Area ’88: Akira

Akira, to use a cliche, simply needs no introduction. It is one of the most expensive and best-looking animated films ever made, and an unrivaled work of pure spectacle. Moreover, almost immediately after arriving on our shores, it became “required…

Akira, to use a cliche, simply needs no introduction. It is one of the most expensive and best-looking animated films ever made, and an unrivaled work of pure spectacle. Moreover, almost immediately after arriving on our shores, it became “required viewing” for folks like us: seeing Akira for the first time is that essential stepping stone from “interested in anime” to “fan.”

Or so I thought. Anime fandom is getting younger while Akira gets older, and I’ve had too many conversations with Narutized anime fans who, at best, have a vague notion that out there, somewhere, a film called Akira might exist. Akira’s been reviewed and analyzed to death over the last twenty-plus years; I’d rather talk about my experience with the film, and why this generation of fans ought to keep it on the required reading list.


I’m not as old as some of my Colony Drop colleagues, but I got into this stuff young enough so that my best bet was the Japanimation aisle at the local Blockbuster, full of Streamline classics mottled with “adults only” stickers. Akira carried two stickers from Blockbuster, as well as one printed on Streamline’s original packaging.

These warning labels made the film frightening, and therefore instantly attractive. As with all things denied to children, the fact that you weren’t supposed to see it made seeing it essential. But not, we decided, until we were “ready.”

One of our friends had, however, somehow seen Akira. His name was Charles and he always had a mysterious air about him, as if at 13 he’d seen and done it all.

Charles described (again, in hushed tones; Akira was the kind of film you didn’t want the teacher to hear you talking about) a few scenes to me in all their bloody, graphic detail. He also promised how in a matter of moments, I would even “forget it was animation” and be fully immersed in the experience.

Finally, somehow, I got one of my parents to rent me Blockbuster’s warning-covered copy of Akira. I can’t remember how I navigated around the adult-only stickers; in all likelihood, they didn’t even notice. My parents would become increasingly used to me checking out films with bizarre foreign titles in the coming years.

Unfortunately, the Akira I’d built up in my mind and the film on my TV screen didn’t mesh. I was confused, bored, and certainly never forgot it was animation. I fell asleep about 2/3rds of the way through, when (spoiler alert!) Tetsuo discovers Akira is nothing but bits of intestine preserved in freeze-dried tubes.

My expectations for the film, of course, had been monstrous. The quality of the dub probably didn’t help either, though today it’s remembered fondly for being incomprehensible and for Cam Clarke yelling “Tetsuo!” a lot. Like, a lot.

Something must have stuck, though, because I was still interested in the film. A few years later an online friend sent me a fansubbed copy (through the mail; this was long before we upgraded from dialup). The file was on-par with Youtube quality-wise and corrupted in places, but I must’ve watched it at least ten times anyway. The film grew on me with each viewing, as I began to have an idea of what exactly was going on. Finally, the now-defunct Geneon, which was once the now-defunct Pioneer, released the film on DVD in stunning quality and, most importantly, with a new translation. I bought it at the now-defunct Sam Goody the day it was released. Now it’s out on Blu-ray, and you can bet I’ll be snapping that puppy up as one of my first HD discs.

Again, this film’s been talked to death, and I don’t want to review it, per se, but I am interested in why it keeps bringing us back. I think the aforementioned sense of spectacle plays a big part. Aside from the bi-yearly Studio Ghibli release, we don’t see much anime with a ton of money at its disposal, and we’re forced to live with cels that move at eight frames a second, scrolling backgrounds, and the like. Akira is our chance to see what the Japanese can do when they’re allowed to really flex their animation muscle. Everything in this film is, for lack of a better word, big.

But we already know all this. This article’s for you, you Naruto/Death Note/whatever fans. This film is pretty important, and you owe it to yourself to see it. Check your local Blockbuster.


  1. I used to think the Akira movie was great… till I read the manga and realized that a good 2/3rds of the story was missing. Still a good movie but it’ll never be the same.

  2. The blu ray looks absolutely phenomenal. Definitely a showcase title if you just bought some fancy new toys and want to show them off to some like-minded friends. For the BD version they actually went through another complete remaster too so it looks extra bonus good. Sadly unlike the dvd version there are not as many extras going into the process behind such an endeavor.

  3. G: While the manga definitely expands more on the surprisingly interesting story of Akira, I think the movie is still perfectly valid as an abridged take on the manga’s main themes — and if nothing else, it is easily one of the most gorgeous animated movies ever produced. The fluidity and detail really put to shame the vast majority of modern digital productions, and is filled with no end of fascinating sequences — the escape through the street with Takashi, the nursery scene, the unveiling of Akira, and of course Tetsuo’s final transformation.

    To my mind, the number of productions equal in holistic gorgeousness to Akira number in the single digits (Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, various Ghibli films). It’s a shame that we will likely never see 2D animation of its caliber again.

  4. Just a heads-up about the BR: there have been reports of it carrying only dubtitles and having differently arranged music (in the Japanese DolbyTrueHD mix at least), the last of which was probably part of the audio remastering which they talk about in the LE booklet.

    Keep this in mind, I know I’ll be keeping my R1 DVDs.

