Akira (1988) from The Akira Committee Company Ltd. (six companies working together)
Who: Written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (who wrote the manga on which the film is based), voiced by three different casts over the years (Original ’88, Streamline English ’88, Pioneer/Animaze English ’01) and meticulously hand-animated by teams of dedicated animators and colorists.
What: Akira focuses on the story of Kaneda and his friend Tetsuo, two teenage biker gang members who roam the streets of Neo-Tokyo after WWIII. One night, as the gang is chasing rival bikers, Tetsuo nearly runs over a strangely wizened child. Moments later, government troops come and take the child and Tetsuo away. It becomes clear that meeting that child awakened Tetsuo’s latent psionic powers. But as his powers grow, he hears the voice of someone named Akira in his head…
Where: Set in Neo-Tokyo, which looks much like modern Tokyo but with taller buildings and many more delinquents, Akira was animated by almost 20 different studios in Japan. They included names like Gainax, Kyoto Animation, Studio Deen, Studio Pierrot, Tezuka Production, and Studio Musashi and meant that the work was taking place all over the country.
When: Akira was released the same year as Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro. While all three films are visually appealing and well-crafted, Akira’s intensity and exquisite detail made it a landmark animated film. The environment had already been lovingly designed by Otomo, but turning all those line drawings into twinkling lights and swirling clouds of smoke was quite the undertaking. Just consider the fact that the year Otomo explored a post-apocalyptic city in fully colored animation, American studios released Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Oliver & Company and The Land Before Time. For American and international audiences, Otomo’s work was a huge reminder that animation was not a genre but a versatile medium. Some say the film was hugely responsible for the wave of Japanese animation that succeeded in the international market in the 1990s.
Why You Should Watch It: Like many Japanese sci-fi stories, Akira deals with the aftermath of a catastrophic event that shakes up and alters traditional society. In this case, it’s World War III. This event was evidently begun or affected by a massive explosion caused by the character Akira. Otomo contrasts elements like the physical impressiveness of Neo-Tokyo with the squabbling of the ruling council and the violence on the streets, doing so to shed light on his own materialistic society of the late 1980s. His story is one of humans who may be evolving new powers and yet have not yet figured out how to rid the world of selfishness, greed, and pride.
The film is also realistic in depicting characters who are both motivated by large intangible dreams (scientific research) or small visceral goals (finding one’s friend). It also spins a tale of terrible destruction that one might find hard to blame on one person alone, a departure from many Western stories with their big baddies or megalomaniacs. Akira’s influence can be felt in the development of big budget animation, the furtherance of 1980s cyberpunk, and even in the way it deals up close and personal with characters whose power can destroy thousands of lives. Even something as contemporary as the indie sci-fi film Chronicle (2012) reflects the struggles of Kaneda and Tetsuo in its characters’ conflict, and in turn reveals how much of an emotional mark Akira left on the sci-fi genre.
Why You Could Maybe Skip It: When Otomo was tasked with turning his quite lengthy manga into a film, he had to cut it almost in half. This means that the ending of the film is quite different from the manga. To some, the film’s denouement may seem slightly deus ex machina, or at least unsatisfying in terms of all that could have been explored. It does almost feel like the film was a set-up for something else that never came along. But considering the themes that Otomo is working with (evolution especially), it’s possible that he told the story he wanted and then let it be. Watching this film, one has to resign oneself to sort of sideswiping really interesting ideas but never getting to see them used to their fullest.
Note on Dubs: When dealing with an international film, there is always the question of whether to watch it in the original language or dubbed. If dealing with subtitles really irks you, you do have options—but both dubs have their flaws. Generally, fans agree that the later dub, Pioneer/Animaze, is a better translation of the Japanese script, but many say that the original, Streamline, actually managed to capture the emotions of the characters better. In what is a rare case, however, there seems to be an actual split (no clear majority leaning one way or the other) in the fan community between those who favor the 1988 dub and the 2001 dub.
Possibly Related Posts:
- Magic: The Gathering Deck Tech: Jengatha 5 Color Lands (Brawl)
- It Came From The Archives! Does Star Wars: The Old Republic Not Suck?
- Friday Fiction: A Drink Before Adventure (Part 1)
- Artemis Fowl: The Absolute Worst Adaption Ever
- Five Thoughts On Magic: The Gathering M21