Revisiting Akira

When I went to college, I reconnected with kindred spirits. The names and faces were different, but the archetypes were consistent with past groups of friends. Animation was a strong common interest, and some of our happiest times were when we'd commandeer a classroom with a television and VCR in the afternoon, and screen Japanese animation. Yes, we were geeks.

My friends introduced me to things even I had never seen, from Ninja Scroll to the original Gatchaman to Street Fighter II with its surprisingly risqué shower scene. The greatest discovery in my geek education however was Akira.

We take a lot for granted these days, because computer animation dances on the edge of reality, and traditional animation has peaked as well. Akira was something special, the bridge between the East and the West, something that made American audiences want to see more like it. I first saw it when I was a sophomore in college, and it pains me to confess that I didn't really see it properly. A friend of mine loaned me a video cassette that was not exactly in the best of shape. Remember tracking? Remember those lines of static that would run up and down a tape, especially if the heads inside the VCR needed cleaning? I saw the movie, but at times parts of it were covered, and I couldn't always read the subtitles. As time went on, my simplified recollection of the film was reduced to the two main characters shouting each other's names. “Tetsuooooo!!” “Kaneeeeedaaaa!!!

So, after a decade I revisited it on DVD, the most recent dub which pronounced some of the names slightly differently. I was able to appreciate the beauty of the animation, 160,000 cels forming fluid imagery. And while such highly detailed animation may not seem as special now, I appreciated the fact that this was all done in 1988. Someone actually drew and painted all of that. I think in some ways, Japanese animation has gotten worse, over simplified styles and cartoonish elements replacing detailed drawings and dynamic backgrounds.

Watching it again as an adult, and with crisp DVD quality, I gained a better understanding of the tale. Childhood friends in a motorcycle gang are torn apart when the genetic potential of humanity is unlocked in one of the friends after contact with a mutant child. It's a tale of power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely as a few headaches and some telekinesis gradually escalate beyond his control. There are some beautiful scenes, and some sick scenes, and even the sick scenes are beautiful. Fluid is the word that keeps coming to mind when I try to describe the animation.

Akira took the ordinary world and enhanced it as much as some of the characters evolved over the course of the film. A motorcycle. A teddy bear. Rundown city streets. Things we see every day are exaggerated and distorted. What must it be like to conceive of such things? What sort of mind can imagine the unimaginable? It's hard to be a pioneer when so many great things have been accomplished already. Darrell had a great review of it last year, and it's always great when someone discovers something like that for the first time. If you're a fan of any animation, especially Japanese, and you've not seen Akira, I highly recommend it.


Blogger Lyndon said...

Ooh, one of my all time favorite movie's. I remember seeing it on the big screen when the film first came out and just being blown away by the animation.

On a side note, dig the new banner at the top :-) Very cool indeed!

6/14/2007 7:23 AM  

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