The fallout of a decaying friendship turns into all-out war when one of the friends manifests incredible powers. The city around them trembles as those powers become almost godlike, threatening to split the world. This is AKIRA, the landmark anime which is as amazing now as it was on first release in 1988.
With animation that defies belief, instantly memorable characters and a unique score that sounds unlike any other movie music, AKIRA is an absolute masterpiece. And it is set in 2019, which is as good a reason as any to revisit the legendary cyberpunk story — or experience it for the first time.
Join us as we celebrate an anime classic, AKIRA.
Meet Kaneda and Tetsuo
AKIRA is about two friends: childhood besties Kaneda and Tetsuo. They’re both part of a high school biker gang. Kaneda is the outgoing leader, while Tetsuo is more shy and withdrawn. Friction builds between them as a result. An encounter with a strange figure unlocks latent telekinetic powers within Tetsuo, which flips the power dynamic between the two.
This all takes place in Neo-Tokyo. An apparent nuclear bomb detonation destroyed the original city of Tokyo and ignited World War III in the early ‘80s. Neo-Tokyo is the rebuilt megalopolis. The government is controlling and a little shady, citizen protests take place all of the time, and a left-wing terrorist organization fights against the government.
As Tetsuo becomes more powerful, he learns of other psychics like himself. One is the strange figure who unlocked his powers in the first place. Another is the astonishingly powerful boy Akira, who is tied to the destruction of Tokyo and outbreak of World War III. At the same time, Kaneda allies himself with the resistance movement, and the two race toward one of the strangest showdowns ever put on film.
From Manga to Film
AKIRA is directed by Katsuhiro Ôtomo, who is also the writer and artist behind the manga of the same name. As a comic book, “Akira” is a 2,000-page masterwork that weaves together several strands of very personal, relatable stories with elements of cyberpunk, political thrillers, post-apocalyptic stories, Japanese history and horror.
When Katsuhiro Ôtomo directed AKIRA, he adapted his own long-running manga series. The comic was being published in regular installments in Young Magazine. But here’s the wild part: When AKIRA came to theatres, the manga was not entirely published. Ôtomo did not want to ruin things for fans who had been reading for years — so he wrote a slightly different ending for the film. This both preserved the reading experience for fans and gave Ôtomo a starting point from which to trim back aspects of the manga that couldn’t fit in a two-hour running time.
One reason for the extraordinary success of AKIRA is that it was produced in unusually high quality. It was the most expensive anime ever made when it released in 1988 — and quickly became the most successful, too. AKIRA avoided all of the cost-saving animation shortcuts used by many anime production houses. Ôtomo’s artwork is replicated almost perfectly. The animation captures motion and character in a way that people are still trying to emulate, more than 30 years later.
Check out the AKIRA trailer above to see that animation in action and hear some of the brilliant score.
How Many Versions Exist?
There’s only one cut AKIRA, and fans can always watch the subtitled version. But if you want an English language track, there are two major dubs. They’re called the Streamline and Pioneer dubs, named for the companies that released them. The Streamline is likely more familiar to older fans, as it was the first released to video in the United States, by Streamline Pictures. It changes a lot from the Japanese script, but the voice actors have a lot of personality. The Pioneer version is more faithful to the translated Japanese script, but has more traditional voice acting performances.
There’s Going to Be a Remake, Right?
There will almost certainly be an AKIRA remake, yes — and it will be live-action. The good news is that THOR: RAGNAROK filmmaker Taika Waititi is currently slated to direct AKIRA. Live-action anime adaptations haven’t fared well with fans or critics, but Waititi has such a stellar track record, it’s difficult not to give him the benefit of the doubt.
There will certainly be changes in the live-action version. One synopsis which has been floating around for almost a decade just resurfaced, suggesting that even the core character relationships could change. But that information could be wildly outdated. And remember that changes worked well for the original creator of “Akira,” so they can’t be all bad!