Akira Ltd Ed Tin Review
I always seem to set myself difficult tasks when it comes to reviews. On the surface this review may seem like a no-brainer. Classic film, great disc, so go and buy it now. Now unfortunately I don’t think the DVDTimes bosses would be too happy with a ten-word review. So how do I pitch this? As this disc has been out for a month, most people who know and love the film would have bought it already. But what about those people who haven’t seen it (blasphemous I know)?
Well this film was my introduction to the world of Anime back in the early 90’s. Luckily enough I saw it on Channel 4 with subtitles rather than the dodgy English dub that was touted about at the time. This splicing of state of art cell animation with a Bladerunner-esque setting caught my imagination and never let go. I have to say that most Anime subsequently disappointed me. I wouldn’t say it was bad, just not in the same league. So, as a big fan, the release of a two-disc set packed with extras and a remastered fully restored print was just too much to resist.
A plot summary seems superfluous, but here goes anyway. It’s 2019 A.D. in Neo Tokyo. Old Tokyo was destroyed in World War III in 1988, a war that started under mysterious circumstances. This film concentrates on the youth of Neo Tokyo who are disenfranchised with modern society; as a result they turn to drugs, fast bikes and violence. Our story starts with a young bike gang led by Kaneda (Iwata). His gang are at war with the Clown gang (another motorcycle gang). In a high-speed battle a mysterious wizened boy appears and causes Kaneda’s friend Tetsuo (Sasaki) to crash. Government forces pick up the child and they also take Tetsuo at the same time. The government installation contains three children with odd psychic powers and they believe Tetsuo also has these powers. At this point things get a little complicated (to say the least). Tetsuo’s powers develop and he becomes curious about the legendary Akira. Meanwhile the gang get into trouble at school and try to track down Tetsuo. Within all of this there are government conspiracies, a terrorist group intent on releasing Akira, a mysterious Colonel who controls the department containing the children and the scientist who understands the children most. Quite honestly I haven’t even scratched the surface of this plot, it is in depth, complex and in places brilliant.
The more perceptive amongst you will have spotted that I am quite keen on this film. The animation is superb and I haven’t seen better cell animation anywhere. From the moment you see the flickering light outside of the bar you know you are in for a treat. Neo Tokyo is beautifully realised here with huge 3D animated billboards and a real futuristic feel that many live action films fail to achieve.
The bike chase scene is probably the most impressive piece of animation I have seen. The cutting is fast, furious and cinematic. Lights from the bikes stream away into blackness as the soundtrack drives the action forward. The recent Final Fantasy movie should take note, animation is not about true realism, it is about atmosphere and Akira has that in spades. A lot of the shots are composed as if they were live action and this creates a very odd atmosphere. This concept works brilliantly and at times makes you forget you are watching a “cartoon”.
The performances from the main actors are exemplary. The emotion in the voices is just right. Even though you cannot understand what they are saying, you really appreciate the emotion behind their words. This is why I don’t listen to English dubs (no matter how good they are). There is a scene where Kaneda is remembering his childhood with Tetsuo and it is a very sweet and emotional scene.
It pains me to say this but this film isn’t perfect. Admittedly the film really has only one flaw and that is the complex narrative. Now normally I wouldn’t complain about that given the brainless nature of most modern films. In this case however they have taken a comic that ran for years and made it into a film. As a result certain plot elements are not fully explored and you are left wondering what was that characters purpose; you know there is more there but you never see it. A perfect example of this is the terrorist group Kaneda encounters. Their purpose is never properly explored and their background is neglected. There are a couple of other plot points that suffer in this way and it is a real shame. I understand that there was a huge amount of back-story to fill in and some things had to go, I just feel it could have been done better.
Despite the films flaw it is easily in the same league as Blade Runner in terms of atmosphere and sits quite comfortably in my top 5 Sci-fi films of all time. To anyone reading this who hasn’t watched Akira because it is a “cartoon” please give it a try, it is a Sci-fi classic and deserves any Sci-fi fans full attention.
Here I am reviewing the two-disc tin box edition. Two other versions are available. The standard two-disc edition is exactly the same as this tin except it is in a normal double disc case. The one-disc version is basically disc 1 with no extras disc. As a small side note the tin box is well constructed and well designed. Anchor Bay please take note.
