Saturday, March 31, 2012

Anime review: Akira

Considered to be a classic by most anime fans, Akira is part futuristic action flick, part sci-fi cautionary tale. Which is not to say that the film attempts to align viewers' moral compasses, but rather that it explores the potential for unforeseen consequences in dabbling in grey areas; more specifically, the hopes of creating a being greater than human (inspiration that would carry over to the likes of Neon Genesis Evangelion and other works that followed in Akira's footsteps). In many ways, Akira feels like an anime equivalent to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, albeit with super fast motorbikes and rail guns.

The story is primarily focused on Kaneda and Tetsuo, two longtime friends who are part of the same biker gang. They spend their days in a run-down school, but take to the streets at night, challenging other biker gangs to deadly high-speed races/fights. Following a crash, Tetsuo finds himself in the custody of a government group who has concerned themselves with tapping into the minds of young individuals in the hopes of finding someone whose attributes would allow Akira to return. While no one is entirely certain as to who or what Akira actually is, there is much talk as it has become something of an urban legend.

While Tetsuo is subjected to various tests, Kaneda and company mull over the fact that their friend was taken from them. Upon finding out where Tetsuo is being held, Kaneda hatches a rescue plan, enlisting the aid of a handful of rebels. As the tension builds, so does the bizarre factor. Tetsuo experiences many nightmares that mess with his head, and also learns of the state of similar subjects who came before him - young children whose skin has darkened to a shade of pale green with deep wrinkles set in, as if they aged rapidly.

The animation is quite good overall. The opening chase sequence highlights the strongest points of animation, with highly-detailed backdrops of megalopolis Tokyo and zigzag light trails behind the bikes. For the remaining duration of the film, the animation is largely what is to be expected. For a standalone hand-drawn film from 1988, it looks pretty good. The soundtrack is a curious combination of industrial sounds and traditional Japanese music, both of which suit the tone of Akira very well.

The moments that lead up to Akira's conclusion are the only points of the film that merit harsh criticism. For a film that does so well to play with viewers' heads at key points, the back story of the real Akira is a tad bland and very direct. It's also tackled in a very quick time frame, and could easily have been expanded upon to add greater shock value for the audience. The very end of the film is also rather abrupt, though taking into consideration the way in which events play out late in the film, the finale is not unjustified. The world that Akira builds is as grotesque and subsequently beautiful as the story it weaves. It oozes classic science fiction in every respect, and to that end sci-fi buffs owe it to themselves to see this film.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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