In 1988 many people in the world knew nearly nothing about Japanese animation and rare manga were the only source of knowledge about who and how does painting in that mystical country. Nevertheless, science fiction was popular, maybe even more popular than ever before. USA had “Be Forever Yamato” and «Mobile suit Gundam» while in Europe noone wanted to promote anime. That time of sci-fi and cyberpunk was for Akira to strike. Likely, Katsuhiro Otomo knew that his animated action film will be popular and maybe he hoped that it will someday become a “classic”, but right after release “Akira” was claimed as a cult film. Years have past, but we still like it and want to watch it again and again!
What is so awesome about this film? Maybe genre? Let us see. Is “Akira” a cyberpunk? Definitely, but it is yet a science fiction. Does “Akira” have any action film aspects? Yes, it is a greatly detailed action-packed movie with explosions, blood, fighting scenes and much more. A picky spectator will be astonished by how many genres “Akira” combines in one single creation. Let us list all genres that fit “Akira”: psychological drama, science fiction, action, cyberpunk, horror, thriller, animation. It strikes nearly in every type of auditorium and strikes heavily.
One of the main reasons why this film became so popular is Otomo’s love for details. We can see details in everything, whether it is a description of the futuristic motorcycle or just a panoramic view of the crowd. Modern anime lost a lot of charisma because of its disregarding the details. Otomo wanted this creation to be detailed, therefore, he focused his attention on drawing and creating a realistic environment. For example, during the terroristic act when guerrilla attack caused the massive explosion a spectator can see 16 different people in one single scene and every character is doing something individual, no animation patterns, no blurring – pure work. Drawing is not the only detailed aspect of the movie, the plot is based on Otomo’s manga that is why he does know everything about how and why all devices and mechanisms work. When Tetsuo stole Kaneda’s motorcycle, he broke it in the middle of the highway and then said: “the engine can’t drop below 5000 even when you’re changing gears!” This episode is short, dispensable, maybe even redundant, but it makes this movie so authentic, so plausible that you have to believe it.
The director did not forget about drama and romantic line. Tetsuo is not just an antagonist for the plot purposes, but also a portrait of a man that can exist in Otomo’s futuristic and somewhat apocalyptic world. He is a lone child thrown away by government and cruelty of this unwelcoming society to keep all his anger and protest deep inside his soul. The problem of power overwhelming a weak human being is the center of the plot and the cause of the drama. Can power and ambitions destroy friendship? Can somebody kill his own friend in order to save him from that power? These questions bother Otomo the most. Unlike many other directors, he is giving the answers and you do not even need to look for them.
Short and, allow me to say, compact love story between Kaneda and Kei makes this story complete, for we see a brand new day and circumstances for reconstruction of the world on the background of final scenes. Kaneda and Kei survived that whole battle to say to the world: “We are ready to rebuild it, we are ready to begin once again, but without that redundant power!”
Yet plot twists and pretty good animation are not the reason for Akira’s cult status. The fiction side of the movie, however, is. Otomo is questioning us with somewhat traditional problems of sci-fi. Searching for God, complex problems of corruption and technology and ability of the human race to control the science progression.
Now about God. It is clear to see that Akira, Tetsuo, Kiyoko, Masaru and Takashi became a “power source” for a new universe as doctor Onishi in the end of the movie says that the energy release is similar to the “birth of the universe”. Otomo alludes to the suggestion that our universe was born in similar circumstances with our own Akira creating everything by the fact of his existence. This complex problem is debated on the background of “social entropy” when the society has no room to evolve and progress because of corruption and ambitions of politicians. We have technology and opportunities and we have to use them properly, otherwise, we will live in our own “Tokyo 2019”. Otomo warns us about this possibility. Look at his world, people have modern weapons, futuristic vehicles, enough food and yet they live in unstable society full of corrupted politicians and social disparities.
Akira is a great example of science fiction just like “Soilent Green” (book) and “Johnny Mnemonic”. If you like cyberpunk, sci-fi and anime, then you must watch Akira at least once in your life.