreover, her death happens in total mayhem and nobody ever saw her body. That’s different for the bartender and the other gang member. On the other hand I never got the impression that they were deeply shocked about the bartender. It’s more the other gang member they were sad about.

    • Crash

      Kaori doesnt die, the shriveled children teleport her out of the blast radius as soon as akira starts self destructing.

  • Thanks for the reply! Frankly, I found your blog post to be very helpful, and MAN I didn’t expect her to be so important, but you probably already know that from my other comment. It’s funny to think of what a jerk Kaneda really is, yet you can’t help to like the guy; I guess I have to get around to reading the graphic novels (the white trash term for manga), which appear to be completely different (tetsuo becomes counselor of Tokyo, Kaori has a totally different role, akira is still alive), but I’m just too cheap, too lazy, and too 13 to go out and buy all 2000 pages of it; I will do it, one day, I swear at -too, I mean- god I will.

    • Gunther Heinrich

      No problem, glad to help out. Regarding Kaneda I guess his jerkish attitude kinda fits his image of a biker gang member if not even leader. Anything else would’ve been kinda weird if not implausible.

      And yes, from the few pages I read years ago the manga is in many ways completely different. At least the ending seems to be quite similar. As far as I know the manga wasn’t even finished when they produced the movie. At least Otomo himself, the author of Akira, wrote the script. So I think he knew what he was doing.

      And yes, 2000 is a heck a lot of pages to read.

  • Oh, what a retarded Jellyfish I was; I put my email address as my website! XD

    Well, hope this comment fixes it… if not then my reputation could be completely ruined, forcing me to destroy the world and hide in the sun, and we wouldn’t want that, now, would we? Mwahahaha…

    • Gunther Heinrich

      Unfortunately, it didn’t update your information on every comment. But that’s no problem anymore as I updated everything manually. Your email-address is safe again :)

  • Kirz

    juste une chose les enfant “vert” ou “ratatiné” ils s’appellent:
    Kiyoko,Masaru et Takashi.
    De plus sa se dit Kaoli mais sa s’écrit Kaori (sans e)

    • Gunther Heinrich

      I hope someone can translate the comment for me because Google translate has its limitations as well as my French. As far as I understand it, yeah, I could call the kids by their names…but that wouldn’t be as much fun :)

      I don’t quite understand your point about Kaori, since I never wrote her name Kaoli or Kaorie (I hope so). Or do you mean that you spell her name Kaoli? That wouldn’t be quite correct because Japanese doesn’t know the “L”. It’s the opposite to Chinese, which doesn’t know the “R”. So you write and spell Kaori the same.

      (I seriously hope I understood the comment. If not, correct me. If I am correct, the next one is on me for my awesomely fantastic understanding of French (thanks to Google)).

  • I just heard about the film and watched it online
    Sorry, but for most of the film I kept thinking the animation was cheap, the dialogue stupid (maybe because it was translated and dubbed in), and the whole story rather pointless and random. I think it was only at the last 20 minutes that I really started to get a feel on the atmosphere and it started to seem to come together a bit, but I wouldn’t recommend it to most people I know. I do, however, agree that if I’d seen this in the 80′s it might have had a completely different effect – I’ve been very spoiled by Ghibli studios.

    • Gunther Heinrich

      If you think that Akira has cheap animation I’d really like to know what you consider good animation. Perhaps you misinterpret the different animation styles? Whereas Disney for example relies on “overacting” with big gestures and moves (see Treasure Planet’s scene where John Silver cooks), Akira for the most part animates its characters realistically. But that doesn’t mean that the framerate of the animation is any lower.

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