For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Dystopian Movies, here’s a review of Akira (1988) by Justine of Justine’s Movie Blog
Thanks again to James of Back to the Viewer for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by S.G. Liput of Rhyme and Reason. We will be reviewing our favorite fantasy/sci-fi animated movies (non-Disney or Pixar) . Please get me your submissions by 25th May by sending them to email@example.com Try to think out of the box! Great choice S.G.!
Let’s see what Justine thought of this movie:
The dystopian genre is always an interesting one. There’s so many great movies that have come out of it, Blade Runner being my all time favorite. But since I’ve already gushed about it on my own blog, I’ve decided to focus on a less obvious choice. Akira, aside from being a great dystopian sci-fi, is one of the most influential anime films in history. I’ve never been big into anime, but it was this movie that acted as my gateway into the world of Japanese animation. It has since become one of my favorite animated movies ever, and has paved the way for subsequent anime films and series to popularize with western audiences.
Sure, Japanese animation existed long before Akira was made, but unlike many before it, it achieved a large cult status outside of Japan and sparked a wave of interest and a huge boom in anime demand in the West in the following decade, and this was a genre that was often previously regarded as unmarketable to American audiences.
Based off of a 2,000+ page manga of the same name, Akira tells the story of a society in Neo-Tokyo in 2019, a new city built after the old Tokyo is destroyed by a huge explosion by a super psychic-powered child named Akira. Anti-government terrorists cause chaos around the city, scientists and government officials are dealing with the after effects of experimenting on children with psychic abilities, and rival teenage biker gangs havoc in the streets. Among one of these gangs are two childhood friends, Kaneda and Tetsuo. During a battle with a rival gang, Tetsuo crashes into an escaped psionic, and is taken away to a remote hospital where he discovers he’s developed uncontrollable psychic powers.
Akira is a landmark in Japanese animation. Katsushiro Otomo wrote and illustrated the manga and directed its film adaptation. The film had an unusually high budget of 1.1 billion Yen ($11 million), and features impeccable hand-drawn detail and coloration in the characters as well as the background. If you have seen it, or ever watch it in your life, take notice of the extreme detail in the background. Even the tiny windows on the distant buildings are sharply drawn. A lot of the scenes take place at night, which calls for higher color requirements. 327 different colors were used in making the film, which was a record high for animation. In addition to this, Akira was the first Japanese anime that recorded the actors’ voices before the animation was done, meaning the faces are drawn to match the voices, and not the other way around. This made for a lot more realistic details in the face, especially the mouth movements. To this day, Akira remains one of the most technically gorgeous animated films I’ve seen.
Because this is based on such a long manga, the movie is only a small part of the story. I’ve never read the manga, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but people who have might not enjoy it as much. In my opinion, for a film that only tells half the story, you really don’t notice it much. The only thing it seems to really be missing is some of the character development, especially with Kaneda. He changes very little, if at all, throughout the film, and he’s mostly unlikable. But you could always chalk that up to him just being the product of a post-apocalyptic society where their world almost ended in violent nuclear destruction, and so the only logical way to evolve is through violence and being a douchebag.
Everyone is struggling for power, the government, the terrorists, the gangs, and eventually, Tetsuo. He goes from being a helpless kid who reluctantly needs saving to being the most powerful being on Earth, and with this power, comes the loss of his humanity. There’s a lot you can take from the story, especially with what happens towards the end with Tetsuo. You could also compare the aftermath of the fictional World War III with the tragedy of the real World War II involving the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. There’s probably a lot more going on beneath the surface than I can give it credit for.
The closest comparison I can make with this film is with the 2012 movie, Chronicle. An otherwise innocent kid develops psychic powers and becomes a monster. I’m pretty sure that film took direct influence from Akira, as have so many others. Even last year’s Lucy had some similar plot devices and themes. Oh, and let’s not forget Kanye West’s music video for “Stronger” of which he embodies the character Tetsuo. Everyone loves Kanye, right? No? Me neither.
Akira is a beautifully animated dystopian sci-fi. It set a standard for the acceptance of anime in the West, showing audiences outside Japan that animation isn’t always just for kids. It deals with violence and intricate themes, and does so with unbelievably detailed hand-drawn animation that I can only marvel at. It has influenced other anime and live-action films, including an impending live-action Hollywood remake of it that has been in development hell for quite some time, and for this movie’s sake, I hope it stays there. There’s just some movies that shouldn’t be touched by Hollywood, and Akira is one of them. Even if you’re not into anime at all, I would recommend this movie. It could change your mind.