Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


In 1988, director Otomo Katsuhiro released the theatrical adaptation of his very own manga, Akira. That movie has since been considered one of the greatest and most influential animated films of all time. It's also one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time.

However, 1988 wasn't a year that lacked classic anime movies. My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies came out during the same year, too. So what makes Akira worthy of its own mention in a year that produced two excellent films in their own right? 

Well, for starters, this movie helped start the 1990's boom in the Western Otaku-culture. It is also an extremely well-made movie. The dialog was actually pre-recorded and the animation of the mouths was made to match what was said (something that wasn't done so often in those days). It's animation, despite its age, really is spectacular. There's also a sense of something archetypal about the story. 

It's a dystopian post-war fantasy epic without stereotypical bad guys. Tetsuo, the primary antagonist, isn't as much of a bad guy as he may seem. He's the sympathetic villain and it is his powerless best friend Kaneda that must save the day even when it seems like the Japanese army cannot. Kaneda is the goofy hero without any powers and Tetsuo is the larger than life almost godlike creature trying to destroy the world. 

The plot of this movie shouldn't work, but it does because Tetsuo isn't the only one with powers to be found. It would be pretty boring if Tetsuo just destroyed everything, right? There are three small (and very old-looking) children that seem to have a bit of Tetsuo's power and they might be all that stands between Tetsuo and mass destruction. 

Still, explaining the plot to this movie is like explaining the plot to 2001: A Space Odyssey or just about any other Stanley Kubrick movie, for that matter. You just have to see it or you won't really get it. 

Akira may or may not be the most original concept, but because it was animated and because of the time it made its debut it made a mark that can't be underestimated. It really was the perfect storm. 

But the fact that it was animated isn't the main attraction. It's what was animated. This film, which came along long before Paprika and seven years before Ghost in the Shell, is a visual spectacle. As the movie continues it becomes more and more absurd and pushes the boundaries for animation. When it comes to animation there are no limits and Katsushiro knows this. He's so immersed in the story, probably because he understood his own 2000+ page story better than anyone else (and was still involved with it at the time), that it shouldn't be any surprise how much of a punch it packs. 
The movie also didn't steer away from tough and violent scenes. Not just violence, but gore, too. It wasn't overwhelming gore, but an absurdist type of gore that becomes an integral part of the landscape. Tetsuo's transformation at the end is a good example of what I am talking about. 

There's also a few very uncomfortable scenes that involve an attempted sexual assault and some nudity. I've watched plenty of modern anime that had some shocking scenes, but the scenes from this movie are not without their shock value even if they weren't intended to be shocking. Age is not a crutch for this film. What it was meant to do in 1988 it still accomplishes in 2014. 

This movie proved that there was a market for Japanese animation in America. But even if you throw out all of that, there's also just the fact that it is an excellent movie. That's why it is a classic. That is why you can't really call yourself an anime fan if you haven't seen this movie. It's like calling yourself a fan of poetry without reading Shakespeare. That's how I view this movie. Even if you don't like it, if you respect the history of Japanese animation then you can't not watch this movie. 

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