Reviewed by: Donald Munro

"Akira was a step change in what animation could show."

Many people's first experience of Anime was Akira. Mostly people heard about it via word of mouth. When you saw it your jaw dropped - you'd never seen anything like it before. Apart from the half-finished version of The Lord Of The Rings, feature-length animation was the preserve of Disney and it had not progressed much in style since Snow White. And like Snow White before it, Akira was a step change in what animation could show.

Visually, Akira is stunning. The way smoke billows, engulfing everything like a growing amoeba; the attention to detail; the shafts of light that tie parts of the story together all give the film a truly distinct look. As in a comic book the backgrounds are full of visual cues and ties, double vision of a dying man passing multiple TV screens in a shop window that show a dog food commercial. In the back of your mind you know that dogs are chasing before you see them. The strangely beautiful, silent destruction of Tokyo in the opening sequence fading into the veins and arteries of the rebuilt city grabs you and makes you watch. And then there's the soundtrack: thin, fast and rhythmic.

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The film starts with the roar of two bike gangs battling each other through riot-ridden Neo-Tokyo. Revolution is in the air. The afterglow of tail lights leaves streaks along streets that echo Metropolis and Blade Runner. The fight defines the relationship between two of the central characters, Tetsuo and Kanada. Their friendship embodies conflict. Tetsuo's desire for independence versus loyalty to the gang. His need to prove himself versus Kanada's leadership and protection.

Meanwhile, a wounded revolutionary tries to make his escape through the riots with a child in tow, a small, corpse-like child. The revolutionary is gunned down and the child, Number 26, screams, shattering the facades of nearby buildings, and then vanishes in the ensuing panic. Tetsuo hurtles headlong into Number 26.

Akira was condensed down from the six volumes of the original manga. As such the plot rapidly becomes complicated with multiple threads and many characters. It uses a considerable amount of surreal imagery as Tetsuo gains immense and then uncontrollable, all consuming psychic powers. The plot eventually comes full circle as Tetsuo is brought under a new mentor's wing in an act that balances destruction with creation.

Akira is spectacular to watch, especially on the big screen. It uses imagery that is both bold and startling. As a film it has some problems: the plot that is overcomplicated, and too many characters. It doesn't provide any solid explanation for what is happening to Tetsuo, which some people will find annoying. Some will find the violence in it distasteful and the English dub feels clumsy (you'll watch it in Japanese with subtitles anyway). For me these are relatively minor issues in what is undeniably a classic film.

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2010
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The classic anime tale of rivalry between two boys who uncover the mysterious secret of a post-apocalyptic world. On re-issue.
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Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Writer: Izô Hashimoto, based on the manga by Katsuhiro Otomo.

Starring: Nozomu Sasaki, Mitsuo Iwata, Mami Koyama, Hiroshi Ôtake

Year: 1988

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


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