Readers Recommendations: “Akira”

akiraHey everyone, we’re back with another entry in the Reader Recommendations series!

The Reader Recommendation series is intended to help me formally pursue all the great films that commenters bring up each week in discussion which I’ve never seen. If there’s a movie that comes up that I haven’t seen, but you think I should, email me @ fogsmoviereviews@gmail.com or let me know in the comments that you’d like to participate.
 

BigBrikThis time up, our recommendation comes from our buddy BrikHaus over at AwesomelyShitty. He’s recommended the Anime Classic “Akira”. In the ongoing attempt to strengthen my basic anime knowledge, I’m more than happy to check it out.

Click through to read a little more about why he felt it was worthy of recommending, followed by my thoughts on the film!

My questions in bold. Brik′s answers below. 

 
1) Do you remember when you first saw the movie?
 
The first time I was exposed to Akira was on the Sci-Fi channel when I was young and impressionable. It must have been heavily edited, I didn’t understand what was going on, and I didn’t even watch the whole thing. Nevertheless, I was mesmerized. I couldn’t believe I was watching a cartoon that looked like a movie made for adults. I watched the movie properly when I was first getting interested in anime in college. My friends and I rented the old dubbed VHS and devoured it. We were all blown away by the film.
 
 
2) Why do you think that it’s recommendable? What do you like about it?
 
Akira is definitely recommendable. There is so much to like, it’s hard to be succinct. First and foremost, the animation quality is outstanding. Everything is hand drawn, yet it is incredibly detailed. All of the grime, crushed cigarettes, and peeling paint of the world is shown. The attention to detail is amazing. Not to mention the fact that the motion of the animation is very fluid. A lot of anime cuts corners by being very sparse with actual moving animation, but Akira goes all out. Second, the story is cool. It’s entertaining with action, interesting characters, and some philosophical overtones. It has much more depth than most Hollywood fare. Third, the music is very distinct. Everything from the drums to the chimes to the chanting creates a chaotic, dark, and unique flavor. It is by far the most original movie soundtrack I have ever heard.
 
 
3) Is the movie underappreciated, do you think? Or does pop culture have it fairly rated?
 
Among anime enthusiasts it is not underappreciated. It’s probably the Holy Grail of anime. It introduced the rest of the world to Japanese animation, and is considered a classic. The general public is likely not aware of it, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. Usually, if anyone is interested in anime, I always tell them to check out Akira. It’s a high water mark for the entire animation genre, and everyone who considers themselves a fan of film should watch it.
 
 
4) Is there any particular reason you thought I should watch it, or were you just surprised I hadn’t seen it?
 
Akira is awe-inspiring. Forget the fact that it has nudity and ultra-violence (although that adds to its charms). It is also a very nuanced movie; every time I watch it I pick up something new. The ambiguous ending leaves things open to interpretation, and I usually have different thoughts each time I finish the film. It is incredibly unique. No other movie, including other anime, is anything like it. That alone should be worth the price of admission.
 
 
5) Have you written about the movie yourself? (Insert plug here! LOL )
 
I haven’t, but I did proclaim it the greatest movie of 1988!
 
 

Thanks, Brik! My review is below!

.

When Tetsuo, a member of a biker gang in post WWIII Neo-Tokyo, encounters a strange, psychically powered child, he finds himself endowed with psionic powers as well. He’s quickly captured by the government and held for observation, however. Kaneda, his best friend, is left to try to free him.

Kaneda joins forces with a group of rebels to attempt to break Tetsuo out of his imprisonment, but it’s too late. Tetsuo’s powers have begun to rapidly manifest themselves, and he’s broken himself out. Government troops pursue him into the heart of the city, as Tetsuo leaves a trail of carnage in his wake. Troops and tanks are no match for his telekinetic prowess, and Tetsuo marches through the city undeterred. He’s after the mysterious Akira, an individual who’s rumored to hold the key to all human power. The only thing standing in his way is his friend Kaneda, and the three espers… the child-like mutants empowered with the same sort of abilities that Tetsuo has.

Right up front, I’ll lead with the fact that Akira is the type of movie that kept me away from Anime for so many years. It’s a fantastical story of a military state, a scientific conspiracy, and a mutating psychic superpowered monster, all rolled into one. It’s set in a “near future” that isn’t too far from our own, with motorcycles, cityscapes, tanks and stadiums, but from there all bets are off. Biker gangs race through the streets beating on people, toxic sludge runs through the sewers, and Tetsuo has hallucinations of giant stuffed animals while under examination by the government’s science team. It’s all very strange and foreign feeling in its sensibilities.  

