Akira is the most beautiful anime film I have ever seen. The animation in it is so well-done that at times I forgot it wasn’t a live action feature. That alone would be enough to get it on this list, as visually it is unlike any other animated film, but the story is also quite unique and ranks up there with the best in science fiction … even though it ultimately fails.
The movie is based on a manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film (at his insistence in order to keep creative control). It concerns a teenage member of a biker gang with psychic powers who releases a terrible force (Akira) upon the world while his fellow bikers and the Japanese government attempt to stop him. It is far more in-depth than that, but you really must see it to believe it. Understand, however, that this is not an anime film for children, and it earns its R rating. It is violent and intellectually stimulating, but it is also very flawed, as Otomo himself has stated.
The manga this film is based on is amazing. It is over 2,000 pages of pure, dystopian science fiction that fully realizes Otomo’s vision. The film, however, due to time restraints and whatnot, loses well over half of what happens in the manga, and has an ending that leaves viewers scratching their heads. At that point the film and the manga seem like two entirely different creatures, and it is what ultimately makes the film feel as if it failed on one level, even though the movie was actually finished before the manga was completed. Regardless, everything prior to that ending is a well-realized vision that has inspired films like The Matrix for obvious reasons.
Anime has tackled serious subjects, a fact non-fans may have a hard time accepting. To them I offer this film. The issues it presents are mature and done in such a way as to open up many debates. Chiefly: What does it mean to be God? How far should a government go to protect its people? How far should people go to protect themselves?
Heady stuff for a cartoon, but no one will mistake it for Disney.
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