Welcome to The AniMAYtion Challenge, where Ashe and Branden review one animated film every weekend throughout the month of May. Each film was chosen in draft style, with Ashe recieving the first pick of round one. With the fourth pick of the 2015 AniMAYtion Challenge, Branden Chowen selects Akira from 1988.
As I hit play on Akira, I realized that this would actually be my first real taste of Japanese animation, or Anime. I love animated films, but have never spent any significant time with a film from the country that showed that the art form was for more than just children. So my first viewing of Akira would be pretty special for me. Though Akira is unlike any animation I’ve seen in the past, there are still some pitfalls with it that other, non-animated, adult dramas encounter, and the slow pace is one of the major reasons why this film didn’t live up to what I had hoped coming in.
Akira starts out rather bleakly, as a bomb is shown dropping on Tokyo in July of 1988. We soon come to find out that this is the start of World War III. The movie then jumps years into the future, and we arrive in Neo-Tokyo, 30-years after the end of WW3. The city is a violent place, filled with biker gangs; it feels entirely post-apocalyptic. We meet Kaneda, the leader of the Capsules biker gang. After a showdown with the Clowns, a rival biker gang, the group is stopped by a government agency of some sort, and Kaneda’s friend Tetsuo is taken into their custody. Once there, Tetsuo’s brain is manipulated by scientists, and he starts developing supernatural powers and a really bad attitude. Kaneda and his gang set out to save Tetsuo, but that doesn’t appear to be what Tetsuo wants. Instead, he wants to find Akira, someone who keeps appearing in his dreams. The problem here is that Akira is supposedly the strongest, most destructive force that the scientists created, so they locked him away under the Tokyo Olympiad in order to contain him. Tetsuo is dead set on tracking him down, though, and what results is chaos and carnage.
The plot sets the tone for the film, but what Akira equates to is little more than a chase film. The government is chasing down Tetsuo, and Kaneda and his friends are chasing down the government to stop them from chasing Tetsuo. The problem is that it’s hard to maintain a chase film for over two hours, which is what director Katsuhiro Ôtomo attempts to do. The runtime is much too long for the story being told, and I had to fight to keep engaged with the film.
There are multiple audio track options on the recent Blu-ray release of the film, so I wasn’t entirely sure which one to watch first. I ended up going with the English 5.0 track, which had the year 2001 written next to it, leading me to believe that this voice cast was recorded in ’01. The other two options were the Japanese 2.0 track, and an English 2.0 track (with a date of 1988 next to it). The track I chose was pretty good overall, but there were a few voice actors that were not committed to what was happening to these characters, and that always throws the viewer off. Specifically, Colonel Shikishima, voiced by Jamieson Price in the version I watched, was one of the disappointments. He’s a major player here, but I only believed he was in a desperate situation about 60% of the time. Johnny Young Bosch is excellent in the lead role, though, as is Joshua Seth as Tetsuo. The background characters were very hit or miss.
The animation is absolutely outstanding, and to think this was originally drawn and animated almost 30 years ago is really astounding. The graphic detail that the artists manage is something to behold. Aside from the story being told, the real reason this is an adult-aimed animated tale is because of the artwork. It’s some of the best I’ve seen, especially from this era. It makes me wish I was more invested in the story that was being told.
Akira is a classic in its own right, and I can appreciate why that is, but it didn’t entirely work for me. The story is too drawn-out, and is little more than a simple government conspiracy film mixed with a chase film. The animation is top of the line, and the characters are interesting enough, but the voice cast is hit or miss outside the young leads in the 2001 recording, and the movie just didn’t give me enough story to stay tuned in. The ending is a bit of a disappointment as well, as it builds all the way to the reveal of the titular character but doesn’t really pay off. I can respect Akira, and can see why others may love it, but this classic won’t go down as one of my all-time favorites in the animated genre.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.