Akira is an animated film released in 1988. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, this science fiction thriller set the precedent for its genre and still impresses to this day, but in 2017, it feels like it's missing a certain spice.
The plot is dense and long- form, ascending from the local fights of rival biker gangs to the end of the world in just two hours. It took a while for me to see where the story was going, but once the path became clear, sailing was smooth. Neo Tokyo 2019 is not only well- realized and detailed, it is presented with class and finesse. In a scene of politicians arguing about a character's insubordination, a throwaway line, "it's still not proven that Akira caused World War 3," exposits "Akira" as something catastrophic while showing that some don't believe in it, having their own agendas to think about. Moments and details such as this litter the film, giving life without distracting from the plot.
The directing is likely what keeps this classic from being a masterpiece in my eyes. Striking colors, well- delivered, well- written lines, interesting ideas, an ensemble cast of "no true villain" characters, and extravagantly produced animation inject Akira with the stuff of legends, but it's telling that it took me over an hour to get comfy in my chair. It's telling that I thought the 2001 English dub delivery was good, not phenomenal. Watching gang bikers ride along highways and bash each other with pipes, watching them fall to the ground and beat each other senseless should be an intense and visceral experience, but it wasn't as intense as I expected in my 2017 desensitized mentality. Near the beginning, when a biker is knocked to the ground, there's a lingering shot on the collision between his body and the highway. A fall like that should bruise or break something, but the impact simply doesn't crush.
Compared to the two Japanese animated films I've seen and not the myriad television shows, Akira lacks a lingering atmosphere present in End of Evangelion and Angel's Egg. Forgiving for Evangelion, which aired an entire decade later, but Angel's Egg was three years before Akira. Perhaps that's the wrong expectation, though. Gritty, edgy, and packed with personality, Akira is more of a thriller, starring hot- blooded, young men living on the cusp of a failing society. There are moments when things get trippy, striking, and alien, such as when Tetsuo hallucinates his organs falling out of his stomach and madly grasps at empty air, trying to hold himself together, and when the ending presents a poignant piece of eldritch body horror, complete with tortured screams. That's interesting and emotional content. It just feels like Akira takes a long time to distinguish itself from anime it inspires, when its intro portrays a group of young rebels getting lectured by school officials.
Akira has influenced many, and while I haven't seen many anime, I asked my friend about how Neon Genesis Evangelion takes the plot of Akira and better integrates its themes and character arcs into the end of the world, he said:
"Shinji Ikari being representative of all people, as his identity is that of all people is able to demonstrate how all charachters ended up in instrumentality, by showcasing what the people had lost we are able to understand the common flaw which had led to this situation, so the ultimate question here is what had people lost? A sense of externalized perspective, by focusing in on how one is perceived by others rather than trying to perceive the world through empathy of
others this leading to the over internalization of communications that had led to the functional isolationism which each character had come to through some means, be it Asuka through her resistance to limitations which lead to her downfall, Rei and the awakening to the absence of normality or Misato and her shutting out of the only person who had shared pain of reality by killing him."
In Akira, a Big Bang- type event happens because Tetsuo was pushing his psychic powers too hard during a developmental phase, or something about the Akira body parts being unleashed, resulting in a somewhat out- of- nowhere moment of body horror. Ten years later, Evangelion takes powerful teenagers with personal insecurities and turns its final- act, destruction of humanity into something so deep, I have no confidence in talking about it myself.
Along with the introduction of small, blue, shriveled, psychic children, one in a floating chair, and a scene in which a woman is pinned against a wall and her shirt removed, Akira's first half rides the line of "Would my parents be weirded out by this?" But it definitely makes its buildup worthwhile when an adolescent develops superpowers and uses it to fuel his inferiority complex instead of becoming a superhero.
What I'm saying is, Akira is a classic which inspired many of many people's favorite things, but because of this, it stands more as a building block than a big favorite. Akira is absolutely worth your time, but it's only the beginning of its medium's greatest hits.