About time I watched a worthwhile film!
Akira is a 1988 sci fi fantasy epic that's drawn to life through beautiful animation and an off-beat style. I'll get this out the way: I'm not a fan of anime, really. Only two anime series I enjoy are Cowboy Bebop and DragonBall Z, along with the occasional Afro Samurai. Now, I'm not saying these are the only series I've watched. When I was a kid, I adored shows like Death Note, Inuyasha, and Full Metal Alchemist. However, as I grew up, those shows never really stuck with me and I just got over them. The only two that did stay were DBZ and Bebop. So, I'm not exactly an anime fan, but that's what makes Akira wonderful! I forgot I was watching anime and felt comfortable watching it!
Akira is a strange film... It's basically a superhero/villain (?) origin story. In the year 1988, a nuclear explosion occurs in Japan, causing World War III. In the future, 2019, neo-Tokyo is ruled by a military force and is occupied mostly by biker gangs and low-life thugs. Enter Tetsuo, a random biker who turns out to have superpowers. After a couple of government testing, things go down. The film sits at 2 hours and 5 minutes, yet it's breakneck pacing allows for a much more easygoing experience. There's not a moment in here where it feels dull (need to stop using this word) or listless. The film has to cover a lot of ground, especially considering it's rather large scope, and I felt is has succeeded it's goal.
The animation in this film is stunning. To my surprise, I found out that this film was entirely hand-drawn. Looking back at the fluidity of it, I'm speechless as to how they accomplished this, and more-so by the fact that it was made in the 80s, a time where films seemed to have a lot of effort put forth. People sat there and drew every scene, though sometimes I get the feeling they used CG for a couple of scenes. However, effort alone is jaw-dropping. The voice acting is decent at times. I watched the remastered dub, and I can say that no one did a horrible job. Sometimes they went a little overboard with the melodrama and for some reason, in a couple of scenes, some of the dialogue isn't in sync.
What makes this film amazing is it's imagination. The film begins going one direction. Then, it switches it up and now it's going in a completely different way. At times, the film can be gratuitously violent, but it adds more to the charm of the film. It makes the action scenes more visceral, and hard hitting, something that is lacking in most cartoons now. The film doesn't attempt to be something it's not. It's not pursuing to be a family friendly film, and it broke the mold of "family friendly cartoons" and really pushed the boundaries. Like it or not, this film has done more for the anime business (and even film) than most other films.
The film never takes itself too seriously, as well. It has a buoyant sense of joy in scenes not detailing the darker themes. When it does delve into it's message, the film feels a little muddled, however. Through all the rubble in the film, the film is against the thought of power. No one should have increasing power. It's an allegory on the political system of Japan(or any country) and it's corruption, but it's never fully utilizes this idea because it's easy to get lost in the violence. I know I gave the film props for it's violent tone, but I feel that it's a double edged sword. On one hand, it enhances the film's overall joy. On the other, it is distracting. Oh well, it's just me.
The film carries a surprising amount of emotional depth as well. There is an interesting dynamic between the two main characters, Kaneda and Tetsuo, and it's strange how depressing it is to watch their friendship slowly break apart. And that's what can be said about this film, there is strong characterization in this film, especially from the two leads. Kaneda is a witty, heroic kid looking to help his friend. It makes the final result more pulse pounding and suspenseful. Akira is not for everyone as mentioned before. In the first 20 minutes alone, a kid is decapitated, there's a rape scene, and there's strong language. The film is a social critique. If you see the violence there for no reason, you're missing the morality aspect of this film. Oh, there I go again. Defending the violence right after I had antagonized it. I still hold my stance that the violence does shroud the overall theme, but the violence holds it's own reasoning. Is that different enough? Well, I felt that the brutality of the film held a weight, revealing the harsh reality of what goes on in street gang warfare.
Overall, Akira is one of the hardest films I've had to review in a while. It's negative aspects can also embellish the film, making it tough to find real criticisms on this film. The dialogue can be a tad...silly. "Look! It's blood!" Yeah, thank you for telling me as if I didn't know. It's not for everyone. It's gory, sexually explicit, and foul mouthed. If you can get past that, this film is a beautifully animated, imaginative, electric film that shouldn't be missed. It has a wonderful social commentary on gangs and features a nice political allegory. This is a great film!