This coming week, Akira finally comes out on Blu-Ray. As Akira (the film) has not been reviewed here at the Bureau, now is the perfect time to correct this oversight, with a review of the film (as well as a few quick notes comparing the special features from the upcoming Blu-Ray release and the Pioneer DVD release from 2001).

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Mami Koyama as Kei
Mitsuo Iwata as Shôtarô Kaneda
Nozomu Sasaki as Tetsuo Shima
Kazuhiro Kandô as Masaru (No. 27)
Masaaki Ohkura as Yamagata
Mizuho Suzuki as Doctor Ônishi
Sachie Itô as Kiyoko (No. 25)
Takeshi Kusao as Kai
Tarô Ishida as Colonel Shikishima
Tatsuhiko Nakamura as Takashi (No. 26)
Tesshô Genda as Ryûsaku
Yuriko Fuchizaki as Kaori
Hiroshi Ohtake as Nezu

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
Written by Katsuhiro Otomo and Izô Hashimoto
Animation by (among others): GAINAX, Studio DEEN, Studio Pierrot, Kyoto Animation, Tezuka Productions, Studio Fantasia, Anime R, and a helluva lot of others.

Premise

In Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of old Tokyo after it’s destruction in a great disaster 31 years ago, two biker punks, Tetsuo and Kaneda, come across a secret government experiment involving psychic powers. After the military discovers that Tetsuo is psychically sensitive as well, they attempt to boost his abilities. Disaster ensues.

High Point

The animation is gorgeous, and it was done all by hand. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but, really, this blows just about
everything that Disney has done up to that point out of the water, in terms of the detail, and how seamlessly everything fits together. This beats everything Disney animation was doing at the time.

Low Point

It’s not a spoiler to say that the movie ends at the halfway point of the manga. There’s so much more material that could be covered, that, really, I would rather that Akira be, say, a duology or trilogy than just this movie, just so all the material gets covered. Frankly, it’s a good movie, but the story in the manga is better, and paced better. The movie is really rushed. Consequently, this effects everyone’s characterization. In the film, everyone’s in the wrong. The cultists are on par with Aum Shinrikyo. Colonel Shikishima is a fascist. The government is inept, with the exception of the resistance’s sponsor, Nezu, who would fit in nicely as the un-ethical power-hungry Cabinet Member from 24 (the one who is generally pushing the season’s Coup attempt). Doctor Ônishi doesn’t consider the ramifications of his research and what could happen if it runs out of control. Oh, and the resistance and the biker gangs are pawns. Also, all of them are in the wrong, for different reasons. In the manga, Colonel Shikishima becomes a bit more sympathetic (though still misguided), and the character of Lady Miyako is also included who serves as a spiritual grounding for the story, as well as one of the few characters who understands what’s going on and is more “in the right” than most of the other leader characters.

Nudity and Violence

Not a lot of nudity, but copious amounts of blood and gore. Repeat after me: “I will not show this film to anyone under the age of 5.” Good. Actually, while I’m not trying to parent for you, but I probably wouldn’t allow anyone to see this movie who was under the age of 10. This movie got an “R” rating in the US. Now, in my experience, animated films get one rating lower than what they would get if they were live-action. This would mean that a live-action Akira, with the
same amount of nudity, blood, and gore as this movie – shot-for-shot identical, would get an NC-17. I’m not trying to parent for you, but just keep that in mind.

The Scores

Originality: The film is a heavily truncated adaptation of a very long manga. 3 out of 6

Animation: The animation here is absolutely amazing. This is definitely one of the non-Studio Ghibli anime films that can really stand the transition to high-def. 6 out of 6

Story: They really cut a lot from the manga to fit the story into a two-hour film. I suspect that, in this respect, DiCaprio’s upcoming live-action version may be an improvement 3 out of 6

Voice Acting: Ahem… “Tetsuo!” “Kaneda!” But, seriously folks, the Japanese dub is fine, and the new English dub for the Pioneer release is great as well. Now, it’s entirely possible that for the Blu-Ray release of Akira, they may re-record
the Japanese dialog (this was also done for the Bandai Honnemise’s DVD release of Patlabor: The Movie), so that may improve. 4 out of 6

Emotional Response: There’s some really shocking moments in this movie, and frankly, when I first saw this movie I’d heard people talk about it, but I didn’t realize how violent this is, not just in terms of gore, but in terms of the emotional intensity of the violence. Now, when I first saw Akira, my sole experience with anime was Sailor Moon, Speed Racer, and DBZ, but still, my reactions to the violence were as much related to the emotional response from the
actions, not just the blood and guts. In particular, the destruction of the bridge with the Akira Cultists on it did effected me more than anything else (oh, and the guy trying to protect the kid). 5 out of 6

Production: The score is amazing, the sound quality (and design) is fantastic, and I’ve already gushed about the animation. 6 out of 6

Overall: Everyone needs to see this film at least once. You don’t have to like it, but you need to see this film once.
Especially if you consider yourself a movie buff (much less an anime fan). 5 out of 6

In total, Akira receives a 32 out of 42.

Note: The upcoming Blu-Ray release from Bandai Honneamise has several special features missing, from what I’ve come across. In particular, the interview with Writer/Director Katsuhiro Otomo, Production Report/documentary on the movie, and it looks like the Capsule Option (with English versions of the copious graffiti in the movie) are missing from the Blu-Ray release. So, if you’ve got the Pioneer version, don’t dump that yet. However, the Blu-Ray version still will have superior picture quality and sound quality so… I’d still say that if you like this movie (or don’t care about the bonus features), get the Blu-Ray version – and I’d say it probably wouldn’t hurt to re-buy this.