ANIME REVIEW: Akira (1988) U.S. DVD/Blu-ray Combo Steelbook

Having an anime as a “memory movie” is a rare thing. I’ve previously reviewed roughly five of them, and Akira makes number six! I was familiar with this movie before I ever saw it, and I think that happened through Starlog. It was March 1992 when I first saw it. I bought the VHS from an anime company I remember called, Science Fiction Continuum, a division of S&J Productions, out of New Jersey. This was where I bought a lot of my anime back in the day; they also sold horror movies later on. I bought The Deadly Spawn (1983) and The Boogens (1981) VHS tapes from them when they first hit video!

This memory of Akira is especially vivid because the day before it arrived I got a vicious case of the stomach flu. Vicious as in puking and diarrhea at the same time! I remember sitting on the toilet and crapping and then puking into a pan, then crapping again and then puking into a pan. I lost so much fluid that when all liquids finally ceased wanting to exit my body I hobbled to my bedroom, dizzy, and unable to walk a straight line. I was thirsty, but every time I drank water, I puked it up moments later. That was a hellish night, and the worst kind of flu I have ever had before or since. Was that “too much information?” The next day I called my girlfriend at the time and told her not to come over, which was highly unusual, since we spent every day together, so, yeah, I was that sick. She did, however, catch what I had, but not as bad.  I did feel better the next day. The worst of it happened within those first hours and partly into the night. Lying in bed the next morning I heard the UPS truck stop. When it left, I staggered out to the front door and grabbed the package. I think it came late morning. What I found unusual and cool about the movie was the runtime. It was 124-minutes long (2 hours and 4 minutes) and this was the first anime I had ever seen anime with a massive runtime like that. For some reason it made me think this was something special being as long as it was, and watched the movie the instant after I pulled it out of the package.

After it was over I was pretty much in awe at what I had just seen. The animation was staggering on a level I had never seen at the time, and so was the story. When I got better I told my friend, Chris, about it and urged him to watch it. He did and was just as impressed as I was. I think I watched it with my girlfriend too, but she wasn’t into anime. I did buy it when it eventually hit DVD but was dismayed they did a new English dub. The original voices they used were a lot better, and I remember some of my favorite lines being excised in the new dub. I eventually parted ways with the movie and all my anime in the early 2000s when I needed money and traded in everything that wasn’t science fiction or horror. I have not seen Akira since then.

The cover they used for the 1992 VHS. Before he watched it, I remember pointing out to my friend the heading, ‘Neo-Tokyo Is About To Explode,’ and saying to him, “It does! The whole city!” 

I think I have to correct that memory of when I first saw this. As I watched it last night I started to have “memories” of me and Gerry, my best friend from high school, talking about it, reciting our favorite lines, and being amazed at how bloody violent it was. Up to then we hadn’t seen anything anime related that had characters shedding blood. But, you see, Gerry joined the Army in June of ’88, and I wouldn’t see him again until he paid a brief visit in the fall of that year. The US release date for it in the U.S. is December ’89 according to IMDB, so how the hell did Gerry and I see this before that concrete memory I already talked about earlier?

As I continued to watch I suddenly had this “memory” of seeing the poster in the cable guide . . . oh, right, I think, I saw Akira on cable before I ever bought it in 1992! I also think I recorded it! Gerry came back from the Gulf War summer of 1991 for a few weeks and it must have been then that I shared the movie with him! That has to be it. Strange how I only have “fragments” of this, but him and me discussing it is so persistent in my mind, even as I write this sentence. I wish this “memory” was more vivid, especially since it involves Gerry.

Akira has to be the strangest and most unique anime movie I have ever seen. Still is, and a hard one to describe, but there’s a glossary in the extras that actually helped me in understanding some things I could only guess at. What you’re dealing with Akira is a movie about the acquisition of cosmic-like powers that have no business being inside a human child and all the destruction it wreaks because of that. Thinking about it now I don’t think even an adult would be able to harness these abilities. It all starts with government experiments in psychic powers focused mostly on children. This kid named Akira was the most talented, but somewhere along the way he developed these near God-like abilities, which neither he nor his experimenters could control and he went nuclear. Oh, yeah, his abilities were nuclear-like, and all of Tokyo went up like someone had dropped an H-bomb right in the middle of the city. This is how the movie starts, with that explosion in the summer of 1988. This explosion kicked off World War III. When it was over Tokyo was rebuilt and renamed, Neo Tokyo, thirty one years later. Akira’s body was dissected and body parts bottled and put on cold storage in this specially made facility under this stadium and no one but military and scientists are allowed into it.

Left over from those government experiments are three little children who seem to have progeria, and each has a psychic power, not as great as Akira’s, but still pretty potent. The two males appear to be telekinetic, levitation is in their capabilities too, as well as mind control to a degree. The little girl is precognitive and she sees Akira coming back! These three live in a special research unit and its unclear what their ultimate motives are when this ‘Akira power’ afflicts one of the main characters. Do all three die in the end? That’s a complicated thing to answer. I’ll go into that later in the review.

