In the year 2019, Neo-Tokyo has risen from the ashes of destruction at the hands of a mysterious being known as ‘Akira’. This has given rise to a sprawling metropolis riddled with crime and corruption. Tetsuo, a member of a teenage biker gang, literally runs into an escaped government test subject, and subsequently becomes part of the experiment into psychic powers himself. It is up to his childhood friend, Kaneda, to rescue him from the government, and prevent his new-found ESP abilities from destroying both himself and the whole of Neo-tokyo.
Encompassing issues as diverse as greed, corruption, the dangers of advances in science, the value of friendship and the notion that if power corrupts, then absolute power corrupts absolutely, the makers of this film condense the lengthy six-volume manga into a feature length film very effectively.
This film was a benchmark for the Japanese animation industry, and can still hold its own today. The quality of animation, higher than anything else in Japan at the time, still compares reasonably well with more recent, CGI, efforts, considering every cel was hand-painted (right down to individual lighted windows of skyscrapers in the backgrounds!). The plot is fast-paced, although it is sometimes difficult to follow with scientific jargon and flashbacks complicating things a little. Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny the film’s epic scale and the amount of time and effort that went into its production. The Ultimate Collection, comprising of two discs, offers the choice of the original release (complete with a ‘production report’ documentary) in standard full screen and stereo, or a widescreen, remastered and redubbed version in 5.1 surround. If dubbing isn’t your thing, the original Japanese dialogue is available for the remastered version. It’s a matter of personal taste on which dub is superior; the original dub has a few mispronunciation of names, while the newer dub lacks in emotion. Either way, this version of ‘Akira’ is well worth the money.
Overall, a masterpiece of sci-fi anime, deserving of its legendary status. Just don’t expect the plot to make much sense in the first viewing.