‘Akira’ is considered by many to be an important film that paved way for future science-fiction classics, such as ‘The Matrix’ by The Wachowskis. It was also the film that was said to have introduced Anime to the Western part of the world. I have been wanting to see this film for a few years now; once I saw it in Target, the “movie critic” in me told me to buy it, considering it to be an important addition to my collection of film. (and what a wide variety I have.) After finally watching the film last night, I admit that it is definitely not the greatest Anime film I’ve seen in my life.
When I was a child, I was introduced to Anime through the form of shows such as ‘DragonBall Z’, the still-thriving ‘Pokemon’, ‘One Piece’ and the Anime’s of Toonami and Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. Being that I was a child, I saw Anime as only kids’ stuff and entertainment. It wasn’t until I subjected myself to Satoshi Kan’s science-fiction thriller ‘Paprika’ when I finally started to appreciate this style of animation as an art form. What Kan did was combine elements of technology, suspense, fantasy, to make a film as weird and as beautiful; The truth is: It worked, and it has become my most beloved Anime film as well as my favorite foreign film of all time.
What I appreciate the most about ‘Akira’ is its artistic style. When it comes to animation, us Americans don’t compare to the detailed style the Japanese use. Every stroke and illustration is more realistic than the cartoons we were subjected to in our youths. (Unless we were the ones that grew up to love Anime.) ‘Akira’ is definitely detailed and the animation still holds up to this day. You could come to the conclusion that it took months, maybe even years to perfect a craft such as this one. I do admit that the details needed improvement, but then again, it was 1988, and the Japanese did all they could to make a film quite like this, especially one that delves into the future, political issues, and Post WWIII chaos.
The year is 2019. Attacks and chaos are on the rise as we see a dark future in Neo-Tokyo. Two biker gangs are at war with each other as they ride bikes you could swear was ripped off from ‘Tron’. One of the gangs led by Kaneda (With a name hilariously close to the name of the country Canada) is on a rampage with his group, until one of the members, Tetsuo crosses paths with a wrinkly faced child, causing him to not only crash his bike, but get taken by the government for further testing. At the facility where Tetsuo is tested, he discovers he has psychic powers and sets out to cause destruction.
What I expected to see from ‘Akira’ was a dark tale containing epic action and thrills to enjoy. What I got was something that stands strong in the animation department, but somehow feels like a cheesy guilty pleasure from the 80’s. The insults from the dialogue feel laughably cliché, as the way Kaneda and his gang come off. While he could make for a likable character, he comes off as a disrespectful cliche “cool guy”, who retorts with an insult if he doesn’t get his way. Also, if you have seen this movie before, you have to admit that the theme for Tetsuo’s rise to destruction is hilariously cheesy as well.
One thing I have to admit is that ‘Akira’ is truly the first of its kind when it comes to Anime, despite its flaws that prevent it from being a classic. It was starting to become clear in the 80’s that animation was no longer kids’ stuff. We Americans were starting to get exposed to more mature content from the illustrations of pencils and paper to make films especially aimed for the adult eyes. I believe ‘Fritz the Cat’ (the first X-rated cartoon) started the trend of adult animation when it hit theaters in the 70’s. But once the 80’s hit, I think that’s when it became serious. The Americans had ‘Heavy Metal’, while the Japanese had ‘Akira’. Maybe without it, many Japanese animators wouldn’t have gotten the courage to be mainstream. For that, we have Katsuhiro Omoto to thank!