Katsuhiro Ôtomo directs this adaptation of his sprawling manga series about (okay, deep breath…) a futuristic biker who squares off against a former friend who has turned evil through scientific experimentation, transforming him into a dangerous super-being of both scientific and religious ramifications. As the friend is unable to control his lethal powers, the biker rallies his friends and a trio of other ‘experiments’ to save an already post-apocalyptic Tokyo, all while avoiding the police, military, and political ne’er-do-wells.
Akira is widely regarded the first anime (Japanese animation) film to punch through international barriers to become something of a worldwide hit. While anime often has a cheap, seizure-inducing aesthetic, Akira is actually a much more lavishly produced film than most, with smooth, beautiful animation, bright colors, and a catchy, percussive score that leaves an impact all of its own. The character drama plays out against a dense, volatile socio-political and religious backdrop that often obscures the human drama. On one hand, it’s refreshing to see an animated film you actually have to pay attention to; on the other hand, there’s a lot of compressed character development going on, and one or two subplots that maybe could have been excised. Even though it often feels like the Cliffs Notes version of itself, Akira comes together remarkably in its highly visceral and emotional final act, making it hard to dismiss — even if you’re not an anime fan.