Ani-Monday: Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)

Another new feature! Before I do a cartwheel and flip a top hat onto my head for presentational purposes, let it be known that I’ve always been a fan of the animated medium. From Disney to Anime, animated films carry with them an alternately diverse and unified set of cinematic ideals – ones that vary in terms of all-ages engagement and singular artistic vision. They’re things meant to be timeless despite an age benchmarked by Pixar-elevated technical proficiency, and I mean to explore both the former and the latter in an ongoing effort to touch all of my bases here on this blog. Enjoy!

Once thought to be gratuitous in the presentation of its iconic imagery, Akira holds up in terms of narrative but assuredly won’t phase a mostly desensitized present-day audience. Set in the marginally dystopian Neo-Tokyo circa 2022, civil unrest following the Third World War is commonplace to the point of frequent police and military intervention. Concerned more with hooliganism than tending to their vocational studies, long-time pals Kaneda and Tetsuo maintain their roles as master and misfit respectively in a local biker gang amid this chaos, frequently challenging and combating others in true Mad Max fashion. Following a fateful run-in with a mysterious young boy on the lam from authorities, the overshadowed and temperamental Tetsuo undergoes a series of traumatic transformative changes that shed light on what he’s become, what will become of him and the truth behind Neo-Tokyo’s psychic-obsessed subclass.

Whew! As I reel from how convoluted that admittedly sounds, Akira still maintains a sense of artistic integrity that’s easy to appreciate on the basis of its source inspirations. For those not entirely familiar with Manga and the frequent translation of its ranks from print to screen, the sheer level of unprecedented creativity present throughout some of these titles is often mind-blowing. Based on writer/director Otomo’s own graphic novel, this particular film is as conceptually lofty and fleshed-out as it needs to be to tell the story at its core, even if it doesn’t quite tie up all of the loose ends presented by its high-concept aims.

This aside, Otomo covers all of his bases in presenting his agreeably innovative vision. From an excellently-realized futuristic aesthetic to just the right amount of humanism involving Kaneda and Tetsuo, all of the explanatory exposition involving the Japanese government and the title character pale in comparison to the film’s climax. Despite the convolution stemming from the origination and subsequent study of the close-knit psionic community, Akira provides us with a lot of general excitement that’s hard to ignore as it becomes all-encompassing throughout its latter two-thirds.

Although not perfect due to the obvious shortcomings I’ve touched upon, Akira‘s icon status is well-deserved on the basis of its creator’s lovingly crafted universe. It overcomes a mostly non-dynamic cast of characters and semi-convoluted exposition with a wholly unique art style, involving conflict and sheer unpredictability. All things considered, Akira is an arguably seminal piece of work that predated anything comparably mature in terms of content.

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