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Akira (Anime)


By Tom BakerPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 3 min read

I vaguely remember seeing Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira as a child--and most likely not understanding a minute of it, but just sitting back and letting the animated images of a futuristic "Neo-Tokyo" wash over me. Decades later, watching it yet again, on a digital YouTube social media platform no one could have foreseen in 1988, I was struck by how modern and well-preserved it is, how much it set the bar for decades of similar anime films, having all the earmarks of the various conventions that define the genre.

Certainly, its influence on cyberpunk is harder to determine, although it certainly is firmly placed in a futuristic city both technologically dazzling and riddled with violence, crime, brutal, suppressing, militarized police, lawlessness, social unrest, wealth gap, etc. Kaneda, Tetsuo, and their biker gang of young, pretty boy punks speed around on their futuristic choppers, taking speed and hanging out in cheap dives whose walls are festooned with graffiti. They have running street chases, battles really, with the "Clown Gang" (in the literal sense), and these opening scenes are exciting, high-pitched, and high-octane action sequences that expose the violent underbelly of Akira's world.

This is set against the backdrop of student social unrest due to government taxation (read: modern "austerity measures") that threatens to make the plight of the middle class even worse--hence the student revolt. This social inequality evidenced in Akira is surprising, but is a critical aspect of the cyberpunk aesthetic, as the ascendancy of technology is juxtaposed against the decrepitude and injustice of social and economic institutions. Nothing can be held as having a purpose that is manifestly benign, or geared toward helping out the social classes that cower beneath the corporate fascist bootheel that both gives consumerist cookies with one hand, and takes away wealth, hope, and the future of the people with another. But this is like our actual reality, is it not? It has been observed that capitalism will sell you the rope to hang yourself with.

Akira - Biker Gang Fight Scene [4K]

Tetsuo nearly runs down a small boy with a strange, aged face, that looks as if he might have progeria (a rare disease wherein children prematurely and rapidly age, looking like little elderly beings and soon dying), and is himself taken to the hospital, where the government scientist perform some sort of experiment on him, causing him to gain hallucinations and paranormal powers. The film then begins to focus on his buddy Kaneda, who is quite smitten with Kei, an activist trying to expose the government's perfidy as regarding the "espers," the psychics of which the mysterious Akira is now a part.

Tetsuo escapes from government custody, and kills one of his former gang members, rejecting Kaneda, and Kei, and getting himself involved in the middle of what seems to be some insurrectionary coup against the oppressive government. Akira is long, but never really dull, and the final scenes are rather breathtaking, as the viewer realizes how the story has transcended what came previously and has now developed in a wild, new territory. The ending is a revelation of the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo, the Universe, the capability to reach out beyond yourself, and seems to give meaning to existence in what has hitherto been a brutal, dystopian, and downbeat world.

Akira was lauded as "making Bladerunner look like Disneyland" in an old advertising spot that I can remember from decades ago. That is a bit hyperbolic; on a purely visual level, Bladerunner is still a far more arresting film. In some ways Akira seems dated, its design, while intriguing and certainly top-notch for the period, has now been emulated so many times it is virtually kitsch--animes for decades have looked like this, and surpassed this. Regardless, Akira is still a visually gripping and wholly entertaining relic of our downbeat visions of a future world, just poised on the cusp of the Is To Be.

Love and napalm.

Akira (1988) Trailer

pop culturevintagescifi moviescience fictionmovie reviewanime

About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.: http://tombakerbooks.weebly.com

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (2)

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock5 months ago

    Another excellent review of a movie I haven't seen but probably should.

  • This is an awesome synopsis of Akira with great connections to the time period and the impact on other aspects of anime. Even though most anime fans consider this the classic of classics, I am much more into starting people with Ninja Scroll to convince them of the prowess of anime.

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