Overall Rating: 8.4 / 10
Akira is a Japanese Anime directed by Katsuhiro Otomo in the 1980’s. The film takes place in the heart of what is deemed to be “Neo Tokyo”. The film highlights the community and culture of a city whose citizens have survived through the traumatic experiences of World War II somehow still managing to rise from rubble, ashes, & debris that the explosion brought to Japan. The year is 2019. Katsuhiro then brings us deeper into the setting by placing us intimately in 3 separate storylines that eventually begin to intertwine with each other. The first being a scene depicting a group of young motorcyclists lead by a young boy named Kaneda causing mischief throughout the city while fighting opposing biker gangs. The second being a young woman named Kei who appears to work alongside a secret agency in an effort to prevent government agendas & the last scenario depicting what appears to be the head of the government himself working on some new age scientific experiment. When one of the young motorcyclists (Tetsuo) runs his bike into an odd-looking, blue-faced child and they both end up surviving, the child as well as Tetsuo himself both end up getting mysteriously abducted by what seems to be a higher form of government or military defense. This leads to those left witnessing the incident (Kaneda & Kei) to embark on a conflict–riddled journey to investigate and attempt to save Kaneda’s friend. However, little do they know, the Tetsuo they intend to rescue is no longer the boy they once knew.
While under the agency’s medical care the scientist discover something unique in Tetsuo’s genetic makeup that inspires them to administer a few treatments & conduct some experiments on Tetsuo without his consent. Soon enough, very much just like in the early 1900’s Frankenstein, a monster is born. Tetsuo awakens with an immense level of power that initially frightens him but as he begins to exercise it, he gains a new found confidence which gradually makes him more cynical and turns him into a threat with the ability to obliterate anything in his path. The agency, realizing the mistake they’ve made, attempts to try to neutralize Tetsuo but their actions prove to be futile, leaving their only viable option of survival to be the awakening of Akira, which is defined as this ultimate source of energy with the overwhelming power and ability to swallow the entire region.
The storyline itself is one of significant interest, steadily leading the viewer on, but never occupying a dull moment. Otomo does a good job of placing these characters into 3 distinct and segmented paths which organically come together underneath the umbrella of one overwhelmingly large dilemma. This plot is of course accompanied by fluid Japanese graphics as well as vibrant imagery and vintage 80’s sound effects. From every frame, whether it be Kaneda flying through the streets of Tokyo with his “Tron-like” headlights or Tetsuo mutilating National guards, each character holds small traces of realism while yet still possessing those playful animated features. In addition, the by-roll scenes themselves depict a city that appears to be scorned yet still rebuilding and very much full of life. The action sequences are nothing short of captivating especially as you witness Tetsuo go from a mere, helpless mortal into a force of power that can no longer be contained. However, on the contrary, although Tetsuo gets praised for his power all through the film, we never actually discover it’s true potential. Even though he goes from mystically levitating people to stopping bullets in mid-air and splitting bridges in half, it never quite seems that we see Tetsuo’s full arsenal of capabilities and the same can be said for Akira. Even though Akira is proclaimed as this all-powerful source of life, with the title of the film even being named after him, we never quite grasp or fully understand what or who Akira is until the final 20 minutes of the film. When Akira finally reveals himself as this glowing little boy he shortly after transforms himself into this “spirit-bomb” like ball of energy in order to absorb & absolve the remains of Tetsuo.
This leaves the average viewer with a fair amount of questions. “Why is Akira depicted as a boy?” “What was his purpose prior to the arrival of Tetsuo?” “Why was he seemingly trapped or not active in the picture for so long?” & “What was the initial goal or main overarching objective for the Colonel and his army?”. Katsuhiro Otomo definitely makes sure to satisfy that feeling of unresolved conflict, but there still are a few questions that he appears to leave unanswered with not much evidence remaining to theoretically solve it. Yet, nonetheless the film overall is a great watch & would therefore serve as quality anime to recommend to anyone enamored by the genre.