A Review of “Akira” – Angsty Apocalyptic Allegory

“I am…Tetsuo” – Tetsuo Shima

It’s been called one of the greatest anime movies of all time. It’s been praised for its story telling, characters, animation, soundtrack and voice acting work. Even after twenty-five years, it’s still seen as being one of the staples of modern anime viewing…possibly even more so than the revered “Cowboy Bebop”. It’s the one animated movie that has been viewed and praised by many fans and non-fans alike. However…NONE of this matters to this Louisiana native. Reputation, accolades and historical significance aside, this is a movie just like any other anime movie reviewed here and it will get the same treatment. Just as this movie didn’t hold any punches, I won’t either, for better or worse. To that end, I am….the Cajun Samurai, and this is my review of the anime movie “Akira”. [“May fortune favor the foolish…”]

Warnings and Other Objectionable Content: To say that young kids might not need to see this movie is an understatement. This movie is rated “R”, and it is a well deserved rating as it holds nothing back [And rightly so…]. The violence level of this one is extremely high, and the nightmarish visuals WILL be a too much for younger kids to handle. Also there is a fair bit of language in this one, and there is also quite a bit of drug usage with regards to pills. There is also some nudity involved, but it’s not that prevalent. There also might be some religious undertones that MAY make some sensitive souls uncomfortable and some of the characters do use the Lord’s name in vain… Your mileage will vary, but I’m still putting it out there. So…yeah, nobody under the age of 16 need apply.

Akira Special Edition DVDMovie Availability:
There are three main versions of “Akira” out there. The first is the original DVD release which you’ll know because it has a picture of our lead character, Kaneda, walking up to his motorcycle with the title behind him. The second release is a two-disk Special Edition which is all black with the word “Akira” in silver with the name scrawled across it in Japanese characters. There’s also a Blu-Ray release of “Akira” available, but that is pretty rare…and priced somewhere in the “Ridiculously High” category.

Wal-Mart

At the time of this printing, this is a big negative in both Brick and Mortar Stores and online…though there IS an entry for the Special Edition of “Akira” which leads me to believe it was sold at one point…check Wally World’s Website often if you are interested.

Best Buy

My initial results turned up negative on the website and in Brick and Mortar stores.

F.Y.E [For Your Entertainment]

Affirmative for in-store and online purchase. Scan the shelves and I’m sure you’ll find a copy for an awesome price used.

Target

Negative for online or offline purchase. There is an entry for it, but, again, no sign of its return.

Other Purchasing Sites

You should have no problem finding this one on just about any other retailer—especially if they specialize in anime. I don’t have to remind you to be careful when purchasing any DVD online. Make sure you’re getting the genuine articles. If you’re looking for a High Definition experience…get ready to pay for that Ray… I did a cursory search on eBay and Amazon, and I came across numbers that made me cringe…

Online Streaming

Haven’t come across this show on any commercial streaming sites. Sorry, guys. But I’m sure if you dig you might be able to find it on the internet.

Kaneda astride his Motorcycle...Movie Premise: “Akira” is an animated movie based off a long running manga by Katsuhiro Otomo. The movie opens up with the annihilation of Tokyo by a humongous explosion. This explosion, in turn, triggers World War III. Fast-forward about 30 years to the year 2019. Neo-Tokyo is still trying to revive itself from the ashes of its past, with little success; politics has severely hampered any attempted for meaningful change [sound familiar?], and many parts of town are terrorized by biker gangs. Enter the Capsules and their leader Shotaro Kaneda. The Capsules are a group of bikers who defend their territory against other rival gangs…when they’re not lazing about in vocational school. As the movie kicks off, the Capsules head out on a run to defend their turf from a rival group known as the Clowns. Anxious to prove himself to the group and to Kaneda that he doesn’t need him to play superhero, Tetsuo goes off and attacks one of the Clowns. He is successful, but winds up getting injured after an accident involving a strange young boy named Takashi. Takashi is a boy who, while small in statue, has the facial features of a much older man and possesses strange esper-like powers which stem from a secret government experiment that was ran on several other kids including a young boy named Akira. Tetsuo is picked up by military soldiers, examined, and is determined to possess strange mental powers similar to Akira, but more powerful by comparison. As the movie goes on, Tetsuo suffers from hallucinations, migraine headaches and, to everyone’s shock, his mental powers begin to growing to the point where he is able to violently manipulate the space around him. And so the movie carries on, with Kaneda attempting to, once again, save Tetsuo, and Tetsuo longing to prove to Kaneda and everyone else that he is powerful enough to take care of himself.

