It’s pretty difficult to call yourself a true anime otaku if you’ve never laid eyes on Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal 1988 movie based on his manga of the same name.
The story is set in Neo-Tokyo in 2019 and revolves around young bike gang leader Shotaro Kaneda and his right-hand man, best friend Tetsuo Shima. During a run-in with another rival gang, Tetsuo is involved in a high speed bike accident while trying to avoid a mysterious figure who appeared in the middle of road. These events begin to link up and Tetsuo awakens some sort of latent psychic abilities, abilities that appear to have come at the cost of his sanity and inexplicably links him to ‘Akira’, the cause of the explosion that started World War III thirty-one years earlier!
From there the story launches into an escalating battle as Tetsuo’s madness continues to increase and control over his abilities continues to diminish, making him the target of both the military who wish to destroy him and Kaneda that wishes to save him…
The movie is a considerable step away from the original 6-volume long tome but still manages to keep the heart of the story going, and despite missing tons of the original material, the movie evolves into a competent, gritty action/adventure film with some decent sci-fi twists and an extremely satisfying ending, even if this is the point at which the movie decides to divert just a little off the path of normality. At the same time it manages to drive a fairly complex cast of characters across the story-scape, despite the fact that for the most part, you really can’t like or empathize with any of the characters because, well, when it all comes down to it – they’re all pretty much lowlifes at heart.
However, while the story and storytelling itself isn’t necessarily a complete stroke of genius, the animation employed (especially for that period in anime’s history), is simply sublime. An extremely high cel count means extremely smooth animation and picture quality, cutting edge (well for back then anyway) and clever visual effects like the bikes’ light trails add an uncanny level of ‘coolness’ to the movie, extreme attention to properly edited lip syncing and Otomo’s distinctive character models combined with his high level of detail makes for an absolutely fantastic visual spectacular, ’nuff said.
Add to this a masterfully composed soundtrack by Shoji Yamashiro and you get one of anime’s most recognised masterpieces, a film that was perhaps foremost at the heart of the 1990s anime popularity revival here in the West.
Again, if you haven’t seen this before, then I certainly recommend that you make the effort because this is undoubtedly one of the greatest ever anime movie releases of all time!
Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akira_(film)