Akira (1988)

June 12, 2003 • Film, Reviews

The Gone-With-The-Wind-sized epic of anime. Director Katsuhiro Otomo, basing the story on his own gigantic, decade-spanning manga series (which he was creating at the same time as he was directing this picture!), destroys Tokyo at the beginning of his movie and destroys it again at the end. In the middle is a story involving government psychic experimentation, terrorists, cultists hell-bent on destruction, the next stage in human evolution, gnarly, aged-looking kids who can blow things up with their minds, and the world’s unluckiest biker gang, a group of civil dissidents who are arrayed against powers so destructive as to make the angry, aberrant, violent little group of them look like the good guys.

This is truly an epic of unprecedented scale. And it could be made no other way than through Otomo’s meticulously detailed animation. After a while, it seems as if every scene features giant destruction, mass pandemonium, and incredible displays of psychic powers, all rendered in the most minute of detail. Some of it could be replicated today on the big screen, but no one could afford two-hours of live-action filmmaking on the scale of this film.

Akira has become iconic today. And it deserves to be so. It was the anime that put anime on the map. If it were live rather than drawn, people might recognize it as the biggest movie in the world. It’s an epic of a whole society, with about thirty major characters and a whole megalopolis full of minor ones. Otomo and his staff render them all with detail never before seen in animation. And it’s an exhausting, comprehensive experience. It’s hard to tell if it’s even a good movie. It’s simply, hugely, overwhelming.

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