The art is substantially different in its style from what we’re accustomed to in the west. Scenes race by, and everything is very kinetic, but there are times when I felt more attention was paid to the hyper detailed backgrounds than to the characters. Kaneda and his girlfriend look exactly alike. It certainly all is set to a very distinctive, cool soundtrack, though.

“Akira” is very much an adult oriented animated film. It’s hyper violent, and occasionally gory. The themes within are certainly adult as well, with the selfish seeking of power leading to mass destruction serving as a parable for nuclear confrontation. It’s very much an animated action movie, with one battle leading to the next, interspersed with pieces of sci-fi strangeness. It all culminates in one of the most bizarre finales you could wish for, complete with a sprawling, all-engulfing monster, flying psychic children, phantom apparitions, orbital lasers and some cosmic scale events that only add to the confusion.

While I didn’t connect with it entirely, I can see how this movie influenced an entire genre. It is bold and imaginative and violent and strange. I can see how so many people latched on to it. It might not be for everybody, but certainly fans of anime will cherish it.

A-

Daniel Fogarty

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65 thoughts on “Readers Recommendations: “Akira”

    • Yeah, it isnt actually my cup of tea either, but* *I couldnt deny the originality and hardcore nature of it. Had to show it some respect, you know? :D

      If you come across a movie you want to recommend, let me hear it! :D

      • Absolutely. As a matter of fact I have one in mind. I’ll send it and it’s information to you. I try to champion the movie any chance I get.

  1. It’s not your typical Miyazaki film! Glad you gave the movie a high ranking, Fogs. Thanks for finally checking this one out (after all my pestering).

    • No, no man. Pleasures all mine. Definitely definitely different than the Miyazaki stuff. I didnt want to turn the brief review into a comparison post, but with Miyazaki, the tone is so different. Plus this one is obviously fantastical, but its set in the real world pretty much. The Miyazaki ones that Ive seen so far are totally otherworldly.

      Meanwhile, I liked it well enough, but Im not going to rush out to buy it on blu. Thanks for sticking with me though and helping me further my education.

      Now if I can only stomach the fact that you gave Serpico the Classically Shitty treatment. :(

    • English. I always use a dub if I can. Whatever sacrifices I give up in acting, I pick up by being able to watch the film without reading…. not that I mind subs, but id rather keep my eyes on the visuals.

    • Yeah, PG, I didnt totally get into it. I spent most of my time going “Wow, that’s really messed up”. LOL. But I can see the appeal, and it definitely has a legendary status.

      I think its the movie that opened a LOT of people’s eyes to Japanese animation…

  2. Haven’t seen it in a few years, but I loved it and it had many repeat viewings over the years.

    Akira ties nicely to the whole Cyberpunk feel of the 90s scifi scene, and has many thematic connections to Gibson’s Neuromancer novel and added to the Cyberpunk mythos in many ways. Analyzing Akira without acknowledging the culture surrounding it is missing half the picture (although I know that you prefer to examine the film as a stand alone entity for the most part). Cyberpunk anime is a whole subgenre in and of itself, mostly thanks to the impact of Akira. Without Akira there probably is no Ghost in the Shell, Bubblegum Crisis, etc. Many of the visual language gags, the stylized explosions, the vein popping TK, the light streak motorcycles, etc went on to form the backbone for a much higher end of Anime and eventually American animation.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a full on MTESS, but it certainly is a must see for anyone with even an average interest in animated movies, and for the fan of the literary genre of Cyberpunk.

    • Well, I guess the best argument for it as an MTESS is that I always felt as though I was missing out by NOT having seen it. It gets brought up often enough that I felt I was missing out on not being part of the conversation more than once.

      That said, I dont know from cyperpunk. Punk rock, I have a passing familiarity with, but I honeslty dont even know what cyberpunk is supposed to mean. LOL

  3. Original, certainly. Worthy of an A… not in my opinion. Its style is unique, but also rather hard to look at, in my opinion. And the story, frankly, is more than a little incoherent.

    Brik’s right about it being “the holy grail of anime”, though. But I’ve always felt that was more due to it being the first to really make it (sort of) big over here, and wasn’t due to its intrinsic quality so much. For me… it’s a 3 out of 5, no question.

    • In fairness, there are people on the other side of the fence bemoaning it only got an A-. I was vacilating between a B+ and an A- and the cultural status of it pushed me to the higher grade.

