Sunday, August 26, 2012

Akira Anime Movie Review

Akira
Pioneer (Geneon)
Movie - 125 mins. - 1 disc
$19.98 (2001)
$39.98 (2001) 2-disc w/tin
$24.98 (2002)
$19.98 (2004) Geneon Sig. Series
$49.98 (2009) Blu-Ray
$19.98 (2012)
ISBN 013023153899
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Katsuhiro Otomo
Studio - TMS Entertainment

Synopsis: Neo Tokyo in the year 2019 is a sprawling metropolis built on the ashes of the original Tokyo which was destroyed in a massive explosion 31 years earlier.  On street level beneath the ultra-modern skyscrapers the city is experiencing a rash of civil unrest.  Protests and are happening more frequently in a class struggle by the disenfranchised masses. Covert revolutionary organizations with dubious political backers have appeared along with a strange cult worshiping an entity called Akira, who is expected to return and save the world.
Police move to stop a demonstration by the 'Akira' cult
Kaneda and Tetsuo grew up together as orphans and are in the same teen biker gang.  They mobilize for a brutal high-speed skirmish through the streets of Neo Tokyo against their rivals, the Clowns. Meanwhile a strange little boy is being led by a revolutionary agent on an attempted escape from government forces.  The boy appears advanced in age and possesses psychic abilities, but is completely terrified in the outside world.  Near the end of the motorcycle chase, Tetsuo crashes into the boy and is injured.
Tetsuo races after Kaneda to face off with the Clowns
Kaneda and the rest of the gang catch up to Tetsuo, but military forces descend upon them to snatch up both the boy and Tetsuo.   Taken back to the lab Tetsuo manifests powerful psychic abilities of his own and is compared to a previous test subject - Akira.  The little boy picked up with Tetsuo was part of a trio of espers who knew Akira and are still being held by the government.  Akira was part of a series of experiments to develop psychic abilities in humans, but his powers grew out of control and he was the cause of Tokyo's destruction 31 years ago.
Kaneda screeches to a halt in his iconic bike 
Now Tetsuo's powers rage out of control and he lashes out at the world.  First towards his former friends who are now nothing but ants to a burgeoning god and then across Neo Tokyo sparking massive revolution in the streets.  Meanwhile Kaneda has fallen for a young revolutionary girl named Kei and helps her infiltrate the government facility where the espers are located.  They join forces as the crisis of Tetsuo's powers escalates.
Tetsuo has a very bad dream in the hospital
Tetsuo wants to find and confront Akira about his growing powers.  All he knows is Akira is kept underneath the construction site of the upcoming Olympic stadium.  Tetsuo cuts through the military forces and Kaneda, armed with a handheld laser cannon, gives chase.  What is the secret of Akira that caused Tokyo's destruction many years ago and will Tetsuo's uncontrollable powers cause a second explosion?  Can Kaneda help his friend or will he be forced to end his life to save the city?  Is Tetsuo too powerful to be stopped and will the entire planet be consumed this time?  
Will this happen to Tokyo again?
Pros: Great hand-drawn animation (made in 1988 and still holds up pretty well) with legendary production values at the time, intensely detailed backgrounds, exciting story, mature themes, genre-defining cyberpunk adventure, epic scope, cool/horrific portrayal of psychic powers, brutal at times and heartwarming in others, a true classic/masterpiece of its time, Blu-Ray version is packed with extras/improvements (visual and sound)
Kei is spotted by a searchlight.  Run, Kei
Cons: Updated dub from the old VHS version from '90s (am I the only one who loved the old voices for the characters?), events differ considerably from the original manga (which was finished after the movie was made - huh?), the original manga is 2000+ pages and it gets distilled down into two hours of screen time
Kaneda takes aim at his best friend with a pilfered military laser weapon
Mike Tells It Straight: "Neo Tokyo is about to explode!" - I love that tag line from the Akira dvd promotions.  Needless to say, Akira is a classic anime film which defined the genre for a generation of Japanese and then Americans when it was introduced in the early '90s by Streamline Pictures.  It has remained a staple of every anime fan's dvd collection since then and is the example most often used to prove anime was not kid cartoons, but mature stuff to the uninitiated.  
The army brings out the big guns - orbital satellite laser cannons
The production values on Akira were record-setting in 1988 and produced an anime film showcasing the pinnacle of hand-drawn animation's capabilities.  An inspiration for countless creators and their works after its release, this film distills down Katsuhiro Otomo's massive epic manga.  Interestingly enough, Otomo directed the film prior to ending the manga series and the two differ considerably.  The manga is truly incredible in its own right and I highly recommend for fans of the movie to check out the trade paperback set released by Dark Horse Comics a few years back.
Tetsuo in psychic battle
My only major gripe is the dvd version's new dub track (the subs are different too) compared to the original version from Streamline.  I originally watched this film on VHS back in the '90s and can't warm up to the new dub.  All I remember is Kaneda sounding like the biggest punk in the world and an endless stream of shouting "Kaaaneeeddaaa!!!" Teeetttssuuuooooooo!" throughout the movie.  So bad it was good and I would chomp a handful of capsules to get my hands on a dvd version with that dub.  The Pioneer dub is probably more accurate, but it's the pure nostalgia factor for that Streamline version (depending on how I first watch an anime I typically prefer that version to all others, i.e. dub vs. sub).

Tetsuo seeks to release Akira (test subject #28) from his slumber
If you're an anime fan you must watch Akira.  Simple as that.  Over the years it has been reissued over a dozen times and you can pick up a version for a decent price.  The latest Blu-Ray version is utterly spectacular and the visuals are perfectly clean-and-crisp.  You'll never see the original Streamline dub on an official digital version, but if you haven't heard it before then you won't know what you're missing (don't know if that's quite good or bad).  Maybe there are some digital bootlegs available out there via HK dvd or torrent file.  If you want it bad enough you can find it.  Regardless, the film is a classic and any mature movie aficionado will benefit from seeing it.


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