I thought that the Spartacus menus were good until I’d seen these. The menus show stylised animations from the film on a classy off-white background. In addition parts of the film’s soundtrack accompany most of the sub-menus. It looks and sounds great. The menus are very easy to navigate and the film is split into a generous 36 chapters.
The picture is 1.85:1 anamorphic as originally presented. IMDB says that a 2.20:1 print was also released but I have found no further evidence that we are missing anything here. The print is pristine and pin sharp. There is no discernable artefacting at all and very little or no grain. The colours are vibrant and there is a good strong black level. The restoration job done here is superb. If you watch some of the documentary extras it is painfully obvious how bad this print could have been.
We have two soundtracks here. The first is the original Japanese language Dolby Surround track. This is a good lively track and sounds crisp and clear. The subtitles are player generated so they can be switched on and off (curiously this can only be done from the menu). The other track is a new English dub on a DD 5.1 track. Whilst the 5.1 surround sounds great I have to say I haven’t watched it all the way through in this mode. The new English dub is better than the old one but it is still fairly bad. I still believe the best way to experience foreign language films is in their original language with subtitles. It is just a shame that if you want to hear the 5.1 track you have to have the English dub.
The extras on these discs are intelligent and well thought out. I have listed them below according to which disc they are on.
Just the one extra I’m afraid. There is a capsule mode which is very similar to “follow the white rabbit” on the Matrix disc. When the capsule appears on screen press a key and the action jumps to an explanatory diagram. This information is mostly translations of graffiti, signs etc. It isn’t essential to know this of course, but it is nice to have.
First up is the Akira Production Report. This 48-minute documentary covers Akira’s creation from the comic through the animation to the final film. This will not be a new extra to those of us who bought the double VHS a few years ago as this is the documentary that was on the second tape. It is a comprehensive behind the scenes piece with plenty of interviews with the director, animators and voice-over artists. The only drawback is the narrator (Japanese) who has the most ridiculous things to say “Here is the animator’s desk… It’s exciting isn’t it?”. The whole thing is subtitled and again they are player generated.
Next is the Akira Sound section. This is a 20-minute piece on the music for Akira. It features interviews with the music director and the performers. The music for this film is mesmerising so this segment is fascinating. It runs through all of the main sections in the film and shows rehearsals as well as finished pieces.
In 1993 when the Laserdisc special edition was created it included a new interview with director Katsuhiro Otomo. Fortunately this 30-minute interview has also been included here. It is a Q&A session with the questions being presented as a white title on black before we see Otomo’s response. This is very interesting, but is a little dry in places.
The restoration team have done such a good job here that they have earned their 14-minute piece on this disc. This section is split into three segments. The first covers the restoration of the print. The second details the work involved in the new English dub. Finally the sound restoration is covered. These segments are fascinating as they do show how much work has gone into making this transfer look and sound as good as it does.
Five trailers are included on this disc. I always give these a cursory glance; but this is for completists only.
Now I have a confession to make. The next section contains production materials. This involves around 4500 images and I have to say I haven’t looked at half of them (I know I’ve had a month but I do have to eat and sleep you know). They are split logically into the 36 chapters for the film so they are easy to follow. In addition there are unused storyboards, unused backgrounds, Initial character design, Comics & Magazines, Movie & Promotion and VHS CD & Misc. Comprehensive is not the word for the amount of material here. Most of it is presented very well, however some of the black and white storyboards are a little indistinct. I would imagine that this section would be invaluable to someone who is interested in the art of animation.
Finally we have an Akira Glossary that has 100+ stills. With this and the production materials there is more information than you could ever sensibly digest.
Can I use my ten-word review now? Oh alright I’ll do it properly… I rarely give out 10’s in my reviews but this is a true Sci-fi classic. Pioneer have put together a superlative two disc set here. The picture is magnificent, the sound is great and the extras are amongst the best I’ve seen. Fans shouldn’t hesitate (and I’m sure they haven’t). Sci-fi fans that have avoided this so far should give it a try. There is a one disc version for those still unsure, but do yourselves a favour and splash out on this.
Please note - the 'Tin' version is now Out Of Print so the retailer link below is for the standard 2-disc release which contains the exact same discs as found in the Limited Edition Tin.