Ah, Akira. Like many other western fans it certainly wasn't the first anime title I'd ever seen. But it was the one that made me realise that anime was capable of theatrical pieces that would twist the brain and dazzle the eyes. Leaving the valhalla theatre, for the 8th or 9th time, and arguing about what it all actually meant remains a fond memory.
The prologue to the movie starts in the classical Japanese fashion. Specifically a huge explosion of energy wipes Tokyo off the map. Now it's called Neo-Tokyo and re-built skyscrapers proclaim the progress that has been made since that time. But in the dark corners of the city, the society and the citizens themselves decay and ruin linger on. And, hidden away in the deepest and most secure of vaults, the biggest secret of all stirs and begins to wake. Not all is as it seems in Neo-Tokyo.
Not that Kaneda cares. He's the leader of a gang of young hooligans who keep their minds on more immediate matters. Like drugs, bikes, girls and mixing it up with all the other gangs that infest the shadowy fringes of this society. Little does he know that the fight he has planned tonight is going to get him, and one of the young riders in his group, deeply involved in a whole lot more trouble than he even dreamed was possible. Nor is this the obvious dangers of cops and gangs with which he is familiar, this is something much stranger, and a lot more deadly. This is the sort of night that a city can explode as the forces hidden within tear it apart.
Didn't want to give too much away in the synopsis, although I daresay just about everyone who's into anime knows the story even if they haven't seen the film. When it came out this film was huge and it remains an important event in the history of western anime fandom. As such I was sort of worried that it might have lost its power, given that it was made quite a while ago. I needn't have worried, like all creations of quality it has retained much of its power.
The cover art emphasises Kaneda on his bike, and a very nice bike it is. But the actual "bike punk" component is just a starting point for the story. Even here I still don't want to say too much about the heart of the story but I can assure you that it makes a biker gang war look like a playground tussle. The forces being revealed and unleashed are serious, deadly and on a power level that blew the minds of many people who first saw it. This is a movie that starts off small and builds to a climax that truly earns a "whoa". It's truly an epic story.
The downside is that it remains as confusing as ever. This is partly because of the mature story telling but it's also fair to say that concentrating a whole heap of manga into a single movie had a lot to do with it. The manga story is dense and even with lots of its content being dramatically simplified or entirely removed there's still an awful lot happening and precious little time to explain the details. Lots of characters, lots of events and lots that can make your head hurt as it goes whizzing by. Discovering what is going on, rather than fighting it, is actually a major thread of the story. And many people will find that discovery incomplete and the conclusion itself unsatisfying.
In my personal opinion it's best not to worry too much about it until after the movie has played out. Because if you focus too much on it you'll miss the wonderful scenes and events it triggers. This is gritty, mature and cinematic story telling. Each scene is ripe with hidden meaning and dramatic power that can really etch itself into your memory. Whether the core of the story makes sense, or whether the narrative structure is mysterious or just simply broken, is irrelevant compared to the raw power of the scenes being played out. This is simply great stuff.
The production, when I first saw it, was like an epiphany. The scale of some of the scenes, and the guts to even attempt to animate then, was awe inspiring. The high quality visuals, combined with an awesome soundtrack, really come alive in a cinema. It's dated a bit since then but even so I was surprised by how well it has aged. This stuff still looks and sounds wonderful. Great movement, superb design (especially on the hardware) and a heap of style. The main problem it has is that its clearly been animated by different groups in some sections, so the style is not always entirely consistent even though the quality level is. The design is so detailed that it's not a problem, its probably not something you'll even notice on only a single viewing. The dubbed version also has some significant weaknesses as befits its age. There's some average voices, some poor dialog choices and the crowd scenes are pretty awful. Its not actually bad, it just can't match up to the stature of the underlying material.
The citation system is scheduled for revision in the near future. But I'll put some notes here while it's still fresh in my mind.