Today was a fun one; filled with friends and food and endless amount of animated gore. Quite the memories will be made of this one.
It’s Akira! That one anime film everyone seems to consider the greatest thing ever! If it’s not Studio Ghibli, it’s Akira. Vintage appeal, sci-fi tragedy, animated marvel; all the makings of a classic. Now, after nearly ten years since I started watching anime seriously again, I’ve finally sat down and gave it a watch.
“A secret military project endangers Neo-Tokyo when it turns a biker gang member into a rampaging psychic psychopath who can only be stopped by a teenager, his gang of biker friends and a group of psychics.” – IMDb
As I told my friend, who viewed this with me, I was not really expecting all that Akira is when we were about forty minutes into it. My expectation was that it would be more grounded and practical. Cool biker dudes zooming around and causing mayhem with some weird technological doodads. Let’s just say I believed it had more in common with Speed Racer than Neon Genesis Evangelion.
That assumption was very, very wrong.
Wow, This is Pretty—What the Hell…
One crucial aspect that many people bring up with this film is its stellar animation, something I’m willing to further hype up. Looking up “cool” in the dictionary should have a Hulu link to this film printed inside. Again, I was expecting a lot of vehicular chases and maybe some high-tech gizmos; those did come, as did supernatural phenomena, body horror, and psychedelic dream sequences.
Ghibli is often credited with being the gold standard when it comes to eastern animation. Akira, however, is debatably better in expressing themes of a more gruesome, visceral nature. Some of the violent acts shown over the course of the plot legitimately unnerved me. With how frenetic the sequence of events are, most characters don’t have a lot of time to process them, either. One thing’s for sure: destruction, chaos, and blood (oh, so much blood) await the field of view.
To start off this section, an admission: I was a little bored for a majority of Akira. To its credit and my detriment, however, it may be possible that I just didn’t “get it.”
Gonna take the next moment to recommend reading a review over on Letterboxd that I believe does an excellent job of assessing the aftermath of the film and its cultural impact. (The review does have some spoilers.) If you wish to see why Akira‘s themes are beloved in a manner I could only dream of expressing, look here.
Back to my thoughts—taking this overview appeal into account, I don’t believe the film does an adequate job of being “inclusive” with its ambition. Watching the film, then reading the review I linked above, I could appreciate the product for what it means to the people and culture, but I’m not sure I would have gotten it from the film on its own. The clues are pretty prevalent in hindsight, except it manages to sort of kick the nerves only people specific to that region truly know. As an “outsider,” it was frankly lost on me.
Is this an issue? Not necessarily. I would argue most films are products of their environments. I may not personally understand the underlying anxiety attributed to something like this like Japanese-born people wouldn’t personally understand a film about 9/11. That doesn’t make the film lesser by default, though it can dull the emotional impact it can have. Without that sort of “lens” to view something with, it can be more or less obtuse in the way it alludes to those subjects.
When it comes to this film, its detriment was its dedication to concocting this story. Again, I can appreciate it for what it attempts to do after the fact; during, I was half-confused and half-resigned to not receiving any straight answers. Kind of like yesterday’s film, all attributes felt more in service of its story, plot, themes, etc. Characters aren’t as strong because of this, which ends up being more of a detriment here than with others.
Already squinting at the events taking place in front of me, the greater scope of its ambition ended up carving the characters in rather artificial ways. In this story, there aren’t many important characters individually. I could register that just from watching; Kaneda is sort of the character that the audience can connect with or link to to grasp the story from within. Otherwise, he’s not really anything. A pebble in a cave. Most others fit specific molds, as well, giving the entire film something of a layer of density that includes instructions, reading: “Dissect me.”
Consider this a warning for those coming in: Akira is a lot of things. Animated madness, visual puzzlebox, gory bloodbath, paranoid power struggles. It’s entirely possible that with a re-watch, I could enjoy it more, viewed with a more focused objective of identifying its regional themes. As it stands now, though, all that it attempted to convey didn’t resonate with me much.
Was it entertaining, nonetheless? Absolutely! The last fifteen minutes were fucking terrifying and super rad. Just don’t go into this expecting a lot of satisfying character development or transparent (without context) communication of its subtext.
Final Score: 6/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.
2 thoughts on “Day Fourteen: Akira (1988) (March of the Movies 2022)”
I remember watching this back in high school. I’d heard it was a classic that helped pave the way for anime in America. I watched it… and was both thoroughly traumatized by the weird, graphic shit that goes down, and thoroughly confused about what meaning and importance it was supposed to have besides freaking me out.
Indeed, most of the various reviews I read after the fact either sat on the side of “This is a symbolic masterpiece!” or “I didn’t really get it.” It’s an intriguing discussion piece, at least!