"The future is not a straight line. It is filled with many crossroads. There must be a future that we can choose for ourselves." -Kiyoko
Widely considered to be one the most important and influential anime films of all time, Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira is a one of a kind work of art. Released in 1988, Akira was one of the main anime films to break the genre into the American market. But all of that aside, this is one of the most interesting, beautiful, and down right cool animated films in existence. The animation is gorgeous, the plot is engaging and complex, the characters are well developed and relatable, and the action is almost unparalleled. If you are in the mood for a lighthearted, child-friendly animated movie this is most definitely not the film for you, but if you're looking for a fantastic and intriguing film that happens to be beautifully animated then by all means please don't skip this masterpiece of animated cinema.
The film opens on a silent aerial shot of Tokyo 1988 as a giant explosion occurs. We then jump to 2019 (30 years after WWIII) in Neo-Tokyo and the film takes off and doesn't stop. We are slyly introduced to the main characters of the film, who happen to be the rag tag teenage members of a biker gang led by a smooth character named Kaneda. In the first scene where we meet him and the rest of the gang, there is an obvious loving tension between him and one of the other members of the gang, Tetsuo. Kaneda is tough and commands respect, he razzes Tetsuo a little about the fact that he wasn't experienced enough to handle his bigger, impressive bike. This scene sets the tone for these two characters’ relationship throughout the film as they become the main protagonist and antagonist of the narrative. They take off and engage in an epic biker battle with their rival gang, the Clowns. After a long chase Tetsuo gets separated from the rest of the gang as he goes after a couple of the clown gang members. At this point we also get a glimpse of a strange figure running from some unseen group. He has obviously been shot and is dragging a strange looking child behind him. The tension of this situation heats up parallel to that of Tetsuo's predicament. In an odd and unexplained series of events the boy that the man was pulling along with him ends up appearing in the street in front of Tetsuo's bike. Just as Tetsuo is about to hit the boy, he is thrown from the bike and it explodes. As Kaneda and the rest of the gang find Tetsuo, a group of shady government figures, the ones who were presumably chasing after the boy, find them all. They arrest the bikers and take the boy and Tetsuo to an undisclosed location. From this point everything gets progressively more complex as we learn of the psychic powers of the strange looking boy, Takashi, and his two compatriots, Kiyoko and Masaru, and some strange and powerful change occurring within Tetsuo. And, this change has something to do with a mysterious figure named Akira.
"Heh, heh... what's happened to me? I must be dreaming. I feel like I can take out the world." - Tetsuo
This is the basic framework of the plot, however, there are a number of complex sub-plots that feed into the narrative. Tetsuo and the three psychic children, The Espers, are secluded from the rest of the characters in a strange government-run facility. They are being monitored and experimented on by a scientist while an important military Colonel keeps watch and reports to a council of politicians. Kaneda and the rest of the gang find themselves becoming involved with a mysterious group of revolutionaries, including a beautiful woman, Kei, who Kaneda has fallen for. This severe group is seeking to uncover the government secrets behind The Espers and Akira. Nothing in the film is quite what it seems. As in real life, the characters are all incredibly complex and it's hard to fully categorize any of the characters as purely protagonists or antagonists. At the heart of it this is a film about human nature and the struggle for freedom and power. Otomo who wrote and directed the film also wrote the Manga upon which the film is based, and it is obvious that he went to great length to make sure that every detail was perfectly crafted, and a film that tackles such grand topics and narratives turns out to be a brilliant success.
Taking a step back from the more heady reasons to turn you onto this film, the animation and fluidity of the action is indescribably stunning. The opening biker battle scene sets the bar for how awe-inspiring the action sequences throughout the film will be and the rest of the action consistently hits that mark. Additionally the color is vibrant, the dreary-future set designs are spectacularly crafted and the painstaking detail put into all of the characters and psychedelic, strange, and often gruesome visuals is almost beyond compare. Overall this is just one of the most amazingly animated films ever created.
In conclusion, I would love to turn you on to Akira because it is insanely awesome! Every aspect of the film, from its multifaceted, detailed, and enigmatic plot to the characters, action, and animation, truly culminates into one of the most important works of the anime genre. If you haven't had a chance to dig into the world of anime this might just be the film to pique your interest, and I certainly hope that it is because I cannot praise this film enough!
- Edward Hill