Posted by psgels on 3 January 2008 with categories: Anime Reviews

While Ghost in the Shell is probably the most famous anime-movie of the nineties, Akira is the most well-known one of the eighties. It was this movie that opened up the anime-industry to mainstream America, though at the same time it’s also received some harsh criticism. When I started watching this movie, I couldn’t understand why. It doesn’t happen often that a male main character of fifteen years old is likable, right from the start, and the movie quickly starts with some character-development. But, unfortunately as the movie went on, it became clear that Akira indeed has its problems.

The biggest one being that it’s based on a large manga, which just doesn’t fit into a two-hour movie. Because of this, the movie ends with huge gaping hole into both the storyline and character-backgrounds. Thankfully, some development did make it into the movie, but when a fifteen year-old kid suddenly turns out to be proficient with various kinds of guns without any reason whatsoever, you have to start wondering whether you missed something.

It’s a shame: the potential is definitely there. Especially the characters have been very nicely developed during the first half of the movie, but they unfortunately lose their spark when the storyline gets more and more out of control with superpowers that just become more and more over-the-top. Akira would have been just as fine without the huge amounts of one-sided superpowers. The much-needed background for the two main characters also arrives much too late.

In terms of production-values this series shines, though. Especially for a movie that’s twenty years old, the animation looks gorgeous and there are absolutely no still frames. I also loved how the cast of side-characters is rich and varied, and even the most unimportant roles are more than just paper bags. The soundtrack also consists out a number of excellent tracks. If this were a tv-series, it would have rocked, but unfortunately it had to be compressed into such a tiny movie.

5 Responses

  1. Avatar stakh says:

    I can’t help but think that your rating for this movie is incredibly severe. When I compare it to other movies you rated, I understand it even less (I guess you assigned a zero to character and script development, considering the high marks you give to music and art).

    Furthermore, I find your biggest criticism rather weak (that the anime is less developped than the manga). Manga/anime comparison criticisms leave me usually cold, because when I watch an anime, I like to appreciate it for what it is, an independent production, and not just keep tabs with the manga it was adapted from. Still, since this is your major complaint, I would like to discuss it a bit, because I think you can see things in another light:

    In the case of Akira, I saw the movie first, and read the manga later. I was not at all bothered by the lack of development of certain facets of Akira world and characters. On the contrary, the lack of explanation gave me the impression that there was a vast world out there, from which we get a glimpse, and understand that things run deeper. This feeling of depth is satisfying in itself, no need to explore every detail ad nauseam to provide a compelling vision.

    Just one example that striked me: compare the cult leader in the manga and anime. In the anime, you understand that he’s some kind of influent religious figure, but learn little else from it. You even see his demise, treated as a mere detail in the general mayhem. In the manga this character is fully developped. Still, I did not regret at all the treatment he got in the anime. In the movie, he just got enough screen time to strike an impression, add depth to the universe, raise questions. And I think this is enough. You don’t need to explain everything that appears on screen, for it to leave an impact on you.

    One could compare this to the Lord of the Rings. In every chapter of the book there are references to characters and events that are never explained. If you really want to know about them, you’ll have to read the Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales series, etc: thousands of additional pages. But that’s beside the point. Mentioning these details without explaining them adds depth to a universe, provides springs for you imagination. Just like in the real world, you are constantly bombarded by unknown references, and witness things you don’t understand.

    Actually, I thought the comparison between the manga and anime was favorable to the later. Sure, you understand more things in the manga, but imho the anime was much more brilliant in conveying emotions.

    As for kaneda’s sudden proficiency with weapons, I can’t really see the problem: it’s just part of the internal logic of the Akira universe, like Alice skating a broom in Mahou Shojoutai. Of course it’s unrealistic, but I find it a fair deal to suspend my belief and accept that the girl can hold her balance without previous training ;-)

    Finally, your remark that there is too much psionic superpowers just seems to denie the whole premise of the story: this is a tale of the issues dealing with (mis)managing a geometric increase in power of apocalyptic proportions, why show restraint? On the contrary, I think it was great that the anime played on the strengths of animation relative to filming (it does not cost more to draw a world being blown to pieces than a car, when you draw it).

    Anyway, sorry for the longwinded comment and the digressions. More than the comments, what struck me was the low rating. I wonder which amount of the rating is divided into “technical” rating and “personal preferences” appreciation? (I know it’s impossible to separate both)

  2. psgels psgels says:

    “Anyway, sorry for the longwinded comment and the digressions.”

    Oh, not at all. This was quite an insightful comment, and I too have been doubting my rating system now that I’ve been watching so many movies after each other.

    The incompleteness is just something that annoys me. Basically, when I watch an anime, I want to watch the complete movie, not some kind of advertisement for the manga (I rarely read manga).

    The second reason for the fairly low rating is the second half, which had a bit too much action for my tastes. But I can see your point too, about it being necessary.

    I do also admit that while writing this review, I forgot to mention one thing: the abuse of techno-babble that especially tended to get annoying near the end of the movie.

    Most of my problems are indeed just a case of suspense of disbelief, which are different for everyone. When Alice rode the broom in Mahou Shoujotai, I just figured that she likes to skate-board a lot. ^^;

  3. Avatar Ryan A says:

    Didn’t read that comment; I’m not versed in the Akira manga so.

    I understand the rating, some points and char. development did have an “incompleteness” to them. The OST was probably one of the greatest attributes, as well as the animation; it does look good.

    All in all, Akira is still really cool.

  4. Avatar nahrub says:

    just my opinion… don’t read the manga before you watch the movie. that way you’ll felt like the scenes are skipped. vice versa, i should be ok. i’ll give it 87/100 if i just could ignore the manga-to-movie-scene lost.

  5. Avatar fener says:

    What’s suprising to me is that nobody has yet adapted the manga into a complete OVA or anime series, kinda strange considering how popular the movie was and still is.

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