AKIRA (1988)

 

Format: 124-minute feature; Special Edition also includes a bonus disk

 

Rating: R (BN, AC, AL, GV, DU)

 

American Production: Streamline (original VHS), Pioneer/Animaze..INC (DVD)

 

Japanese Production: Akira Committee

 

Grading

 

Premise:

B

Story:

A

Writing:

A-

Character Design:

A

Animation:

A

Artistic Merits:

A

English Dub (original/remastered):

B/C-

Musical Score:

A+

 

 

Humor Content:

n/a

Action Content:

A

Drama Content:

A-

 

 

DVD Presentation:

A-

DVD Extras (Special Edition):

A

 

 

OVERALL:

A

 

Synopsis

      In 1986 scientists experimenting with human evolution succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, with utterly catastrophic results. The ensuing explosion devastated Tokyo and triggered World War III. Thirty years later a rebuild Neo-Tokyo is once again on the verse of collapse. Corrupt politicians struggle to keep under control a city rife with biker gangs, violent revolutionaries, and religious fanatics, while a secret military project seeks to renew the human evolution experiments in hopes of understanding the mysteries of what happened thirty years earlier. Complicating everything is the sudden resurfacing of a powerful psychic forces known only as Akira, which is known to have a connection to the events of thirty years past.

Four key characters - a Colonel, a young female revolutionary named Kei, and a pair of juvenile delinquents/bikers named Kaneda and Tetsuo - are drawn into and caught up in the mysteries surrounding Akira, for better or worse. One is driven past the edge of sanity by his endowment with awesome mental powers, while the others seek to curtail his actions, either for their own agendas or because the empowered one has become a threat. The fate of Neo-Tokyo – and possibly of humanity itself – may well depend on the success or failure of their actions. And how, exactly, do the Strange Ones, childlike remnants of the original evolutionary experiments, figure into this? Will Akira’s return resolve the situation or simply end it once and for all?

 

The Long View

      Akira unquestionably stands as a true anime classic. It is a technical masterpiece which easily rates as one of the best and greatest anime movies ever made. It is equally important to American anime fans for another reason: it was the first true breakthrough hit for anime in the American market. Although (bastardized) anime had existed in the American market prior to Akira, this was the title which proved to a lot of people that quality animation could come out of Japan. Legions of American fans who first became interested in anime in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s can probably point to the first time they saw Akira as the moment they became hooked. (I know this applies to me.)

      Adapted from Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic manga series of the same name, Akira takes a story originally told in roughly 2,000 pages and condenses it into a two-hour movie. This required cutting out some characters prominent in the original manga, revamping others, and deleting major chunks of the original storyline. (In the manga, for example, Akira appears early on and 2/3 of the story happens after Neo-Tokyo is wrecked by his powers. In the movie Akira himself does not appear until near the end, and then only briefly.) As a result the story can be a bit confusing on a first view. That doesn’t stop it from taking an enormously inventive approach to a fairly standard plot about unleashing the psychic powers of a subject via scientific experimentation and the potentially catastrophic consequences of such tampering.

      Another distinctive aspect of Akira’s storytelling is its characters. None of them are clear heroes; Kaneda probably is by default, but like the others, he’s operating from little more than self-interest. Picking out a true villain is also difficult. Tetsuo doesn’t really count, despite his destructiveness, since he’s clearly been driven mad by his power. Nor does the Colonel, who’s just trying to keep the situation from getting out of hand. The doctor/scientist character is probably the closest thing, since he is responsible for the experiments that unleash Tetsuo’s power, but even he doesn’t come across as a truly bad guy. And then there’s Kei, who falls into the gray zone between the two; she is a terrorist, and does shoot a cop at one point, but she also tries to help stop Tetsuo. Akira is, in the end, a story that lets people make up their minds for themselves about who’s right and who’s not.

      The technical merits for Akira set new standards for anime, ones that still stand even in the face of modern CG effects. (Akira was one of the last major anime movies to be done completely without CG, from what I’ve heard.) Its animation is smooth, free of typical anime shortcuts, and tricked out with spectacular sequences such as the city block of falling glass or Tetsuo’s remarkable transformation in the late stages, and the artwork never disappoints. Akira further distinguishes itself from its peers by not using any of the normal anime artistic conventions; most of its characters even look Japanese and don’t have especially distinctive hairdos. (Determining the difference between characters is accomplished more through notable variations in height, build, and style of dress which make it remarkably easy to tell the characters apart.) Unlike most anime, Akira was prescored – i.e. the vocal parts were done first and the mouth flaps animated around them. This is a practice common with major studio productions in the U.S. but it was unheard-of in Japan at the time Akira was made. An added positive detail is a brief scene in space done completely without sound – a nice and atypically scientifically accurate touch for animation!

