Why Akira Is So Awesome

I’ve always liked Akira. But a recent viewing of the movie blew my mind.

Hit the link to read what knocked my socks off.

The backstory here is that I’ve been watching a lot of 1980s anime for the past few years, especially recently, since a lot of it has gone out of print and I’ve stocked up on DVDs. Over the recent holiday weekend, I watched Patlabor the Movie and Cyber City Oedo 808. With a few hours left to kill before going to sleep and waking up to the real world of a soul sucking day job, I figured I’d watch Akira. I hadn’t seen it in a few years, plus I had been meaning to watch it since I finally read the manga in full this year and wanted to refresh my memory as to how the two differ.

I had seen Akira four times before this viewing, if I remember correctly. But it was never in the right context – a 1988 context, that is. When I had watched it before, I was in the middle of the Shinichiro Watanabe craze and the modern era of Studio Ghibli. I was always impressed with Akira. I liked everything about it – the art direction, the post World War III setting, the bikes, and the bizarreness of it all. But it didn’t blow me away.

This time, though, it was totally different. Like I said, I was just watching some other ’80s anime. Patlabor the Movie and Cyber City Oedo 808, like almost all anime of the time, was produced in an extremely “economic” way. Cels – the individually layered pieces of characters, backgrounds, props, and effects – were re-used, frame by frame, frequently. For example, in a one-shot of a character speaking, the only cels that made up that character that would move were those that made up the mouth. Everything else stood still.

Being acclimated to these animation techniques, I was primed to have my eyeballs melted. In Akira, everything moves like liquid. Facial animations, the characters’ movement, and even the effects like billowing smoke were incredibly smooth. While most animation runs at 24 frames per second, half of those frames are repeated. In other words, there are only 12 unique frames per second. With Akira, all 24 frames were unique, meaning an enormous total of over 160,000 cels. Even something as mundane as the lip-syncing was impressive. All previous anime had created the animation first and then recorded the voiceovers. Akira recorded the voiceovers first so the artists could precisely match the characters’ mouths and lips with the dialogue. Akira‘s animation stood up to today’s computer-based animation, yet had the soul of hand-drawn animation.

Such amazing animation and a 1988 release date just didn’t compute for me. Until the credits rolled, that is. With a budget of nearly $11 million, a huge number of Japanese studios were recruited to turn Akira into a reality. Bandai, Toho, Kodansha, Hakuhodo, Mainichi Broadcasting System, Sumitomo, Laserdisc Corporation, and Tokyo Movie Shinsha made up “The Akira Committee”. But even more companies were used for production, such as Asahi Production, who created the individual photographs that would be sequenced together to create the film, and Gainax, who were just one of the many animation studios who worked on the movie. Excluding publishers and licensors, 81 studios and companies helped created Akira, by my count. That is insane, not only from a pure manpower standpoint, but also from a logistical one.

Akira is nearly as old as I am. Yet it might as well have been made yesterday. The amount of love and detail that went into this movie is jaw-dropping. I’m ashamed that I didn’t appreciate this before. Go watch Akira right now and pay attention not just to the storyline, but to the incredibly precise and seamless animation. It gave me a whole new respect for the film, and I hope it does for you, too.

Buy: Akira: 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)