AKIRA (1988) Review

Directed by: Katsuhiro Ohtomo
Starring: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama

Where do I even begin? I've seen AKIRA at least ten times, probably more because it is one of my all time favorite films and the single greatest piece of anime I have ever witnessed. And as with the majority of people in the Western world, I have AKIRA to thank for really getting me interested in anime in the first place. In regards to anime this is one of the most important films ever made and introduced an entirely new audience to the Japanese animation style. In fact it's probably more popular in the Western world than in its native Japan.

AKIRA is adapted from the 2,000 page manga (which I haven't got around to reading yet) of the same name written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Ohtomo who also wrote and directed the film. It is set in futuristic Neo-Tokyo, rebuilt from the destruction of World War 3. It's a city of neon lights, technology and science inhabited by corrupt politicians, an oppressive military force, violent street gangs and anarchistic revolutionist groups. It is also a city which is tearing itself apart and as the tagline reads "Neo-Tokyo is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E"
Shôtarô Kaneda (voiced by Mitsuo Iwata) is the leader of a biker gang made up of a group of misfits including his childhood friend Tetsuo Shima (Sasaki). After an accident Tetsuo unwittingly becomes involved in a secret experimental government project known as AKIRA. On his way to save his friend, Kaneda runs into a group of anti-government activists who are looking to infiltrate the AKIRA project and see what dark secrets the military and government are hiding. Meanwhile the testing performed on Tetsuo has unlocked immense and dangerous telekinetic abilities which he violently unleashes on the world which has oppressed him for so long. It is then up to Kaneda and friends to stop Tetsuo's destructive rampage.

As you can imagine being adapted from 2,000 pages worth of manga, AKIRA is an extremely complex and multifaceted movie, but at the same time it isn't difficult to follow. Condensing those pages down into around 2 hours of animation has most likely resulted in removing any unnecessary and unimportant elements and leaves us with the essentials. Having said that though, multiple viewings will help you pick up on things you may have missed the first time. The film spends a lot of time showing us the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo and although they have been friends since childhood, Tetsuo shows some obvious resentment towards his friend because he is always treating him like a child and underestimating his abilities. AKIRA deals with a whole range of emotions and themes including friendship, loyalty, betrayal, corruption, greed, anger and power. Even though this may seem like a lot to take in, the fluid storytelling does a good job of preventing any of this getting too complicated. 

Visually AKIRA is stunning, even after all these years. The night scenes in particular are incredibly rendered and the color palette is immense with around 327 different colors (in fact 50 unique colors were created specifically for this movie). The action sequences are fast paced and visually arresting, from the opening fight between rival motorbike gangs right up to the film's climax.
The soundtrack is another item on AKIRA's long list of positive points, made with a combination of traditional Japanese instruments and more modern electronics such as synthesizers. But what is unusually more effective is the use of key scenes with absolutely no sound at all, just this incredibly huge silence which seems to fit in perfectly with the theme of psychic abilities.

The biggest thing AKIRA is (unfairly in my opinion) criticized over is the seemingly gratuitous use of violence. I'm not sure whether it's specifically the violence or whether it's simply the fact that such a huge level of it has been used in an animated film. A lot of people seem to equate animation (especially anime for some reason) to mean child-friendly, which is often not the case. Be warned this is no slick Disney production, this a dark and gritty film and parents are advised to watch it before letting their children see it.

I should probably finish up now. If I haven't already persuaded you to check this out then I probably never will. AKIRA is more than just a violent animated film, it has been a huge influence on modern cinema and without it you would probably never see the likes of THE MATRIX and countless other movies. It is also full of social commentary and emotion. Some may find it difficult to watch but I say it is undoubtedly a must-see and has earned its status as an absolute classic. And I'll give you a couple of tips. If you get the chance to get this on Blu-ray, do so because it has never looked better. Also stay away from the dubbed version, the lousy English voice acting is nothing but distracting.


  1. I remember seeing some really bad Anime in the wake of AKIRA. My bros and I would just rent anything that the video store would get, and most were terrible. But we didn't care because it was Anime, and we figured that MADE it cool.

    Good times. AKIRA, still totally holds up though.

    1. I haven't actually watched a whole lot of anime, but yeah I can imagine all of the films trying to cash in on AKIRA's success. My brother is really into anime so I usually ask him before I watch any, so I miss most of the terrible shit.