      The soundtrack for Akira is the best and most unique-sounding you will hear anywhere in anime. Period. No debate allowed on this!

      Akira never lacks for action, with many truly exciting scenes, while also achieving a good level of grim drama. Its action is intense and often quite bloody, easily earning an R rating even without other considerations. The nudity is limited to one brief scene that certainly does not constitute “fan service” and the drug use rating refers to various levels of pill-popping that go on in the story (which are much more pronounced in the remastered version than in the original – see below).

      Finally, concerning the two different versions: in 2002 the original prints of Akira were digitally remastered, which created a remarkably vibrant new print that sapped a little bit of the grittiness from the story but, as an exchange, allowed viewers to more clearly make out important details in several scenes that were hard to see before. In the process the original script was also retranslated and redubbed. The new script is said to be more true to the original Japanese version and does clarify a few points that were confusing before. (For instance, in the original the doctor refers to “the centrifuge on level six” at one point while in the new version in the same place he mentions “level 7 capsules” – which makes far more sense in context, especially if one has read the original manga. Streamline was notorious in fan circles for taking liberties with translations, however, so this would not be an isolated incident.) Does that make the new English dub better, though? No. Some of the new English vocal performances are fine, but none exceed the performances of the originals and others – especially for Yamagata and the Strange Ones – are distinctly inferior to the originals in casting and/or performance. Despite being clearer in meaning, some of the lines in the new translation are clumsy by comparison, while others suffer from hackneyed delivery. (“They don’t teach tact at the Academy” vs. “I never studied the subjects in school, it seems” in reference to political maneuvers and diplomacy – which is better?) The new dub also lets some scenes go silent that had vocalizations in the original. This is the one substantial flaw that the new version of Akira suffers from, and I can’t recommend the new dub because of it.

      Akira is a treat for any true fan of animation. It is something that should be on the required viewing list for every otaku.

 

DVD Extras

      There are two DVD versions of Akira: a regular edition and a Special Edition, which contains an extra disk. The main disk for the Special Edition contains only two extras: a Lucasfilm THX Optimizer and a Capsule Option, which allows you to pause a scene and read special info about the scene whenever a capsule symbol pops up in one corner. Most of the “capsules” are translations of signs and graffiti that appear in the artwork. This is a neat feature! The second disk has one of the most extensive sets of extras you will see on any anime DVD, including:

·  Production Report – A 48-minute in-depth 1988 video about the making of Akira. It has its own subtitling option and is divided into menu-accessible labeled chapters – an arrangement you will not see in any equivalent extra on other DVDs.

·  Akira Sound Clip – A 20-minute 1988 video about the making of the Akira soundtrack which is heavy on musical clips from the movie. Divided into labeled menu-accessible chapters with independent English narration option – again, an arrangement you will not see in any equivalent extra on anime DVDs. Descriptions of the instrumentation used in the soundtrack is very interesting.

·  Director Interview – A 30-minute interview with Katsuhiro Otomo conducted after the movie was complete. First appeared on the 1993 laser-disc release. Has independent subtitling option.

·  Production Materials – Includes storyboards for the entire movie (broken down by DVD chapters), unused storyboards, unused backgrounds, initial character design sheets, comic and magazine covert art, promotional material, movie posters, and shots of the covers of VHS, laserdisc, and CD releases; almost 2,700 images total!

·  Akira movie and TV trailers, with independent subtitling option (again, an option not offered on equivalent extras on other anime DVDs)

·  Restoration – Brief English clips about video, audio, and vocal restoration efforts; 14 minutes total.

·  Glossary – 100 terms that include references to the manga. Some are very valuable, others are unnecessary.

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Actor - Original

Actor-Remaster

Kaneda

Jimmy Flinders

Johnny Yong Bosch

Tetsuo

???

Joshua Seth

Kei

Barbara Larsen?

Wendee Lee

Ryu (Roy in original dub)

Robert Wicks

???

Colonel

???

James Lyon

Doctor

???

Simon Isaacson

Kiyoko (Number 25)

???

Sandy Fox

Takashi (Number 26)

???

???

Masaru (Number 27)

Bob Bergan

???

Yamagata

???

Michael Lindsay

Kai

???

???

Kaori

Georgette Rose

Emily Brown

Barkeep

???

Ivan Buckley

Nezu

Mike Reynolds

Mike Reynolds

Shimazaki

???

???

 

      Information on the actors who performed the ??? parts is not available anywhere that I can find. If you can fill in any of the gaps, please email me at MasterT4@comcast.net.

 

 

 

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