Tetsuo Shima in Cray-Cray Mode...Simply put, “Akira” is a movie that I can just about guarantee you will NOT get the first go around…or the second…or the third, and if you do, then more power to you because you are WORLDS smarter than I am, and I have no shame in admitting that. It took several viewings along with several trips to Wiki-Pages in order to get a good enough idea on what was going on. [I know I’m missing a few plot points, but I refuse to make this a two-part review!] “Akira” is a deeply complex and multi-layered story, and that’s kind of what drew me to it and why I actually enjoyed it despite being confused about many of the things that was going on. One thing I picked up on was the use of Kaneda’s infamous motorcycle as a representation of everything Tetsuo desires; manhood, power, the ability to stand up for himself and control his own destiny. The ending is…well…it’s an ending, alright. I mean, it’s not a bad ending by any means; it’s actually brilliantly done. It just leaves you somewhat speechless. The buildup to it is plenty epic and it is so far ahead of its time. I have to say, if you put this ending and the ending from “End of Evangelion” in front of me, and asked me to pick one over the other; I would go with “Akira” each and every time. While both are relatively the same kind of ending, “Akira” does it better on several levels. [24/25]

Favorite Scene:
I have to say, the scene when Kaneda and Tetsuo finally face off is my personal favorite. Though it’s short, you get a taste of what kind or relationship these two guys had before Tetsuo caught the crazy and started destroying everything. It’s also a genuinely funny scene up until things really start getting cray-cray.

Characters:

Shotaro Kaneda Our male lead character. Kaneda is the leader of the “Capsules”, a teenage bike gang in Neo-Tokyo. Kaneda is a confident, cocky, ambitious leader who makes his presence known with his bright red motorcycle. He’s your typical anime hero character and it’s easy to see why Tetsuo developed an inferiority complex towards him. In Tetsuo’s eyes, Kaneda is both his closest ally, his best friend, and yet his biggest rival. Not much to say about him other than he’s a great male lead and you easily see why Tetsuo wants to be like him.
Tetsuo Shima Our male lead turned antagonist. Tetsuo has looked up to Kaneda ever since the two met in the orphanage he himself was abandoned in. However, as he grew up, Tetsuo began to develop an inferiority complex towards Kaneda, which only gets worse when the later comes to his aid as the “hero of the day”. In Tetsuo’s eyes, Kaneda is both his closest ally, his best friend, and yet his biggest rival. Kaneda is everything Tetsuo wants to be, right down to his motorcycle. Honestly, you couldn’t ask for more out of a main character—complex, interesting, someone you don’t know who/how to root for.
Akira The title character that doesn’t actually appear until the last 20 or so minutes of the film. Akira is a young boy who was experimented on much like Takashi and his friends. His powers, however, grew too great and caused the explosion that triggered World War III. It is Akira who Tetsuo sees as his next biggest road block, next to Kaneda, and Tetsuo is willing to destroy the entire city in order to find him.

I know there are dozens of other characters in this movie such as the Colonel who orchestrates the entire project, the scientist who provides much needed exposition to what’s going on, and the “Numbers” kids who act as foils for Tetsuo, but getting into all them would require making this review WORLDS longer than it already is! Take my word on it when I say that the characters in “Akira” are what move the story along, and they do their job very well. [25/25]

Kaneda's Motorcycle...Animation: Considering this movie was created back in the 80’s when animation was a hand-drawn affair, “Akira” has a look that is down-right ageless. It’s easy to see why the creators spent all the money they did making it look just right. There’s so much detail in this one movie, it’s downright impossible to take it in with one viewing. Just like with the story itself, you get a better idea of the grand scale of the animation after you watch it a few times, or come back to it after watching something else, as odd as that sounds. Character designs are interesting, and you will have a hard time confusing one character with another. Once again, I love the fact that, even though this movie was set to be far in the future, it’s not the super-squeaky clean future like we see on many sci-fi shows. Neo-Tokyo looks like it’s a city that’s been through hell and back and is only just barely trying to recover. This show holds nothing back with regards to showing violence and gore—it does carry an “R” rating after all, and in order to tell this story and be true to what it is, it needs every bit of it. Lastly, I couldn’t talk about animation without talking about the most famous fictional vehicle in history, right next to “Christine” and K.I.T.T from “Knight Rider”; Kaneda’s “Hyper-Cycle”. The level of detail on this bike is drool-worthy, and all the real-world stickers on it make it an awesome sight to behold. [12.5/12.5]

