Akira opens with the destruction of Tokyo and, thus, the beginning of World War III. When that’s one of the least eventful things that happens in your science-fiction movie, you know you’ve got something good.
At the same time, referring to Akira as an ordinary sci-fi film may be selling it short. It’s a landmark film. A trailblazer for anime and its appeal in the West. A hotbox of references to everything from Metropolis to Blade Runner to 2001. One of the most visually-appealing things (not just movies, but things) ever made. It’s just a shame that the plot is so familiar.
Picture this. A teenaged motorcycle gang zips their way through a futuristic Japanese dystopia when Tetsuo, the scrawny, nerdy member of the group, runs over a man escaping from scientific experimentation. While Tetsuo manages to survive, the collision mysteriously gives him psychic abilities that grant him seemingly unlimited power. When Tetsuo starts using his powers to wreak havoc upon the city, his friends must band together in order to stop him and save the world.
While the plot itself doesn’t suffer from any major thematic blunders, it’s a bit disappointing that such a visually impressive film doesn’t have a story that extends beyond the themes of a basic Stephen King short. That being said, Akira is not a film to watch for the plot. The real star of the show is the visuals. Every frame of the film is gorgeously animated. The motion of the fast-moving motorcycles combined with the brightly colored lights of Neo-Tokyo makes Akira feel as if it visualized a world that is tangible and lived in. Ultimately, what gets me excited to watch Akira again is getting to see all of the interesting designs and animations that the film presents.
It also helps that the shot composition is excellent. Every frame of Akira is filled with dramatic intent and a brilliant sense of cohesion. Despite all of the chaos that occurs onscreen (and the complicated nature of the mythos), there’s never a moment of confusion or frustration while watching it. There’s never a point where the audience has to struggle in order to understand what’s going on. Like the best action films, Akira is smooth and accessible, but not stupid.
Praise also has to be given to the excellent sound design. The sound effects in the film are crisp and precise. Every sound just seems to make sense. From the grotesque crunches of a disgusting monster to the crumbling of a city street, the sounds of Akira provide a sense of immersion that is hard to match when it comes to animated cinema. It more than makes up for the somewhat uninspired plot.
Akira may not be a perfect film. Those looking for an inspired story that will stand the test of time are going to walk away disappointed. Some may even complain that it’s simply derivative. However, it’s the kind of film that can feel compulsively watchable. It’s a unique experience unlike any other that can be enjoyed by careful examination or having it on in the background while hanging out with friends. It may have a simple plot and basic characters, but it feels like an epic. Akira may not be a perfect film… but you can’t deny that it strived to be.
4 out of 5 stars