Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira is not only a fan favorite but also a masterpiece of modern animation. It's one of the few anime films that even people who don't like anime can usually get into and/or at least appreciate from a technical standpoint. It's simply beautiful to look at, and a treat for both the eyes and the brain.
The film is set in the not too distant future of 2019. Tokyo has been destroyed years earlier in an event that set the Third World War into action, and Neo-Tokyo has been built in its place. The war has left a very large part of the populace in abject poverty and since the inception of Neo-Tokyo the dividing gap between the rich and the poor has gotten wider and wider, causing some unrest among the citizens. Spawned out of the groups of poor people, teenage motorcycle gangs now roam the streets in packs in much the same way that wild animals would do.
Kaneda is the leader of one of these gangs. A rival gang called The Clowns is lead by a total bastard who goes by the name of The Joker. One night when the two gangs show down, a child named Takashi (also known as Number 26) in an advanced form of aging, gets caught in the middle. When one of Kaneda's gang members, named Tetsuo, goes off on Takashi he lashes back at him with mind, which is powerful enough to destroy Tetsuo's motorbike and send him hurling to the ground. Out of nowhere a Neo-Tokyo Defense Force helicopter appears and Colonel Shikishima and his men set to capture Takashi (who has escaped from them through some contacts with an anti-government underground group) and bring Tetsuo back to a government controlled hospital.
Tetsuo soon learns that when Takashi attacked him, heretofore-unknown powers that set quietly inside of him have now been unleashed, and he has no idea how to control them. Kaneda, on the other hand, assumes his friend has been brought into custody for no real reason and decides to spring him. When he hooks up with Kei, a member of the group that helped Takashi escape, they soon find that there are two others like Takashi, Number 25 and Number 27, who are equally as powerful and still under government control. There was also a fourth test subject, Number 28, also known as Akira, who didn't survive the conditioning, at least they don't think he did.
Akira is everything a good animated film for adults should be. It's fast paced, thought provoking, and it exceeds what would have been realistically possible to portray in a live action film. The animation itself still holds up wonderfully even with some serious strides in technology having been made since it was created back in the eighties. While a lot of anime I have trouble getting into, Akira sucks me into its gritty apocalypse every time I sit down and start watching it. The attention to detail in the film is unprecedented and the story is engrossing, even if it does take about twenty minutes to really get going.
The film can be a little overwhelming at times (the first time I watched it, I openly admit, it didn't work for me and I don't think I really 'got it') but that just means that it improves with repeat viewings. With so much crammed into its one hundred and twenty four minute running time, you're bound to miss some of the little details that make the film as effective as it is. You have to pay close attention to the film and it isn't something that you can just put on in the background and watch casually – it requires a commitment from the viewer but is ultimately such a rewarding experience that it's one I'm happy to make over and over again.
Akira is presented in a solid 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are nice a bright and there is only miniscule print damage noticeable in a few select scenes. Compression artifacts are virtually non-existent and the only real problem with the transfer lies in some minor edge enhancement that peeks out at you a few times. For the most part, this is a really nice transfer without any serious issues worth noting.
Despite the fact that the dub track, presented here in a kickin' Dolby Digital 5.1 track, has been newly recorded and caused a bit of controversy amongst certain circles, audio quality is quite solid. Plenty of action comes at you from all speakers in the mix and the bass, while not overwhelming, hits your subwoofer like a good swift kick to the gut. The original Japanese track, which plays much better than the dub does, is offered in a standard Dolby Digital Surround Sound mix and while it's a solid effort, it doesn't fill out the room nearly as well as the English 5.1 mix does. It's a shame that there isn't a Japanese 5.1 track on this release, as it would have been the perfect way to experience the film. Removable subtitles are available in English and there is an optional 'Capsule' feature which will provide English translations of the graffiti so present in the background throughout the film when enabled.
This DVD is completely barebones, save for chapter selection.
Well this isn't quite the deluxe package that Pioneer's earlier special edition was (most notably in the lack of extra features that were present on that release), it's quite affordable and if you don't already own a copy on DVD, this is a nice way to add it to your collection at a reasonable price with solid audio and video. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.