The Cover of the Soundtrack for "Akira"Music: The soundtrack for “Akira” is quite unique. There aren’t that many pieces used throughout the movie, and it’s only when you really pay attention that you notice that there are quite a few moments in the movie where there’s absolutely NO music…just dialogue or silence. However, the music that is used is pretty well done. “Akira” seems to rely on using vocals and choirs rather than actual physical instruments. There’s one theme the movie uses that uses no instruments at all and has a choir singing “DUNNNN!!!! DUNNNNN!!!! DUN-DUNNNNNNN!!!” It comes off as being funny to me instead of being serious or dramatic and in a way it kind of pulls me out the movie. I would’ve preferred an instrumental here instead of the “DUNNN!!! DUNNNNNN!!!!” choir. The opening theme, simply titled “Kaneda” is legendary. Using choir tones along with traditional Taiko drums, this theme and the scene it plays over is classic and perfectly executed. [10.5/12.5]

Performances and Production: “Akira” was directed by revered director Katsuhiro Otomo at Studio TMS Entertainment. He’s worked as director on a handful of popular stories including “Neo Tokyo”, “Robot Carnival” and more recently “Steamboy” and the Live-Action version of “Mushi-shi”. He’s also served as a screenwriter for the animated version of “Mushi-shi” in addition to another popular anime movie “Metropolis”. Here in the US, the project was handled by ZRO Limit Productions with Kevin Seymour at the helm. Kevin has had his hand in quite a few ADR projects including the lucrative “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” series, “The Big O”, “Kekkaishi”, and “Metropolis”. It should be noted that there are two dubs for “Akira”; the first was done by Streamline Entertainment [You’ll remember I mentioned them in the “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Nadia” reviews…] and the ZRO Limit Productions dub, often referred to as the Pioneer dub. Because it’s the most readily available version out there, and currently the only one I own, my scores will draw from the Pioneer dub, but for reference sake, I’ll include the original Streamline Actors in my table. Here’s how it breaks down:

Characters

Japanese Voice Actor/Actress

Streamline Pictures English Voice Actor/Actress

Pioneer English Voice Actor/Actresses

Shotaro Kaneda

Mitsuo Iwata

Cam Clarke

Johnny Yong Bosch

Tetsuo Shima

Nozomu Sasaki

Jan Rabson

Joshua Seth

Kei

Mami Koyama

Lara Cody

Wendee Lee

Colonel Shikishima

Taro Ishida

Tony Pope

Jamieson Price

Kiyoko (#25)

Fukue Ito

Melora Harte

Sandy Fox

Takashi (#26)

Tatsuhiko Nakamura

Barbara Goodson

Cody MacKensie

Masaru (#27)

Kazuhiro Kamifuji

Bob Bergen

Cody MacKensie

Kaori

Yuriko Fuchizaki

Barbara Goodson

Michelle Ruff

Yamagata

Masaaki Okura

Tony Pope

Michael Lindsay

Kai

Takeshi Kusao

Bob Bergen

Matthew Mercer

Nezu

Hiroshi Otake

Tony Pope

Mike Reynolds

Miyako

Koichi Katamura

Steve Kramer

William Frederick

Tetsuo Checking out Kaneda's Bike...As you can see, on the whole, just about everyone in the Pioneer dub did an awesome job. The only small issues I had were with Joshua Seth’s performance as Tetsuo and Jamieson Price’s performance as the Colonel. It’s not that extreme that I had to give either one of them a Yellow flag, but it’s still worth mentioning. Joshua’s portrayal of the teenage Tetsuo is good overall […hearing Tai cuss like a sailor and go absolutely cray-cray is hilarious in its own right…],but there are moments in the beginning of the movie when it just sounds like all he’s doing is reading the lines in the character voice but not putting any emotion behind them. It’s noticeable, but thankfully not too bad, and he makes up for it in spades as the movie goes on. With regards to Jamieson’s performance as the Colonel, it’s pretty much the same story. Sometimes he comes off as just reading but as the movie goes on, he finds his stride. But other than that, this dub is very well done for the time, and it still stands up to this day. Personally I heard the Streamline dub of “Akira” through clips on YouTube, and I have to say…this dub production is infinitely better. [24.5/25]