This story is taking place in the year 2019 in a metropolis I’m not entirely sure anyone would want to live in. At times Neo Tokyo looks vaguely Blade Runner-ish, especially at night, but there are no flying cars, and somewhat post apocalyptic during the day. I had the feeling this city is either in a dictatorship or on the verge of it. There are protesters who are harassed violently by the military, and a religious faction who vows Akira will one day return and save them. The movie’s two main characters are part of their own biker gang, Tetsuo is the youngest, around fourteen or fifteen, Kaneda is the leader, and at one time best friend to Tetsuo. You see both met at an orphanage and Tetsuo was always being picked on, so Kaneda took it upon himself to protect him. It seems growing up and being at the mercy of the city and their daily, violent travails with the Clowns (the opposing biker gang) has strained their friendship.

One night while battling the Clowns a man kidnapped one of those “psychic progeria kids” thinking he was Akira, or something, and gets shot to death by the military. The kid escapes but Tetsuo nearly runs him down (not on purpose) and wipes out badly on his bike. This “contact” with the kid is theorized to have somehow activated Tetsuo’s psychic abilities. Of course the military is looking for the kid and stumbles upon Tetsuo and takes him and the kid away. He’s subjected to tests and it seems the level of powers Tetsuo is starting to exhibit is close to what this Akira kid had, which makes him very important to the military now.

It seems these burgeoning “cosmic” powers are painful. Tetsuo is constantly in the throes of what appear to be migraine level and beyond pain. It’s also starting to warp his morality. He still has issues with Kaneda and just about anyone who wants to “control” or “help” him. After learning rudimentary knowledge of this Akira and the “psychic progeria kids” Tetsuo decides to leave the facility and this is where we truly begin to see what kind of danger he’s going to be to everyone around him. The kid is literally unstoppable! His psychic powers kill anyone he deems fit to die and most times it’s pretty bloody! Once he learns where this Akira is, thinking this is somehow his salvation, he treks across the city to the stadium leaving a swath of destruction in his wake. And the military cannot stop him!

Kaneda, with his supped-up high tech bike decides to confront the kid and try and stop him himself after he kills one of their friends. This confrontation all happens at the stadium which in the final act looks like a nuke struck it. Tetsuo psychically drags the entire underground facility up to the surface in a spectacular animated scene that had me shaking my head in disbelief when I first saw it. I will say the animation, which I believe was groundbreaking at the time, and pushed anime into new levels, still holds up to this day!

As Tetsuo’s powers evolve the last fifteen minutes or so turn into a Cronenberg body horror movie on steroids. The kid enlarges, bloats up, and becomes an immense humanoid-ish amoeba/Blob thing that threatens to consume anything near him. Kaneda and Tetsuo’s girlfriend, Kaori, gets absorbed into his body. Kaori is bloodily crushed to death, but Kaneda makes it out thanks to the laser canon he’d been fighting Tetsuo with. I know things sound incredibly bleak for everyone, and any chance for a “happy ending” doesn’t sound good, but the movie kind of does have one, it just doesn’t happen until Tetsuo goes nuclear and repeats what happened in the beginning of the movie. It also helps that this Akira kid is still around, in spirit only, I mean. I believe once you go nuclear you become a God-like entity. As I said there are story points which aren’t exactly spelled out, you kind of have to just feel your way around the movie once the third act hits and surmise things.

Several characters manage to live through the “blast” that levels Neo Tokyo: Kaneda does thanks to Tetsuo, if you can believe it; his chick he met during the movie, Kei, a member of this Resistance; Colonel Shikishima, I liked this dude, even though he was trying to stop Tetsuo, but the “psychic progeria kids” were friendly towards him, and one of Tet’s and Kaneda’s friends.

Those “psychic progeria kids” end up journeying into this psychic blast to try and save Kaneda and are never seen again.

Akira has been released countless times on DVD and blu-ray over the years, this is the latest re-release coming as a steelbook combo! You can buy it either on Amazon or on Funimation’s site.

Front/back/removable specs back

Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English Dolby TrueHD (2001 English dub),  2.0 English Dolby TrueHD (1988 English dub), 5.1 Japanese Dolby TrueHD (2009 Japanese remastered track)—English subs only

Transfer looked fantastic! The steelbook is actually three discs, the extras for the DVD are on their own disc, while the movie and extras are together on the blu-ray.

Extras included . . .

  • Akira Sound Clip (1988) (19:22)
  • Director Interview (29:11)
  • Storyboard Collection (30:58)
  • The Writing on the Wall
  • Original Trailers
  • Original Commercials
  • Restoring Akira (11:01)
  • Glossary
  • U.S. Trailer (2013)
  • Trailers (Funimation titles)



About Shawn Francis

Movie collector and horror writer.
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