Akira (1988) Review

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Sunk Cost Fallacy

Akira: (1988) 8 out of 10: Watching Akira in 2019 is a bit of a trip it turns out. For one thing, the film made 31 years ago (That can’t be right… checks math… cries…) takes place in the far future of well…2019. In addition, they cleaned up the film something fierce for modern audiences (Not one of those Ghost in the Shell 2.0 fiascos either. They didn’t CGI up the animation or anything like that. They just made the picture much better with colors that pop.) While I watched it this go around with the Japanese voices and subtitles I took the new dubbed version for a spin as well and the new dubbing is a godsend. No more horrible squeaky voices nonsense of the original dub (Though I miss the Colonel Shikishima’s constant Grrrrs from the old dub. Damn you nostalgia.)

As for the story? Well, this last time I made it all the way to the giant baby monster at the Olympic stadium… I am so proud of my brain. I usually nope out around giant teddy bear filled with cream (I think that was cream. I hope that was cream). 

Akira is difficult to follow on only one (or four) viewings. I have always found it a particular challenge. Each viewing brings new enlightenment (This viewing I found out the explosion at the beginning of the film was an initial singularity as opposed to a nuclear explosion I had always assumed.)But once we hit the Mass Effect 2 boss battle giant baby laser show I (or at least my brain) once again noped out. I couldn’t tell you what happened or what philosophy was going on in those last ten minutes. I guess we can call the plot ninety-five percent downloaded before an error this time. 

So what did Akira get right about 2019? Almost nothing, thank goodness. As bad as it can seem out there, we are in better shape than the constant violence and decay of cyberpunk Neo-Tokyo. There is a combination of ancient technologies (payphones, jukeboxes, taxis) and the new (laser rifles, a cool flying land speeder type thing). One thing Akira absolute nails for 2019 is the major plot point of Neo-Tokyo preparing to host the 2020 Olympics. The giant mutant baby fight even takes place at the construction site for the Olympic Stadium.

The Good

The Good: There is so much that Akira does right, let us give a quick list. The soundtrack is both excellent and memorable. The animation is jaw-droppingly beautiful. It is a fully realized world with many background characters and actions that add to the enjoyment. 

The other thing Akira nails are the action scenes. Now the action scenes with the motorcycle gets the headlines. I mean who wouldn’t want to slide/stop like Kaneda on that red monster. (They remade the bike in real life and it looks very cool. It is also very heavy and unwieldy. The difference between an animator and a motorcycle engineer, I guess.)For my money, though the best action scene is the flying bike/land speeder thing with the Gatling gun attached to the front. When they take that thing onto a freight elevator, it ends up being one of the most beautifully drawn (and funniest) action scenes I have seen in a while. 

The Bad

The Bad: This is a dark film. Our protagonist Kaneda (who when other’s call to him sounds like they are saying Canada repeatedly, at least on the Japanese soundtrack) is a violent gang leader of a motorcycle club. He is not perceptive or particularly bright. While he has a young Captain Kirk quality truth be told in most stories, he would be our untragic bad guy. 

His “love interest” Kei is a terrorist who is unwittingly working for a corrupt government official to sow the seeds of discord to create instability and profit. (I put love interest in air quotes since she is older than Kaneda more interested in her terrorist cell leader than in Kaneda and only seems to end up with Kaneda because everyone else is dead.)

Our main antagonist is Tetsuo, who gets Akira powers from an aged child? (Okay, I know I said my brain didn’t nope out till the just after the giant baby fight but I have actually no idea how Akira powers work, if there is such a thing an Akira power, and how Tetsuo was “chosen” to get such powers.) If Kei is like an older sister to Kaneda, then Tetsuo is the runt younger brother. When he gets his powers, he reacts with all the delicacy one would expect from a bullied boy with weak/short man syndrome. (It is a more realistic view of how some adolescents would handle getting unlimited power overnight than say X-Men has where they volunteer for boarding school rather than burn down people’s houses and kill their perceived enemies. )

The Neo-Tokyo government is corrupt, involved in terrorism and blames all their problems on the last administration’s ill-fated tax cuts (Okay, that might be a bit like our 2019). Within the government, we have Colonel Shikishima (whom I have a soft spot for). He institutes a military coup, runs the Akira project and, I can’t emphasize this enough, has no conception of the sunk cost fallacy. 

The only good person in the entire universe is Tetsuo’s fifteen-year-old girlfriend, Kaori. She seems to genuinely care about Tetsuo. She is, of course, beaten up, sexually assaulted and crushed to death unceremoniously. 

The Ugly

The Ugly: I do not understand what is going on in the last ten minutes of this movie. It is pretty; the music is incredible, and it is as incomprehensible as they come. 

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: Akira is the reason we have anime in the west today. While getting a lukewarm reception upon release in Japan it took off on home video in North America and Europe and, along with Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell, and Urotsukidoji helped break animation out of the Animation Age Ghetto (at least for Generation X).

 Akira’s influence is everywhere. The SOL satellite weapon is basically borrowed wholesale by Gears of War (Hammer of Dawn). Five Nights at Freddy’s main antagonists look very familiar to the dream bear and the bunny in Tetsuo’s hospital room. Heck, I wouldn’t doubt Kaneda’s bike helped popularize Japanese style motorcycles among a generation or two. 

Though Akira is a dark film with somewhat unlikeable characters, it is also can be a funny film. It mixes in a lot of humorous asides and character rounding moments. It really is a strength of the film. I recommend Akira for the animation, the music, the realization of cyberpunk Tokyo and some characters. I still think the story is an incomprehensible mess, however. 

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