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Akira is the movie that many believe launched Anime from absolute fringe genre into a cultural phenomenon that has gripped the imaginations of those living both here in the United States and around the world.
In many ways Akira has all of the elements that have come to symbolize what people think of when they think of Japanese animated entertainment. Firstly, the setting is one of a post-apocalyptic Japan that has recovered (although only partially) from several devastating nuclear attacks. The hero’s are disenfranchised youth looking for meaning in their own lives, while uncovering a much larger consolidated evil, represented by the militaristic and political institutions that govern their daily lives.
More specifically, a group of young, nihilistic bikers find themselves racing through a dirty, chaotic technologically advanced future trying to save their friend who may or many not be a government secret weapon that could destroy the entire earth.
Akira has many exciting elements from the large military conspiracy; the inept politicians who vainly and corruptly attempt broker their own power to the supernatural and even a hint of romance.
Some of the first, and most striking scenes in Akira exhibit the high-speed low-tech biker warfare that is a daily occurrence in the war ravaged city. Gangs of young punks battle over girls, ground and grudges, usually with very violent consequences.
Of course, the cult status of the film is only partially derived from this magnetic action. The underlying theme of Armageddon and evolution helped propel the film into popularity simply by stimulating discussion.
If you haven’t seen the film, I won’t ruin the ending for you, because…well I can’t. As a born and raised American there is just something lost in the cultural or linguistic translation that prevents any real understanding of the film. But in many ways, that’s part of the appeal. You could see the movie one hundred times and each time you would only be confronted with new questions as to ending of the film.
That said, even if you’re not the philosophical type you’ll get more than your money’s worth from the action sequences in Akira. Dizzying high-speed chases, furious gun battles and supernatural trickery call make for one exciting ride.
One word of caution: Here in the west we are used to animated movies being the primary domain of young children and parents of young children. In Akira the level of violence and at times be startling, and there are many very adult situations that would scare younger viewers. Of course, though, American TV is one of the most violent mediums on the planet, so for better or worse your children could be desensitized to all of this by now.
After all, one pathetic episode of CSI or SVU or WTF has its fair share of murders to scare your children.