Based on Katsuhiro Otomo's famous manga, Akira is probably one of the best known anime there is. It certainly is one of the most widely available, and even video stores that don't carry anime usually have a copy of it. Not to mention the fact that it's a damned good movie, and is perfect for introducing anime to newbies.
The story is quite well composed, yet also a little confusing if you don't pay attention. World War III has apparently destroyed Tokyo, and 30 years later, Neo-Tokyo has been built on the remnants of the old. This new city is anything but paradise, with gangs running wild in the streets and shady political characters in office. One such gang gets involved in a web of military secrets involving a mysterious force known only as "Akira". Needless to say, things start to heat up and it's not long before all hell breaks loose. I don't really know how best to describe it, other than to say it's not your typical post-apocalyptic science fiction flick. There is a good mix of both white-knuckle action and slower intrigue, and the two balance out nicely. The whole "Akira" mystery is well played, and I was drawn into the events that unfolded. The ending, while breaking away from tradition, does leave a few questions left unanswered. Personally, it left me pondering, but to others may find it a confusing and disappointing.
The characters are quite varied, and it's sometimes difficult to tell who is on which side. The main players include Kaneda, head of a motorcycle gang, Tetsuo, who becomes an unwilling military experiment, and the Colonel, who seems to be on both sides of the conflict. I felt a little strange cheering for a bunch of juvenile delinquents, but it's refreshing that there is no solid "hero" in the bunch. Everyone is flawed somehow, which makes them very believable.
The art and animation are very well done, and smoother than a lot of modern anime. One thing that really struck me were the cool light trails the motorcycles left in their wake. It's kind of gimmicky, but it still is neat to look at. The dubbing job could have been better, though. I really didn't like Kaneda's voice and at times he was very unconvincing. Most of the other characters were pretty average.
Akira is quite a good piece of science fiction. If you want something with a good balance of action and intellectual content, then this is the movie for you.
The Verdict: * * * * (good)
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