For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Animated Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Non-Disney/PIXAR) Movies, here’s a review of Akira (1988) by Damien of Flashback/Backslide
Thanks again to S.G. Liput of Rhyme and Reason for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Kim of Tranquil Dreams. We will be reviewing our favorite teenage/high school romance movies. Please get me your submissions by 25th June by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org Try to think out of the box! Great choice Kim!
Let’s see what Damien thought of this movie:
Official Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest: Before I start a review of Akira, I must admit that I am a massive fan of any movies involving the apocalypse, cyberpunk, military dystopias, out of control superpowers, and crazy superpower cults. The following review may be influenced by these interests.
I first saw Akira a few years ago when I was tracking down some of the best anime movies. I found Akira on a list somewhere and I expect more than a few of the movies I saw at that time will show up in this month’s Genre Grandeur. Akira is set in 2019 in Neo-Tokyo, 31 years after the start of World War III. In the opening scenes, Shotaro Kaneda leads his biker gang the Capsules in a fight against their rival the Clowns. In the ensuing clash Kaneda’s best friend Testuo Shima breaks away from the group and nearly rides into an escaped military test subject. Just before the collision Takashi, the escapee who is implied to have telekinetic powers, causes Tetsuo’s motorcycle to explode. The Capsules catch up with Tetsuo soon after the explosion and find him seriously injured before the military arrives to recover Takashi. Colonel Shikishima convinces Takashi to return to the research facility and brings Tetsuo back for monitoring. Soon Shikishima and Doctor Onishi discover Tetsuo has developed psychic abilities of his own after his interaction with Takashi. The two decide to study Tetsuo and his powers as they develop, accepting the risk that Tetsuo’s powers may become too much for the boy to handle, a situation which occurred once before with a test subject named Akira at the start of World War III.
As the film progresses we watch Tetsuo’s powers build and learn more about his relationship with Kaneda. The two boys grew up together in a children’s home where Kaneda protected the smaller Tetsuo from teasing by the other kids who “tried to make him cry.” Despite his protection and friendship, Tetsuo grows to resent Kaneda for bossing him around. Soon Tetsuo relishes in his newfound powers and the freedom they give him, telling Kaneda: “I won’t be needing you to come to the rescue ever again.”
Countless films explore how an ordinary person reacts to the sudden acquisition of awesome powers. With the recent explosion of superhero films we can expect to see more of this theme. But despite somewhat similar content, Tetsuo’s story feels more genuine and realistic than the majority of comicbook films which can be overly optimistic in how their heroes handle new God-like powers. Maybe the difference lies in just how God-like Tetsuo’s powers are compared to Spider-Man, Batman or even Thor. Like the young Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, Tetsuo uses his new powers recklessly and selfishly which feels more true to the character given his background and personality. The film bearing the most narrative similarity to Akira may be Chronicle which centers around teenagers who suddenly gain telekinetic powers. One of the teenagers reacts to years of bullying by using his new powers to exact violent revenge.
Akira’s strengths extend beyond its appealing storyline, complex world building (bonus points for adding a pseudo-religious cult), and compelling answer to the question “what would you do if you were given superpowers.” Simply put, the film is gorgeous to watch. Sadly, too many animated films do not take full advantage of the medium and use animation to depict what could be shown in live-action. The action sequences of this film are amazing to watch. They’re fast-paced, full of color, engaging and easy to follow (which can be difficult with overly CGI-ed live-action films). Live-action films are catching up with animation as CGI continues to develop but I’m not sure they could match the imagery seen in Akira whose opening bike scene alone surpasses what most films accomplish in two hours. The “critics consensus” on Rotten Tomatoes comments on the visuals of the film as well stating that “its phenomenal animation and sheer kinetic energy helped set the standard for modern anime.” Sadly the consensus also states that “Akira is distractingly bloody and violent.” Obviously I’d argue otherwise and tend to think the content of the film would be betrayed with a sanitary presentation. But I already confessed how much I love movies like Akira so I may be blinded by these interests.