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On July 16, 1988, Tokyo was destroyed by what was believed to be a new type of bomb, triggering World War III. Thirty-one years later, in 2019, Neo-Tokyo has arisen from ashes under Japan's new political system; but the glittering city is built on foundations of poverty, ignorance and despair. Kaneda and his friends, a bunch of juvenile delinquents, rumble with a rival group of bikers. While the police attempt to disperse a riot with tear gas, the rumble continues. Tetsuo takes the lead and, after disposing of his opponents, nearly runs down what looks to be a 100-year-old baby. Tetsuo's bike suddenly explodes and he is taken prisoner by the top-secret Akira Project where he is subjected to a series of tests which unleash his latent psycho-kinetic powers. But he is really more powerful than anyone imagined and breaks out, creating a swathe of destruction across the city as he mutates into another life form.
For more about Akira and the Akira Blu-ray release, see Akira Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on February 11, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Mitsuo Iwata, Jan Rabson, Nozomu Sasaki, Lara Cody, Mami Koyama, Masaaki ďkura
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
» See full cast & crew
Akira Blu-ray Review
The legendary anime makes it's apocalyptic debut on Blu-ray!
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, February 11, 2009
Akira is arguably the most popular anime title of all time, and rightfully so. Originally released to Japanese theaters in 1988, the film was co-written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also created the long-running manga series by the same name. Personally, Akira was my first true introduction to the world of anime (for the record, "Transformers" and "Astro Boy" should also be considered anime, but in my youth, they were simply "cartoons"). From the first time I saw the film, I fell in love with all things anime. Perhaps it was the graphic use of violence in an animated feature, or the futuristic world spawned by the imagination of the film's gifted creator, but something was downright compelling about Akira. Needless to say, my eyes were opened to something I never thought possible in animation, yet seemed so natural considering the limitations of live-action films.
Set in 2019, Akira takes place 31 years after a nuclear explosion decimates Tokyo and leads to the onset of World War 3. Built on the ashes of its predecessor, Neo-Tokyo is a booming metropolis filled with a wide range of inhabitants. When nightfall strikes, unsavory collections of biker gangs take to the streets and participate in a form of territorial motorcycle jousting. During one of these high speed competitions, a young man by the name of Tetsuo crashes his bike while coming into contact with an odd looking boy. Kaneda, leader of the gang Tetsuo belongs to, arrives on the scene in time to see Tetsuo and the young boy taken away by military personnel.
As the story progresses, we discover that Tetsuo and the mysterious boy hold special psychic powers; powers remarkably similar to those of a young boy named Akira, a being whose powers were responsible for the devastating nuclear explosion 30 years prior. In an effort to save Tetsuo from his military captors, Kaneda joins a resistance group that infiltrates the medical facility where Tetsuo is being held. In the process, Tetsuo escapes and learns of Akira. Believing this individual may have an explanation for the changes he is going through, Tetsuo sets off for a secret underground facility where Akira is being held.
On his way to release Akira, Tetsuo begins to delight in his newfound powers, and leaves a wake of destruction in his path. Kaneda learns of his friend's mindless rampage; taking it upon himself to stop Tetsuo before he can unleash Akira's limitless power.
A film like Akira is hard to summarize in 3 short paragraphs, and I can't come close to doing it justice. Elements of political unrest, rejection, friendship, comedy, and romance all play a part in this apocalyptic tale. Add in a healthy dose of graphic violence, and you could almost say the film was designed as a prescription for attention deficit disorder. Akira is truly an example of how far imagination can be expanded when working within the realm of animation. Up until the introduction of CGI in live action films, directors had to reign in creative energy to stay within the confines of crude special effects. Otomo was able to make a film that, purely based on budget, would simply not have been possible back in 1988 without the limitless possibilities found in animation.
Regarding the animation itself, I have absolutely zero complaints. Akira was made prior to the days of extensive CGI use in anime, and despite featuring a small number of CGI effects elements, the film is a tour-de-force of hand- drawn animation. Reportedly using over 160,000 cels, Akira was the most ambitious and costly film ever produced in Japan at the time of its release. Personally, I prefer hand- drawn anime over the ever-increasing CGI productions, and Akira continues to rest at the top of my quality list despite being 20 years old. From the intricate background details, to incredibly smooth character animation (look for the rolling body movement following a motorcycle crash toward the beginning of the film), Akira can hold it's own with any animated feature out there, Disney productions included.
