Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira has stood the test of time, and remains as fresh and exciting today as when it was released 24 years ago in 1988. It’s a sci-fi animation of epic proportions, and you would not be wrong comparing it to the likes of Blade Runner or The Matrix. In fact, many critics have noted that without Akira, there would be no Matrix: there are heavy influences to be noted throughout the latter.
Based on a 2000-odd page graphic novel, Akira follows Kaneda and his biker gang through the streets of a sprawling post-apocalyptic neo Tokyo. One of the members of the gang is a boy named Tetsuo. He is smaller than the others, and is often pushed around – this becomes important later on in the film when deep-seeded resentment destroys his friendship with leader Kaneda. After a night spent chasing rival biker gang the Clowns, Tetsuo crashes into an esper. Government agents appear to take the child esper away, and take Tetsuo with them to a hospital to perform experiments on him. They conclude that he possesses telekinetic powers that could potentially be as powerful as Akira – a malignant psychic force being kept underground by the government – a force they believe was the cause of WWIII 31 years earlier. Tetsuo is subsequently incarcerated, and officials are told to kill him if necessary. After a series of bizarre hallucinations, Tetsuo flees the hospital and grows more and more destructive as his psychic power intensifies and threatens to consume him, Kaneda and neo Tokyo.
The plot of Akira is baffling to say the least. I’ve not read the graphic novel, but i’m told there are many variations between the manga and the anime. The film itself has a rather complex plot, and one that may need multiple viewings to decipher. A confusing plot does not detract away from one’s enjoyment of the film, however – the essence of the movie is too vibrant for that, and the core message – timeless: underneath the violence, explosions and energy is a cautionary tale of measure and control for the sake of the preservation of mankind.
Akira really laid down the foundations and securely placed anime as a respectable art form to be taken seriously. It paved the way for films such as Ghost in the Shell and Paprika in the Western world, and quickly became a cult classic. Watch it, and it’s easy to see why. Akira pushed what was previously considered the boundaries of animation a step forward – each hand-drawn frame is bubbling with energy and style: skyscrapers tower above the streets, motorcycles hurtle into the darkness to a pulsing soundtrack, their headlights leaving neon trails through the dark. Hallucinations, dreams and mutations later on in the film constantly surprise us, whilst slow-motion explosions, crumbling buildings and high-speed chases fill each act with a fervent urgency. If you’re new to anime, or thought it was just cartoon schoolgirls and tentacles, then give this a try, It’ll change your mind.