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Akira (1988)

September 3, 2009

9/10 Splitting Headaches

Probably not the best movie to start out with for anime newcomers, but it’s arguably the best of its kind.

Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo in the year 2019, 13 years after the Tokyo as we know it was wiped out by an atom bomb during WWIII. The story follows two best friends in a motorcycle gang that become quick rivals after one is granted outrageously powerful psychic powers by the Japanese government and the other takes it upon himself to kill him before he destroys Neo-Tokyo.

So yeah, the future kinda sucks. The future always sucks in Japan. I think someone needs a hug.

Akira is based off a six-part manga series of the same name that spans over 1000 pages. As you might imagine from reading that last sentence, a crap load of the story, characters, and plot from the source material was cut out in order to make a 100+ page movie script, like turning all the Lord of the Rings novels into one two-hour head trip. In some ways it works, it some ways it doesn’t, but it’s still pretty kickass.

After all is said and done, you still have the main story of Akira, and it’s a pretty impressive, original story about corrupt military governments and why shouldn’t fuck with kids. The characters are also cool, there’s some character development here and there, but there’s really not enough room to flesh them out sufficiently. Like I said, 1000 pages brought down to 100.

But the main problem with the movie, which is probably pretty self-explanatory by now, is that it’s just too damn confusing to take in all at once. Luckily, this is one of those movies I could watch over and over, but it suffers from the same issue that crippled the storyline of No Country For Old Men: the action scenes are so good that you forget to listen to the story. Nor does it help that the story is heady as all hell in this case, but if you see it enough, you can probably wrap your head around what’s going on just enough to pat yourself on the back and say, “I think I get it…but I probably don’t.” All the more reason to give it that extra shot.

The animation is also absolutely gorgeous and nothing short of epic. The Japanese are all about dystopian societies and making them grim beyond belief, and the great thing about making an animated dystopian society that’s grim beyond belief is that the director, Katsuhiro Otomo, has a completely blank canvas to work off of without any limitations that real life might pose. A live-action remake of Akira was actually in the works to come out in a few years, and even though that plan recently fell through, it’s hard to imagine a lot of this shit being done credibly with real actors. It’d be one hell of a feat to do it, but still, the pro of having this story animated is that, from an onlookers perspective, you can take it with a grain of salt and just let your imagination go.

And even though it is animated, this is also a very adult movie; a hard “R”. It’s pretty much guaranteed that your mouth will be gaping wide in shock at the sight of the multitude of brutally bizarre things this movie has to offer, but that’s also kind of the draw to it. Akira is just one of the all-time great cyberpunk classics, it’s a no-hold-barred experience, and you really won’t ever see anything else like it. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re into anime and have never seen this, I suggest you get your shit in gear and Netflix this bad boy a.s.a.p. Just don’t sit your kid down in front of this because there weren’t any copies of Kung-Fu Panda left at Blockbuster. Be a smart parent.

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