Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 15 Jan 2006
Despite carrying with it a reputation much bigger than the movie itself (and perhaps all of anime as well), Akira holds its own as one of the pillars of anime, and perhaps the definitive post-apocalyptic Tokyo film.
The year is 2019, in a post World War III Tokyo. Tetsuo Shima is part of a motorcycle gang which is bitter rivals with another gang called the Clowns. Amidst all the chaos of an already nearly anarchic Tokyo, the two rival gangs carry on their feud on the streets, sometimes with grim results. On one fateful day, Tetsuo’s actions bring him right into the middle of a secret government experiment, when he nearly crashes his bike into a very aged looking child during a chase. Tetsuo is injured, and the government, who has come to fetch the child, takes Tetsuo away to their own medical facility, where latent psycho-kinetic powers are awakened in him. It is now up to Tetsuo’s childhood friend Kaneda to save him.
First things first, I don’t hand out A-pluses free. Akira doesn’t gain this prize simply because it is Akira. This movie, no matter how big its reputation, must earn it. Also, further qualifying this rating is the fact that Akira is, in fact, not my favorite anime movie. So, why does Akira – a movie that many pile on what seems like blind praise to – hold up to even a fan who is not a newbie anymore?
It has aged very well. For a movie that is nearly two decades old, Akira does not feel like a trip down memory lane. The artwork remains fresh, and the non-traditional soundtrack, which draws from traditional Japanese instrumentation rather than synthesizers and pop music, also keeps an era from being easily pinned down to this movie.
Akira also has an engaging story, and doesn’t resort to shock-value to bring in an audience. As far as science-fiction goes, Akira‘s plot holds its own as a solid piece of writing. It’s a story with familiar themes of friendship and self-realization (among others) told in an original way. The ending is also somewhat open-ended, so the casual fan who likes their stories wrapped up with a neat little bow at the end will probably be disappointed. Akira has no shortage of action, but for this movie, you will have to turn on your brain as well.
Overall, Akira is worthy of its status as one of the “The Big Ones” of anime, and remains a good introduction to anime as a whole. It may be on the overrated side, but if it still impresses a more seasoned anime fan, then the praise is indeed justified.