Genre: Psychic Cyberpunk Action Drama (Action)
What’s in it?: Psychics (of the most extreme kind), Gunfights, Fistfights (a couple), Mass Destruction (near the top of this category), Beasties (in a sense), Super Technology (some neat stuff), Chases and Races (great motorcycle chases), Weird (or at least confusing)
Years ago, Tokyo was destroyed by an unknown force. Now, in the middle of the 21st century, Neo Tokyo has been rebuilt on the ruins of the old city. Ravaged by aimless youths and bike gangs and all the accoutrements of a cyberpunk society, this new city a sight to behold. Somewhere on the underbelly of the city, a young punk, Tetsuo runs into a strange boy. The boy is part of a military experiment involving psychics, and a mysterious being known as Akira. Before long, Tetsuo begins to manifest psychic powers, along with bizarre hallucinations, and to make matters worse; the government takes interest in his abilities. Things only get weirder from there on…
In 1988, the landmark Anime film Akira, by director Katsuhiro Otomo, defined the cutting edge of Anime around the world. By today’s standards, Akira remains a landmark achievement in cel animation and retains the explosive impact of its highly detailed animation and its intensely violent saga of power and corruption. The definitive classic of Japanese animation, and a cyberpunk classic on top of that. The plot is weird and very confusing (even by anime standards), and it doesn’t help any that Akira is based on a long series of comics. If you’re a fan of the comics (which have been translated into English), this will probably make a lot more sense than to people coming in cold, but the plot is self-contained enough that even viewers without any background should be able to follow it if they really try. However, where Akira really stands out is the animation. Visually speaking, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. Akira is a (if not The) masterpiece of animation. The art is consistent and very slick, the backgrounds are extremely detailed, and the animation itself is of near-Disney quality. That’s not to say this is anything like a Disney movie; Akira is extremely violent, and maintains a dark cyberpunk feel that eventually crescendos into a nightmarish scene of power run amok, but the visuals in Akira are so good that, even if you hate the plot, you’ll probably have trouble taking your eyes off the screen (or you should, if you’re a fan of any kind of animation). Also worth a note is the music, which is very unusual, and quite good; a mix of guttural vocalising, Buddhist chanting, and Noh drama, as well as some modern themes, you’re unlikely to hear anything like it elsewhere. One minor complaint, though – the character designs are done by Otomo, and although they are true to the comic, everybody looks the same, regardless of sex (that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit).
In all, the plot is interesting, if weird, only partially explained, rather confusing, and not for everyone, but the animation is second to none – I’m not exaggerating when I say it defines the scale on which all other anime is measured. Akira is such a classic, and the animation is so good, that any anime fan should at least see Akira once, and many will want to watch it a lot more than that.