Akira Blu-ray, Video Quality
Akira is presented in 1080P using the AVC codec, with an average bit-rate of 20 MBPS. I've seen Akira on cable (long ago), VHS, DVD, UMD, high-definition cable (720P), and now Blu-ray. I'm pleased to report it holds up extremely well with the increased resolution. Lines are nice and crisp, with no wavering or stair-stepping. Colors don't cover a wide spectrum, but they appear to accurately reproduce the original print. For instance, the reds on Kaneda's suit and bike show some level of differentiation, but not the amount we would come to expect if Akira was made using today's film standards. In addition, there are thankfully no instances of color variance from scene to scene (an example would be if a character's jacket looked red in one scene, and orange in another, which tends to happen when scenes are animated by different groups of people).
Black levels and contrast are mostly excellent with the exception of one scene (see screen capture number 17), which came across a bieing slightly muddy in appearance. The consistency in detail from scene to scene could have been better; some scenes look slightly out of focus in comparison to other scenes, but this is likely more of a source issue and something that was not noticeable prior to the increased resolution that Blu-ray offers. Lastly, I had one complaint with the transfer that I tried to accurately capture in the final 3 screenshots. On 3 occasions, there appeared to be a hazy outline around the body or face of a character. This did not appear to be a halo resulting from edge enhancement, but was not something I would imagine was present in the source material. It is most apparent in the final screenshot between the shoe and leg of Kaneda.
One other item worth mentioning is the odd move to frame the picture on all four sides. On a 16:9 display, thin black bars on the top and bottom of the screen are appropriate (for a 1.85:1 native aspect ratio), but it is frustrating to view a transfer that doesn't fully utilize the width of my display. I'm guessing this was done to prevent overscan on older television sets (since the 1.85:1 native aspect ratio of the film is still accurately reproduced without cropping), but it should have been corrected when the film was transferred to high- definition.
Akira Blu-ray, Audio Quality
If I could pick one area where this Blu-ray truly shines, it would be the audio. The default Japanese language track is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound. There are also Japanese tracks in Linear PCM 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1, but I only spent a brief time with these inferior tracks. Getting back to the TrueHD track, this is easily the most noticeable improvement I've heard in the transition to lossless sound. It was as if a blanket was lifted from each of my speakers, and clarity took an instant jump. Spatial separation is dynamic, dialogue is appropriately balanced, and there was an unbelievable level of clarity throughout the film. This is one of those tracks that uses every speaker to envelope you in the on-screen action. A helicopter pan across the soundstage is appropriately loud, but never noisy, and the rumble of the film's many explosions resonates with an oomph you'll feel in your chest.
In the booklet included with the disc, there is a lengthy discussion of a theory known as the hypersonic effect, and how it was utilized in remastering the audio track for this Blu-ray release. I can't say I understood everything included in the 10-page explanation, but I did find it interesting that the film's original composer, Shoji Yamashiro, is also a professor at the National Institute of Multimedia Education, and has published books on "Sound Ecology". His studies have led to the theory of the hypersonic effect, and he was instrumental in remastering the high bit-rate TrueHD track for this Blu-ray release.
Rounding out the sound options is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track dubbed in English, which was on par with the quality of the Japanese TrueHD track.
Akira Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Sadly, the wealth of extras on the DVD special edition of Akira are mostly absent on this Blu-ray version, so you may not want to toss out that DVD just yet. All that's included are 5 of the film's theatrical trailers presented in 1080P with Linear PCM 2.0 audio and a Storyboard Collection replicated from Otomo's original drawings that spans an incredible 700 pages.
Akira Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Akira is a highly influential film in the history of animation and should be viewed at least once by everyone who can stomach the violence. I understand some people are simply not fans of anime, but if you allow yourself to be transported to the world of Akira, you may find there is more to anime than just little green men shooting fireballs at each other. My only reservation in recommending this Blu-ray hinges on the lack of special features when compared to the prior Special Edition DVD release. If special features are your primary concern, I don't doubt that Akira will be revisited for this purpose in the future. In spite of that, Akira is a most welcome addition to any anime fan's growing library of Blu-ray editions, while featuring remarkable audio and the finest picture quality ever made available for this groundbreaking film.
Akira: Other Editions
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Akira Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Akira: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Detailed - September 12, 2013
FUNimation has revealed a number of details about its Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release of Akira. The new 25th Anniversary Edition not only includes a variety of bonus content, it features original Japanese audio and both the Kodansha/Streamline and Pioneer/Animaze ...
• Today on Blu-ray - February 24th - February 24, 2009
While not the first anime title to hit US shores, one of today's Blu-ray offerings is often credited with introducing anime to the western world. Based on a very popular six volume manga of the same name, 'Akira' tells the story of Tetsuo, a teenage gang member ...
• Akira Coming to Japan and the U.S. (Updated) - September 26, 2008
Bandai Visual Entertainment announced today that they will release on Blu-ray Disc the film that introduced the world of animÚ to the western audience, 'Akira.' Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira will be released on Blu-ray in Japan by Bandai Entertainment Inc. ...
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