Okay so Manga UK had recently celebrated the 4k remaster of Akira by showing it in select IMAX theatres around the country. As soon as the announcement was made I was immediately hyped, I signed up to be notified as soon as bookings went live and continuously refreshed the nearest Cineworld website whenever I had the chance just to make sure that I could get me and my mates in. When Cineworld announced that it would be closing down the same week I was overwhelmed with dread. I was checking Twitter religiously for updates and praying that I wouldn’t be robbed of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Luckily for us, Akira hit the big screen only two days before the announced closing date. Crisis averted. When I informed my friends the good news their response was something along the lines of “Cool man. So what is Akira anyway? Is it good?”. Ah. They didn’t know.
Akira is probably the single largest stepping stone the anime industry has made in terms of both production and cultural impact. The movie was released in 1988, a time where Japan was seeing significant economic growth as a country and this was heavily expressed in the media they were producing. Anime during the late 80s and early 90s exploded as series’, movies and OVAs were being released much more rapidly than ever before. Bigger and bigger budgets were being thrown at anime with Ghibli’s Laputa breaking records with a production budget of ¥500million in 1986 then Akira in 1988 with ¥700million ($5.5million) only to have Kiki’s Delivery Service top off the decade with ¥800million in 1989. And with anime still being relatively young the tropes that are prevalent today didn’t necessarily exist back then, anime became very experimental with studios and producers throwing things at the wall and seeing what stuck.
Anime to this day averages about 24fps but there’s typically an over-reliance on repeating frames. Akira broke the mold by having 24 unique frames per second (Known as “Shooting in 1’s”) throughout the movie, creating distinctive smooth animation that rivals old school Disney. Even today it’s exceptionally rare for anime to achieve that level of fluidity. Akira was also the first ever anime production to have dialogue recorded before being animated which allowed the animators to animate mouth movements with extreme precision. CG was used to great effect to map out the trajectory of falling objects and to model out Akiras famous parallax effects that routinely appear throughout the movie. For 1988 Akira was a marvel of animation.
Imagine living in 1989 America. Anime is completely unheard of. The Little Mermaid has just been released, The Simpsons are one week away from airing their first ever episode and the only other cartoons you have seen are Snow White and An American Tail. Maybe the Transformers Movie if you were extra cool. You decide to go check out this cool looking Akira cartoon at your local cinema and you ignore the age rating because it’s a cartoon and that can’t be right. Right? Akira shocked the western world with its depiction of violence, grotesque imagery and shocking levels of pure destruction. Akira showed the world that animation could be something else, something completely different to what you thought it was. It introduced anime to the western world and since then the industry has become a huge international phenomenon. Manga Entertainment actually first formed to solely license Akira for a home video release, survived the great anime collapse of the 90s and is still now probably the largest distributor of anime in the US and UK, all because of Akira. This movie had such a profound effect on the generation that we still see the cultural impact today. Movies like Star Wars, Kill Bill, The Dark Knight, The Matrix, Chronicle and Looper along with television shows like Stranger Things all cite Akira as a major source of inspiration. Not even video games are safe with Half Life, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy owe a great deal to the movie. The famous Kaneda bike slide is routinely played homage to by so many animators in so many works around the world. Either to pay respect to the movie that inspired them to get into the industry or simply as a sign of respect to one of the most prevalent animated works of all time.
But what about the actual movie? Is the story and stuff pretty good? Yes, Akira is dope. The soundtrack in particular is amazing. If you’re a fan of that 80’s synth style, cyberpunk or anime in general then this is a must see movie. I pity everyone who was unable to view it in cinemas. The ONLY criticism I have is that because it’s an adaptation of a really fucking long manga series written by Katsuhiro Otomo (who also directed the movie btw. It’s almost like a good adaptation requires someone who understands the source material. Shocking. Who would have thought?) it suffers from the movie format because of lack of time. But yes. Akira is a landmark movie in pop culture and I am getting increasingly worried that it’s slowly moving out of public perception due to its age. It would be a great shame if Akira does not remain the cult classic that it is because it absolutely deserves to be.
Thank you Adam and Ell for coming with me to see Akira in 4K ❤