Public opinion is a bad thing. To the extent that you can generally take public opinion, reverse it, and find the truth. For example, the public says Justin Timberlake is great. Put this erroneous view into the machine, and the correct answer comes out: Timberlake sucks! However, once in a while, a film comes along that everyone says is great, and amazingly it is. ‘Akira’ is one such film.
The film is set in neo Tokyo, 2019. The landscape is brilliant (literally): neon signs, flashing screens, and holograms illuminate vast tower blocks, as much a comment on contemporary Tokyo as the future.
Caught in this fantastic dystopia is the anti-hero of the piece, Kaneda. It is interesting that when Katsuhiro Otomo made the transition from manga to anime he considerably glossed over Kaneda. For example, in the manga Kaneda gets the school nurse pregnant and treats this as a joke; he also takes pills, and messes with K a lot more than in the anime. Tetsuo’s character is also affected by the transition: in the manga he is far cooler, and respected from the beginning, whereas in the anime he is treated like an idiot. This is a shame. Then again, the manga had to be cut down as it spans six huge books.
The anime kicks off with a gang fight between Kaneda’s friends and the Clowns. During the race, Tetsuo has an accident, colliding with Takashi. This incident leaves him with an immense, incontrollable power. From this point onward things escalate in scale as Kaneda gets closer and closer to the mysterious power of Akira. Personally, being a fan of realism, I prefer the first part of the film. The racing, the school scenes, and the bars are what appeal to me; once Tetsuo transforms into a great swollen lump, I start to loose interest.
Perhaps the film could be read as a metaphor for success. Initially Tetsuo has nothing and he is not respected, yet when he gets power he abuses it and is made hideous because of this abuse. This is the only way I can ground what happens to Tetsuo in reality, as when people have great things happen to them, they tend to be dragged off (as Tetsuo is by the military) and forget who cared for them in the first place: in this case Kaneda and his friends.
The animation is flawless and the character designs are also worth note. At first the characters strike you as plain: for a hero Kaneda is not very astonishing, yet this is their beauty. The majority of anime characters are exaggerated like mad, with massive eyes, Elvin ears, and crazy hair: through this contrast Otomo’s characters’ look unique. Lastly the music completes this close-to-perfect production, by introducing a thumping organic beat and also strange vocal samples. This adds tension in appropriate places, and is a joy to listen to on its own.
Advice for those of you who haven’t watched Akira, and for those of you who have: watch, listen, think - repeat.