  5. Great ‘review’, it definitely reminds me of my experiences and reactions to delving into this classic. Very interesting comments too. In an interview, Otomo commented that the film version was supposed to be a “snapshot” of ideas from the manga and not a direct translation. After all, the manga is a thousand + pages! I got the impression that he was more concerned with making an abstract vision instead of having the story be cohesive and comprehensible! Regardless, it’s a work that will always stand out.

  6. I remember my first experience with the Akira movie…I was at my local comic shop, as I was buying my latest weeks comics, I noticed on a high shelf, behind the register, was a VHS copy of Akira, widescreen no less. I had been hearing about the flick a lot, and had been shown a couple of the Marvel/Epic colorized comics by a friend, and just felt the need to have it. So I bought it, got it home and must have watched it a half dozen times in a week. It just worked for me, bad dub and all, heh. that old VHS had since been lost (from lending it out), but I have the steelcase dvd version now, and its a gem in my anime collection, but recently, I had been feeling an itch revisit that old VHS tape, so one ebay search and 7 bux (including shipping) later, I have a widescreen VHS copy again, and the dub is still bad, but, it’s Akira, as I knew it, and it still works.

  7. I remember downloading this with WinMX, a really old p2p site my friend had shown to me when I was 10. I’d always type in really vague search terms like “anime” and this always had the most peers so a dl later and I had one of the most… different.. I guess would be the word… movies I’d ever seen. It’s funny because of Akira, I saw Tetsuo: The Iron Man which jumpstarted my love for weird live action japanese films.

    Also, I don’t know about you guys…. but I’m just hoping the live action adaption of Akira falls out.

  8. To G: I can understand your statement about the differences between the manga and the movie, but you have to remember that Otomo was responsible for _both_. Plus, when he began working on the movie, he had not finished the manga as yet. And as noted before, it takes nothing away from the film, which is not just one of the best anime ever made, but it is one of the best _science fiction_ films ever made–live action or otherwise.

    It is sad that so many anime fans today are unaware of this movie (hell, how many know of the Macross movie from 1984?). Even with the all-encompassing Internet, people are still clueless about it. But should that be attributed to their own ignorance, or our own fault in not telling them about this film (or even if we tell them, there is a tendency to be condescending….)

    The truth is that AKIRA is still a mind-blowing masterpiece even after 20 years. Like BLADE RUNNER, it set a new standard, and even though it had a small bit of CG, it is still a hand-drawn animated film all the way.

  9. *facepalm*

    The film itself was known for “Tetsuo!” being yelled a lot, not just the first English dub. Next time, try using a valid point if you’re going to attack the quality of the first dub.

  10. My first experience with Akira was a copy of it on VHS back in 1989 (wow 20 years ago…holy crap).

    My japanese friend had a copy of this movie (the original japanese vhs tape had macrovisio). The macrovision made it somewhat difficult to watch as every now and then the video would distort and then appear fine again every few mins.

    I remember watching it so much that the tape was starting to show signs of wear. In 1989, there was no anime on videotape (at least in the US) other than probably a few episodes of Robotech or some tape recorded episodes of some english dubbed anime off of TV.

    I guess you can say I was a part of the older crowd of anime who had to get their fix from fansubs via videotape or from comic book stores.

    Old school…

  11. “Anime fandom is getting younger while Akira gets older, and I’ve had too many conversations with Narutized anime fans who, at best, have a vague notion that out there, somewhere, a film called Akira might exist.”

    Kind of ironic, considering Kishimoto name-drops Akira in most of the interviews he does w/ SJUSA. What? Did no one get the Kanye West thing, either?

    J.: Ironically, it’s because of the actors involved that people like the Streamline dub for Akira more than the geneon dub.

  12. I remember the short preview from Akira in the TV news back in the day, I was like six YO and those seconds of animation got burned in my eyes and brain. After that I inmediately checked the Movies section in the newspaper and there it was again a review and a little B/W image from the movie that I can still see in front of my eyes. It was from Tetsuo becoming a monster in the stadium. I repeated myself: “someday I’m gonna see this movie no matter what”, while holding the piece of paper hahaha! Finally I saw the movie eight years later it was a loooong wait cause it was really hard to find, it was beautiful. I said: No matter how old this movie could look in the future, For me it will always be the coolest animated movie ever. “Sadly” with the years I realize that Akira is not becoming old dated but the rest of the new anime is getting CRAPIER AS HELL. And Akira is gaining more and more value as an extremely rare piece of extincted art. Some time in the middle of the last decade I said ANIME IS DEAD. This is not anime, lame designed and animated underaged girls in school uniforms, fighting clown demons and trying to look cool while crying. What the hell happened?! Where is the manly anime we were so proud to brag about with the “infidels”? Where are the gore, the hot chicks wearing 90’s style bikinis, shooting the crap out of hords of horny disgusting looking ginourmous fiends. The guts, the fast cars and bikes, the ugly cool looking heroes with muscles and scars and a eyepatch, with a manly voice cursing, killing monsters and saving hot girls? These are sad days, 20 years ago we had Akira, ninja scroll, Genocyber, Saint Seya, today the boys fap to underaged girls wearing “shimapans” while singing, dancing and holding a pillow with the kiddie printed on it. Jesus christ…

  13. Holst, I salute your teen spirit, though not your grammar.

  14. Thank you so much Prague hahaha! Yeah, english is not my native language and I have apologized so many times already for it that I just gave up lol.

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