Childhood friends Tetsuo and Kaneda are pulled into the post-apocalyptic underworld of Neo-Tokyo and forced to fight for their very survival. Kaneda is a bike gang leader, and Tetsuo is a member of a tough motorcycle crew who becomes involved in a covert government project called Akira. But a bloody battle ensues when Kaneda sets out to save his friend.
In 1988, Western audiences hadn't really acknowledged Japanese animation, despite the popularity of the Gundam franchise. Even so, that didn't stop the creation of one of the most acclaimed anime films to date - 'Akira'.
The film is set in 2020, 32 years after the detonation of a bomb which wiped Tokyo right off the map. A new city was built there to take its place, called Neo-Tokyo (much like Tokyo-3 for Evangelion). Society at that time is at its lowest, and Neo-Tokyo is a breeding ground for anarchy and destruction. Shotaro Kaneda (Johnny Yong Bosch) and Tetsuo Shima (Joshua Seth) are bikers in a gang, who fight a rival biker gang called the Clowns. One night, however, Tetsuo sees a child on a highway, but before he can slow down he runs into him...but the child survived, and vanished. Tetsuo is injured, and lifted to hospital. Or rather, a research centre. It is assumed that Tetsuo carries a power very similar to what Akira had at the time of Tokyo's destruction. Kaneda and a few others have made the assumption that Tetsuo, if left to live, would potentially end the world, and it is left to Kaneda to kill Tetsuo before he can destroy the world.
When this got an English dub some time in the late '80s, it was heavily frowned upon, and a second English dub was done in 2001, with the voice actors I mentioned a moment ago, as well as newer voice actors, like Michelle Ruff and Sandy Fox. This review is based around the later English dub.
The animation is pretty old, but a lot of it is still amazing to look at. It's one of the most complex anime to have been produced; it used more colours than conventional anime at the time, and used three to four times as many frames as a conventional anime as well. It must have been an absolute nightmare to get the cels to make it.
The voice acting in the newer English dub is improved greatly, in comparison to the first dub. While the film is still relatively better in Japanese, it's still much better than the original English dub from the '80s. And at least this dub has all the original scenes, as well as voice acting that fits most mouth movements, even though they all differ.
The characters aren't very highly developed, though we can assume they are mostly orphans, Kaneda and Tetsuo especially, as they are both taken into an orphanage. We do learn a bit about them, but if you want character development, read the 6-part manga; it's much more developed. You can't get a 6-part manga into a 2-hour film. Hell, the manga hadn't even ended at the time of the film's production.
The music was produced by Geinoh Yamashirogumi, a collective of workers by day, but spiritual Noh performers by night. The music is one of the best things about the film; it's enchanting, and fits many of the situations in the film. Even if you don't like traditional Japanese music, you can't really deny the music is beautiful.
This film has perhaps some of the most bizarre scenes in anime, where Tetsuo breaks free from hospital with his girlfriend Kaori (Michelle Ruff), and ride on Kaneda's powerbike. Needless to say, Kaneda chases them, and gets to the scene of an incident where Tetsuo is knocked down to the ground and Kaori too, with her top ripped open. Kaneda arrives and stopped the Clowns from burning his bike. Tetsuo proceeds to brutally beat up one of the Clowns, but Kaneda intervenes and stops him. Tetsuo begins to suffer from a chronic headache, and ends up with hallucinations, first of the ground crumbling before him, and the seconds his internal organs simply falling from his body. That particular scene was excluded from the original English dub, and that gave the movie a 12 rating as a result. It's incredibly creepy when all is considered, and fairly awkward for Tetsuo, because his guts didn't spontaneously collapse from his body at all.
While 'Ghost in the Shell' failed to popularise the anime genre to Western audiences, 'Akira' did introduce a lot of people to a lesser child-oriented form of animation, and with it came the path for other anime to be introduced to Western audiences; 'Perfect Blue', 'Evangelion' and even 'Ghost in the Shell'
I will say there are very few flaws in the film. However, the film is a little too complicated for some, considering its apocalyptic story. And while at times there is a little humour, it's a little too serious whilst trying to be funny, which is very much awkward.
Because of how much of a cult phenomenon it is, it gets 94%. It's one of the best classic anime to have been released, and still holds a lot of meaning to anyone around the world. Just...don't go crazy while watching it.