With this animated epic--adapted from the famous manga series by Katsuhiro Otomo--"Japanimation" jumped from cult to mainstream, just as comic books have graduated from children's entertainment to sophisticated graphic novels. AKIRA, likewise, sets out to use the animated format in a
bold, adult way.
The time is 2019, 31 years after WWIII, during which Tokyo was destroyed by an atomic bomb. The rebuilt Neo Tokyo is an urban hell whose denizens live like rats at the foot of towering skycrapers. The heroes of the movie are a group of teenage biker punks who terrorize the city with their violent
gang wars. There is also a group of revolutionaries who are trying to overthrow the oppressive government. The government, meanwhile, is performing strange experiments with a mysterious invention called "Akira." It is part bomb, part god, and potentially destructive: when part of it is injected
into a human being, that person is endowed with apocalyptic strength.
The animation shows off the kind of hyperactive filmmaking that would cost millions to produce in a live-action format. The opening sequence finds the biker gang burning down the freeways of Neo Tokyo at maximum speed, presenting the characters and the cityscape from every possible angle. The
powerful movement of the movie is exhilarating, but it's all action with little characterization or plot. There is a moral here about mankind's lust for power, but it never clearly emerges from the spectacle of destruction and violence. Ultimately, AKIRA is really all about the animation.
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