Scoring Summary:

Story Breakdown – 24/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 12.512.5
Music – 10.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 24.5/25

Final Score – 96.5/100 = 96.5% – (A)

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

  • When Pioneer/Geneon re-released “Akira”, they used a completely different voice cast for the English dub and cleaned up the audio and video quality of the original film. By all accounts, this cost over $1,000,000.
  • Several times since the film’s premiere, different studios have either played with the idea or attempted to bring “Akira” to the big screen, without much success. Sony Entertainment toyed around with a live action movie, but they immediately relented when the projected budget got over $300,000,000. At one point, Keanu Reeves was rumored to be interested in playing Kaneda, but he declined the role. [Thankfully…]
  • Unlike most anime and anime movies, the music and voice tracks in Japanese were done first before one cell of animation was created. This is the reason why, in the English dub, the lip flaps are off in quite a few places—the flaps were made to form Japanese words instead of generic open/closed motions. [Personally, the English V/A’s are to be commended for their work! To match the flaps as well as they did is really good…]
  • The explosion in Tokyo that triggers World War III occurs on July 16, 1988, the same day as the movie’s “explosion” on the big screen. The events of the movie itself take place in the year 2019. At the time the movie takes place, assuming survival of Louisiana in WWIII, I would be 34 years old.
  • At the 30 minute mark on the DVD, when Tetsuo begins experiencing headaches and mental flashes, if you take it frame by frame, you can actually see bits and pieces of the movie’s ending climax.
  • In the scene when Kaneda and his gang are captured by the police, one of the officers looks at Kaneda’s Student ID. From this we learn such facts as:
    • Kaneda possesses several licenses for a “Two-Wheeled Electric Vehicle”
    • He attends “Ward 8 Vocational Education High School” along with his friends.
    • His school possesses ten moral precepts [Of which we only see six and ALL of which Kaneda and company has broken in just the first 15 minutes of this film…]:
      • To always bear in mind that I am as student, and take responsibility for my actions. [He lies to the police officer during the interrogation, saying he is visiting his dying mother in the hospital…yeah…right…]
      • To live up to the student ideal at all times. […Pretty sure that “Student Ideal” didn’t include starting up a biker gang and going on a rampage through the city causing wonton damage and putting other bikers in the hospital…]
      • To respect justice, and give due consideration before I act. [Yeah, none of that. He and his cronies all but blow off the interrogation officer…]
      • To be friendly and be a devoted student. [If you call “devotion” skipping school and telling your administrators to “Rot in hell!”…]
      • To exercise every day, and to possess a sound mind and body. [Well…Tetsuo kind of blows that one out the water…as the movie goes on, his mind is anything BUT sound…]
      • To be full of school spirit and be a student who can walk tall, knowing that pride in my school is pride in myself. [Umm…have you NOT seen their class room? Heck, the teacher doesn’t even bother!]
  • Once again, Johnny Yong Bosch voices a popular male character in an English dubbed anime with a propensity to wear the color red, much like Vash the Stampede from “Trigun” and Renton Thurston from “Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven”.

Like...A...BOSS!So where does that leave us? Well, in my opinion, “Akira” is a piece of artistry that has earned the right to be called one of the greatest anime works of all time. Though it’s not without its small flaws, they are infinitesimal when compared to the absolutely larger-than-life nature of the movie as whole. Though you might not get everything on the first go round… or the second…or maybe even the third or fourth… “Akira” will guarantee that the voyage will be something you will NEVER forget. So happy anniversary “Akira”…may you continue to remain relevant in the world…and may the events of your movie NEVER come to pass…or if they do, please keep all collateral damage away from Louisiana. Much appreciated.

Yeah…that has to be the most complex review I ever hammered out. How do you write a review about an anime that is already considered legendary among fans around the world—a movie that pretty much is gospel for anime fans? Well, hopefully my review is the answer…and hopefully I don’t get hate mail…the spam comments are bad enough. And now it’s time for something COMPLETELY different…

Mikoto Urabe from "Mysterious Girlfriend X"

“Nazo no Kanojo X” or “Mysterious Girlfriend X”

  

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