Akira is a film that, even by today’s standards, is jaw dropping in its complexity and nearly immeasurable in size. Based on the otherworldly 2100+ page epic manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, lets take a look back at this monumental achievement in film.
160,000 animation cels (each one a piece of work in and of itself), lip-synced fully expressive characters, intricately detailed backgrounds, a technologically revolutionary soundtrack, $11 million, and a successful re imagining of the storyline from the manga encompasses all that Akira is known and loved for. Akira wasn’t the first anime that I saw…but it was the first film I saw (anime or otherwise) where I truly appreciated the effort that went into creating it.
The film’s storyline is drastically different from the manga which is not surprising, considering the manga was over 2100 pages long and the film was released two years prior to the manga being completed. Bits and pieces are taken from all over, spliced together, and used in a different order. Dialogue is used in completely different situations and by different characters. In some instances, a character’s role in the storyline is changed…in others, multiple characters from the manga are put together to form new characters…and in still others, some characters who play a major role in the manga are delegated to nothing more than cameo appearances.
Visually, there is nothing that comes close. Colours are bright and vibrant, and the animated interpretation of Neo-Tokyo feels like it is a living, breathing city. Even though the story focuses on a small set of characters, you can tell that there is more to the story than just these few people. The amount of destruction shown in Akira on a city scale has yet to be matched…the closest any other anime has come was in the anime X, also based on a popular manga series.
Considering the amount that can be happening on screen at any given time, animation is extremely smooth and detailed. If not for the drawing style, you could ALMOST be fooled into thinking this film was motion captured with live actors and action (which, at the time of production, was more or less non-existent). Individual pieces of trash blow in the winds, and chunks of buildings collapse into the streets. In some scenes, hundreds of individually animated people are all moving independent from one another…no rehashed animations here. Each and every person you see on the screen has their own unique face, body type, movement, and posture. Again, even by today’s standards, Akira excels at making its world seem real.
Equally unmatched is the soundtrack, composed by Shoji Yamashiro and recorded by Geinoh Yamashirogumi. Utilizing many then-unknown techniques and some creative equipment choices, the Akira soundtrack and score was way ahead of its time. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure how they managed to create portions of it.
Overall, Akira is considered a legendary, one-of-a-kind anime for good reason. The visuals, the soundtrack, the comic-style voice over, and the epic sense of scale have yet to be matched in the world of film. If you have never witnessed Akira, I highly recommend that you do so. Just make sure that you stick with the original English dub; the redone early 2000′s English dub is worthless.