Neo-Tokyo, 2019. It’s 31 years since a mysterious explosion destroyed Tokyo and set off World War III, and the reborn city has become a decaying Metropolis of violence, gang war and political factions. In amongst it all are delinquent bikers Tetsuo and Kaneda, whose friendship is strained with the former growing resentful of how he always needs saved by the latter. One night, they stumble across a secret government program which has been experimenting on children to unleash latent mental powers such as telekinesis or precognition, and Tetsuo becomes the newest test subject…
Essentially introducing the Western world to the Japanese style of animation known as Anime, Akira is widely regarded as the one of the greatest animated movies ever made – and it’s not difficult to see why. Adapted from his own Manga series, visionary writer-director Katsuhiro Otomo takes the sprawling story and condenses it into a stylised cyber-punk epic which would go on to influence genre favourites like The Matrix or TV series Heroes.
Much more than a sexy ‘cartoon’, it’s a violent, densely-plotted affair which juggles various weighty themes (social unrest, revolution, delinquency, government corruption) with visceral spectacle. In truth, the narrative is a bit over-crowded at times and the climax goes a little too ‘big’, but the story remains centred around the friendship of two young men. Visually, of course, Akira begins surprisingly cinematic and remains striking throughout, with the crumbling, futuristic metropolis of Neo-Tokyo rendered in astonishing detail. It’s all hand-painted too, which makes the artistry that much more impressive.
The movie which introduced the Western world to Anime, Akira is regarded as one of the greatest animated movies ever – and you can see why. The overall quality isn’t quite maintained throughout, but the animation is stunning and its genre influence can still be felt.