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Akira 25th Anniversary Edition BD/DVD Review

Posted on the 20 November 2013 by Kaminomi @OrganizationASG

AkiraTitle: Akira
Genre: Action, Horror, Psychological, Sci-Fi
Publisher: Tokyo Movie Shinsha (JP), Funimation (US)
Original Creator: Katsuhiro Otomo
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Script: Izou Hashimoto, Katsuhiro Otomo
Music: Tsutomu Ohashi
Original Release Date: November 12, 2013

You’ve may or may not have heard about Akira. I’d be surprised if you haven’t, since many people, from longtime anime aficionados to those who decry the state of anime today to even the casuals praise this film conceived by Katsuhiro Otomo. When you hear so much praise for a work you’ve never seen, there’s a good chance you’ll come out mildly, or horribly, disappointed, since everyone’s saying it’s the greatest thing ever, so unreasonable expectations naturally follow. As I got ready to watch Akira, those thoughts about the work were in my head at the start, and doubt entered my mind. I wondered whether I’d like it at all.

It took about 10 minutes for those thoughts to disappear.

This can serve as a perfect example of a lot of things for some people, but for me, just one: no matter the hype and praise from others, the work itself will prove if it’s great or bad. And Akira is undoubtedly great, even in 2013. This is one of the best anime releases of 2013, from the actual film itself to the excellent extras, and you owe it to yourself to watch it before the year is over.

Set 31 years after a massive explosion and the events of WWIII, Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo, a futuristic city where politicians showcase their ignorance and pettiness, rebel groups and cults are out and in force, and biker gangs roam the streets. We follow the gang leader of the Capsules, Kaneda, as his group deals with the rival gang, The Clowns. While dealing with the Clowns, Kaneda’s friend Tetsuo gets hurt after crashing his motorcycle into a mysterious kid and is taken away by armed soldiers. While Kaneda and the crew assume Tetsuo’s getting taken care of and there’s nothing to worry about, we learn Tetsuo is being used to recover the powers of Akira, a powerful esper who caused the explosion of Tokyo and the ensuing chaos thereafter. Now that threat has returned, with only one person who can stop it from happening.

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Akira, in three words: just freaking cool. It’s got style, it’s got bravery, it’s amazingly wonderful to watch. The first thing that should hit you is how it looks. I’ve seen old works before (Outlanders, Crusher Joe for example), and those are pretty old, and you can tell they are. Akira, on the other hand, looks great despite it coming out in 1988, so I can only imagine how it must have been back then. Of course, this is a BD upgrade, so it should look good. But it’s not merely that. The backgrounds and designs are great to look at, with vibrant colors complementing each other. The actual animation looks great, with no noticeable mistakes in models and reactions. But the look of the film definitely has an added boost in BD, and those who authored the BD deserves a good amount of praise.

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The second thing that should hit you, and then continue to hit you over the head as the film rolls along, is the music. I can’t sugarcoat it: it’s outstanding. In watching the sound clip in the extras that talks about the Geinoh Yamashirogumi, a musical collective composed of different types of people, by using instruments such as the Gigogne, which is a bamboo percussion, and the Gamelan, a 10 to 20 percussion ensemble, among other music for the movie, it adds to the quality of a number of scenes…and quite frankly, it may have made Akira work so well. Yes, there are a lot of good elements in Akira, but if the music was not as memorable, distinctive, timely, or this style was not in this film, then I might have possibly viewed it in a different light. Though not a guarantee that the movie wouldn’t be good, that’s how much I love the sound choice and direction here. It’s simply that fantastic, so I have to give it up to Tsutomu Ohashi and the Geinoh Yamashirogumi group for creating some wonderful sound.

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The rest of the work you can go either way in what’s likable. There’s a lot to like about it. The story is solid: it’s set in a futuristic, but practically despairing state of affairs in Neo-Tokyo, with the focus on two guys who end up being destined to go against each other, a rebel group trying to find out what’s going on within the government, a group in the government attempting to control a power they think they can control but they should know they cannot, and all this leads to is hell breaking loose. What’s nice is that when we get these different sides of the story, it feels controlled, not convoluted. In the director’s interview Otomo had mentioned that there were cuts of scenes in the film since it had to be a 2 hour film, but as is, it’s probably for the best. Nothing felt overly explained, events happened which kept the flow of the work well paced, and most importantly, nothing boring actually happened. Sure I’d like to see Akira with everything the director wanted in there, but it’s best as it is, and that’s a good thing.

Naturally the characters improve upon the story. We have pretty good ones in our two main characters: Kaneda, an arrogant, yet brave young man with a custom made motorcycle, and Tetsuo, a young man who wants to stand out of the pack, and not be taken advantage of, but predictably he does stand out, in the not so good way. The side characters all fill their roles well enough, from the somewhat enigmatic Ryu, to Kei, who turns out to be the one Kaneda wants to get along with, to the three other espers that end up showing up and messing around with some people (well one person, but they affect a decent amount of people). They’re nice enough that if there were side stories for them, I’d watch it. But it’s really all about Kaneda and Tetsuo and their life, from being friends, to being apart of a gang, to the eventual conclusion of their friendship, and subsequent face-off against each other. And it’s just good fun.

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There are two dubs included on the disc. This release has the 1988 dub by Kodansha/Streamline, and the 2001 dub from Pioneer. This should not be a surprise, but the 2001 release obliterates the 1988 one…by a lot. Aside from Kaneda, who was voiced by Cam Clarke, and even then, only after about 15-20 minutes did I manage to tolerate and think Cam did a decent job with Kaneda, the 1988 version is bad. It made what should have been an action packed, fun, and cool film into a plodding, awful, sleep inducing mess. That one scene where the government officials and politicians meet and discuss what to do about Akira featured everything wrong with it: lazy voice acting, no energy, and terrible writing. Unless you’re one of those folks who heard this dub back then, don’t even think about touching it unless you want the 101 on listening to bad dubs.

The 2001 version, on the other hand, works extremely well, even today. And well, it should, as it has some very big names working here (Johnny Yong Bosch as Kaneda, Wendee Lee as Kei). I think the way this film was animated (it involved prescoring) helped out, but overall the voices are strong, don’t take away from the original script all too much, and are very memorable. Then again, Bosch is a good voice actor, so it’s no surprise his role of Kaneda was good. And also, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I enjoyed hearing an Evil Taichi. When I say Taichi, I’m definitely referring to that kid in that Saban show involving digital monsters. Anyways, the 2001 and the subbed version are excellent, and the only ways you should go with this release.

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There’s not much more to say about Akira. Well, there probably is, but I think I’ve mentioned enough, except for one more thing: the extras are good. As I mentioned earlier there’s a sound clip that talks about the music process of the film, and there’s the interview with Katsuhiro Otomo about Akira. There’s also an extra showcasing the upgrade to HD, along with thoughts from the voice actors, a glossary of certain terms in the film, storyboards, and a bunch of original trailers. Combine that with the excellence of the film itself, and to get it at the price point it commands now is a steal. Quite simply, this is a worthwhile purchase, and might be the best purchase of the year. If you’ve been like me, just hearing people talk about it and not finding the time to watch it anyways, try not to be. You shouldn’t regret it.

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