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“Akira”: The Film that Changed a Generation

Jerry Hubbard Staff Writer

May 26, 2022

The film “Akira” affected a generation of animation nerds since its release, it’s the type of movie that I can see an older cousin of mine would show me, that would’ve rocked my view of what animation is.

“Akira,” an animated film that came out in Japan in 1988, a period that was marked as the peak of Japan’s economy at the time, it’s a movie that many animated shows and movies have referenced in one way or another over time since its release like “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Ducktales (2017),” and by Kanye West for his song “Stronger.” The film is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and based on the same comic that he created in 1982, with the animation done by TMS Entertainment known for their work on the “Lupin the Third” franchise and the popular rom-com remake of “Fruits Basket,” the work done by the studio is a marvel of animation detail and techniques that other animated films at the time wish they look like it. The film also brings along an interesting idea of trans-humanism and what it means to become a “Superman.”

The “Akira” takes place 31 years after the Third World War, in 2019 Neo-Tokyo rises from the ashes of old Tokyo, the film allows a biker gang of teens who live in the mists of a political revolution as the police of Neo-Tokyo are attacking people who are fighting against the government’s tax cuts and fighting for a being called Akira. The Central protagonist is Kaneda, a hot-headed kid on the search for his childhood friend Tetsuo who is taken in by the military after a rival biker gang attacks the crew. In Kaneda’s search for his best friend, Tetsuo is experimented on by scientists to unlock his ability to become a psychic, something that the military has been trying to figure out for years with their other test subjects, but Tetsuo realizes his great power and he escapes to take revenge on the world.

An aspect of a film that is at the forefront, is the pure and beautiful animation. From the beginning road battle between the Kaneda’s gang versus that of the Clown crew to the final sequence of Neo-Tokyo’s destruction, there's visual magic being shown. Many individuals chuck up because the reason that the animation is so beautiful is that the film was animated in 24 frames per second of animation, which is nothing more than a misconception.

A video done by A. P. Lattanzi, known for his video essays on art, explains in his video on the topic that, “Most of the film was shot on twos.” Bringing up that, “One’s were reserved for the action scenes or certain impressive close ups. One’s have always been used as a method of punctuation in [Japanese Animation] to emphasize something as important or to showcase talent.” The misconception is done as this film is a premier showcase of what Japanese Animation has to offer, as the techniques, used some would say, rival that of Disney Animation at the time.

The film has a clear political undertone in the film, as protests and riots are happening as the police and military are sent to these events to beat up these protesters. These individuals are fighting against the government that they thought they could trust. Through the government’s actions of cutting off vital social programs and them shifting the money over to the construction of the Olympic stadium in the city, the cuts to the programs can be seen in how unkempt the city of Neo-Tokyo looks and the school that our biker gang attends which is contrasted to how large and extravagant the Olympic stadium of Neo-Tokyo looks.

There’s also a shift in the public in wanting to know what caused the destruction of old Tokyo, with individuals idolizing a person named “Akira” who caused the destruction of old Tokyo. As the people become jaded from the government in cutting what those people need they start believing in these supernatural beings who they assume will plead their wishes. This is shown to be an ignorant way to cope with their struggles, as the public view Tetsuo as a Superman, he doesn’t pay any mind to those people’s pleas, as he is trying to fulfill his desire to be a selfish hero.

Tetsuo is given a gift of psychic abilities from a young age, he did not know of these powers as there was not enough time to make him into like the other kids in the film. He transcends from being human to becoming a “Superman” Only after he encounters the escaped Takashi, and both being taken away by the military earlier in the film. Tetsuo is experimented on by the scientists, he eventually comes to understand and harness his power, as the other experimental kids try to pull pranks on Tetsuo. He gets fed up with his treatment from the military and goes on the search for Akira, then he goes on the rampage causing destruction throughout Neo-Tokyo in the midst of the protests taking place. Eventually, the military reveals to the public the location of Akira and how he’s nothing more and preserved pieces of him left.

Tetsuo in the film wants to be someone like Kaneda, someone who’s there to protect the weak, and one who stands up for his friends. But Tetsuo is diluted in the newfound power that he gets to grasp that he becomes the complete opposite of Kaneda. It does not take long for Kaneda to see that Tetsuo is not the friend that he grew up with, the one who he sought to protect as a kid. Tetsuo became a rapidly developing cancer of destruction to Neo-Tokyo. Kaneda makes the executive decision of taking out the person who he once viewed as a friend. Even in the final moment of the film, once Tetsuo and the experimental children are gone, Kaneda still mourns for his friend.

“Akira” is an immaculate movie that’s a spectacle of animation. Some view animation as nothing more than Disney animated features and Studio Ghibli productions, but “Akira” presents a viewpoint to view animated films. It’s influenced a generation of animators who feel the need to either call back or visual reference “Akira” with the iconic sliding bike of Kaneda in the film. There’s a need to move past the current contemporary view of animated films as children's entertainment or something more that is able to explore what the medium has to offer. “Akira” gives an outlook on how a hero is not something who has power but is someone who fights to protect those closest to them.

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