A Review of “Akira” – Angsty Apocolyptic Allegory (Now in HD!)

Hey guys, Samurai here! Yesterday, while I was on break from work, I realized that I had a $25 gift card from Best Buy burning a hole in my wallet. I made a bee-line straight for the anime section and, after perusing their meager offerings, I settled on the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of the 1988 epic movie Akira.

Now I know what you’re saying: “Samurai-san, you already own Akira! I thought you had a rule about double-dip buying?” And yes, I do have a strict policy about double-dipping. But this is a special case. This set contains the infamous “First dub” of Akira; the 1989 dub as created by Streamline. And since I was getting it for nothing thanks to my gift card, and I was curious as to how this film would look in high definition, AND since I always wanted to hear how the original dub compared to the 2001 version, I figured I would go ahead and take the plunge. How did it turn out? Well, let’s take another trip down the rabbit hole.

I’m the Cajun Samurai, and this is my Updated review of Akira

(Before we get started, I have to warn you guys that this is a ret-con of my original Akira review. I took a look at the original post, and when I saw how poorly it was formatted, I decided that a refresh was in order. Hope you enjoy.)

Warnings and Other Objectionable Content:

To say that young kids might not need to see this movie is an understatement. Akira is rated “R”, and it is well deserved; this movie 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 “capsules”. There is also some nudity, but it’s not prevalent. There also might be some religious undertones that MAY make some sensitive souls uncomfortable. As always, your mileage will vary, but I’m still putting it out there. So…yeah, nobody under the age of 16 need apply.

Movie Availability:

Akira was recently re-released by Funimation in a now-familiar (Not to mention affordable) “Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack”. Most of the extras follow over from the Pioneer Special Edition pack. One extra missing from the new release is the ability to click on signs  containing Japanese kanji to receive a translation. There are a few moments when the subs translate the kanji, but not to the extent that the original DVDs did. Small thing, but something to keep in mind. Also, as I mentioned in my intro, this release contains both the original Streamline dub and the new Pioneer/Animaze dub. Let’s check out availability.

Walmart-
Negative at Brick and Mortar stores in my area, but your mileage may vary. Walmart’s website has the new Funimation set for a great price at the time of this printing.

Best Buy-
Did you not read my intro? Yeah, you can get it in both Brick and Mortar stores and online. Pay attention!

F.Y.E [For Your Entertainment] –
Affirmative for both Brick and Mortar and Online. Might be a little more pricey than Wally World, but if you have a Backstage Pass or if you find it used or on sale, it’s a steal.

Target-
Negative for Brick and Mortar stores, but readily available online.

Other Purchasing Sites-
I’m sure you’ll find this wherever fine anime products are sold. I don’t need to remind you guys to be careful when shopping online to avoid bootleg copies, right?

Online Streaming – 
Yup. You’re gonna find this just about everywhere. I’ll leave the morals of streaming up to you. I’m not a preacher.

Story Premise: (24 out of 25)

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 now that he has these awesome new powers.

Tetsuo Shima in Cray-Cray Mode...Simply put, Akira is a movie that I can just about guarantee you will NOT get the first, second, or the third time around, 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. 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.

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: (25 out of 25)

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.

Animation: (12.5 out of 12.5)

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.

Watching the movie in Blu-Ray format, I have to admit I was both impressed yet somewhat underwhelmed. I mean, it looks really good in Blu-Ray, but I have the feeling that I wouldn’t know the difference between Blu-Ray or just an upscaled DVD. Perhaps it’s just my TV, but aside from some key scenes, I don’t see THAT MUCH of an improvement. If you have a super duper setup for watching anime, I’m sure you’ll notice a difference, but for regular folk with older equipment, you’re not missing too much.

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.

Music: (10.5 out of 12.5)

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.

Performances and Production: (24.5 out of 25)

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, the movie 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. Quite a resume.

2016-03-13 22.53.47Here in the US, Akira was initially dubbed by Steamwork in 1989 with director Sheldon Renan at the helm. Now, I am fully aware than this being the late 80’s early 90’s, dubbing in anime was hit or miss…mostly miss. That being said…this is probably one of the worst dubs I think I ever heard. Yes, even worse than the Pilot Candidate dub. I am genuinely shocked that this dub was even released to the public. Speaking of Pilot Candidate, it should be noted that this is the one and only dub Sheldon Renan ever did…just like good ol’ Wiley Isa. The acting is terrible, the script does not stay true to the original Japanese, and I swear, if I hear one more character mispronounce Kaneda’s name I swear I’m gonna lose it…what little of it I have. With all due respect to Mr. Renan, I believe this is a project he should’ve left well enough alone.

In 2001, the now defunct Pioneer in conjunction with the also-defunct Animaze decided to re-dub Akira. With the late director Kevin Seymour at the helm, the movie was recast, remastered and re-released. Talk about night and day. Just about everyone in the Pioneer/Animaze 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 to the extreme that I have to take a butt-load of points [and compared to their Streamline counterparts, they’re absolutely perfect], 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.

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

SCORING SUMMARY:

STORY BREAKDOWN – 24/25
CHARACTERS – 25/25
ANIMATION – 12.5/12.5
MUSIC – 10.5/12.5
PERFORMANCE AND PRODUCTION – 24.5/25

FINAL SCORE – 96.5/100 = 96.5% – (A)

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

  • 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.

 

So where does that leave us? Well, in my opinion, when watched with the 2001 Pioneer/Animaze dub, in Blu-Ray or on standard DVD,  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 25th 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; we have enough problems to worry about.

Oh, before I go off to play Persona 4 work on my Yamada-Kun and the Seven Withces review, I have to give a shout-out to a good friend of mine on Twitter who did a PRODIGIOUSLY funny tear-down of Akira, breaking down all the sins of the movie! Have a look below when you get a chance and hit the Subscribe Button! You will not regret it!

 

 

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