      The story definitely is whacked out, isnt it? I was like, wait, what? Several times. LOL :D

  4. This is a film I’ve been meaning to check out for a while. It sounds a little (a lot) crazy at times but some people are absolutely obsessed with it so I feel I should probably check it out. Nice article Fogs.

  5. This is one of those influential films you need to recognize, but really isn’t that entertaining. After watching it the first time, I acknowledged the achievements, but really didn’t think it was enjoyable to watch. Later, I’d enjoy it in University, watching it with a group of people, drunk off our asses making fun of it.

    This is one where I’d have a hard time rating it, because I usually end up rating the experience I had watching it, rather than the movie as “a film”. I’ve had moderate, great and fantastic times watching it. I think it’s highly overrated by the Japanimation community, but I definitely understand its importance, and you can’t argue against the quality of the animation itself.

    • I gave it some credit for that influence you mention. For me, as you said, I had some issues along the way with the story running away from me, and some of the whacked out shennanigans that were going on. LOL

      I was pretty lucky that my college crew wanted to watch classic movies, but we never did the whole anime thing. :(

      • Honestly, Akira is pretty hard to grasp the first time through. It will take several rewatches to understand everything that happened. Trust me, there is an explanation for it all, but you have to concentrate and watch multiple times. The first time through, you are mostly in awe, shock, and disbelief at the entire production.

  6. never been a huge anime fan myself, but Akira did pop my cherry. I still love the film to this day even if I never quite understand what’s going on. It’s nice to be able to watch it these days with its proper language track. The original english dub is truly awful.

    • I dont know what dub I had. It was English… I know that. LOL. It wasn’t that bad. I had a much harder time with what was happening than any of the voices or anything. LOL

      Not sure how big a fan I’m going to wind up, though now I know what its all about, I may enjoy it more next time.

  7. Unless you were watching a pre-2000 VHS copy, chance are you heard the newer dub. The older dub is good for nostalgia/comedy and was produced by Streamline. The newer dub has better acting and was produced by Pioneer. Yes, that Pioneer. Back in the day they were a huge force in the American anime licensing/translating market.

  8. Great post! I love this movie. It set the bar high for Anime epics to come and I still have my old VHS and Laserdisc of this amazing movie. Brik was spot on in recommending this one. I like the way you layered this post up, too. Great job and pretty original. Keep ‘em coming!

      • I do go way back. :) I remember seeing an article or review for it in an old Starlog issue and the Manga was so popular that I felt I knew everything about Akira even before I watched it. I came across a VHS copy at Tower Records in The Village a ways back and my perception of Anime and Japanese Sci Fi was changed forever after that. I may do a vid soon showcasing my Laserdiscs and Akira is one that I cherish.

  9. It’s too bad you didn’t like it that much, but it’s definitely a “not for everybody” movie. It’s extremely bizarre, but it’s also very iconic. I mean, it did get referenced in South Park.

  10. Hi, Fogs:

    Excellent choice, dissertation and questions!

    I special ordered my subtitled copy on VHS ages ago. Still some of the most minutely detailed, close to live animation on any medium.

    About 7/10 of a great film. Goes off tangent towards the end story wise. But makes up for it with wild, overblown, over the top action.

    All the makings of a classic. Executed with bravado!

    • Yeah, you have it there in a nutshell Jack. By the end, things were really flying off the handle. LOL :D

      Definitely was a ballsy film. I think I’m totally clueless as to the state of animation in Japan context for when this was released, but I have to imagine it was innovative and unlike anything they had going on at the time!

      • Hi, Fogs:

        About the only thing we in the US had in comparison would have been Warner Brothers ‘Superman’ and ‘Batman: The Animated Series’. And even those fell short in a few arenas.

        The motorcycle races and escapes in ‘Akira’ caught many blind sided for their fluidity and detail. Not to mention the action, fight and battles against tanks once Martial Law was declared around New Tokyo prior to the final showdown.

        No real surprise that Warner Brothers Bruce Timm sent a lot of the later ‘Batman: TAS’ episodes to Japan for ideas on robots (‘Heart of Steel’). And to add minute reflections (‘Heart of Ice’). Or polish up explosions of
        their rough products.

  11. A fine post and a fine movie. I really like Akira. It was one of the film’s I watched a lot throughout my teenage years. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it but I would love to revisit it again someday.

  12. All I really remember about Akira is “TETSUO! KANEDA!”. I remember feeling worn down by the end and not loving it, but I can see why it’s so acclaimed. Nice job.

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