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Like a Studio Ghibli film gone rogue, “Akira” (1988) is a Japanese animated sci-fi thriller that’s a wonder to watch. With its visually stunning animations, awesome world-building, and intense action; the film creates a unique experience that is entirely it’s own. With gunfights, explosions, psychic powers, hoverbikes, and monsters; what more could any action fan want?

By taking the audience on a wild ride through post-apocalyptic Tokyo, the movie manages to make two hours go by in a flash. After the first few minutes, it is abundantly clear why the movie has a large cult following that contributed to the international fame of anime.

It is even credited as the show that popularized anime to America and the West! Let’s dive into the rich world of Akira:


Thirty years after a devastating explosion in 1988, the city of Neo-Tokyo is still reeling from its effects: riots, warring biker gangs, and all kinds of mayhem abound in the city. Set against the backdrop of all this chaos, the movie follows biker teens Shōtarō Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima as members of The Capsules, confronting a rival faction. The lives of the protagonists and the future of the city are upended when Tetsuo begins to exhibit extraordinary abilities that he cannot control.

What makes Akira so unique?

The Brutality

Several films over the previous two decades have followed a similar premise, in which an adolescent hero lives in a dystopian environment. The Akira anime, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to go off the rails and shock its audience with gore and body horror. “Akira” was a surprising departure from what viewers had grown to expect from animated pictures at the time it was released, depicting brutal gore and violence.

In one scene, for example, a person’s guts are pulled out and spread over the road. The gunfights in this film are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, such as the one in which a young guy is peppered with bullets that bounce and rip him apart. Its apocalyptic images of violence are so vivid and frightening that even the most seasoned action fans will shiver.

“Akira” is the kind of movie that immerses you completely and keeps your attention throughout its running time. From the opening motorbike chase to the climactic end of the movie, you will be stuck on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next. (if you’re not covering your eyes from the creepy flesh monster). Several viewers even say it is overwhelming because every scene manages to be shocking and astonishing. There are very few lulls in this movie. 

Post-Apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo

Just like Japan today, the movie presents Neo-Tokyo as a blend of traditional and modern aesthetics – one of many reasons people love to visit Japan! Through its neon streets with Kanji letters on the storefronts as people in hovering vehicles zip by, it is full of unique and contrasting visuals that are sure to take the audience’s breath away.

Neo-Tokyo is represented in gorgeous, surreal visuals. Without giving too much away, the film succeeds at establishing memorable moments of size and grandeur that will stay with you for years to come. The audio is startling and unpleasant, particularly at key points, sending shivers down your spine. It genuinely is a film that can be described as an experience.

The Animation

The main highlight of the film is the stunning hand-drawn animation that brings its world to life. There is a TON of attention put into the characters, places, animals, and every single detail of the world to the point that its aesthetic becomes instantly recognizable.

What’s even more impressive is that every single frame in the movie was painstakingly hand-drawn. And since the film was released in the 80s digital animation, the studio had to use cel animation to create the film. this process involves using layers of celluloid in order to create a frame of animated movement. In order to complete the two-hour film, the animators needed to deploy 172,000 frames in total!

The cel animation gave it a fluid and dynamic quality that other cartoons of the day lacked. The action in “Akira” is smooth and vibrant to the eye, making it a thrill to watch.

As if this was not challenging enough, the team was also faced with the fact that external light sources had to be used to bring Neo-Tokyo’s setting to life.  Why? A Japanese cyberpunk film would not be complete without neon signs and all types of dazzling lighting effects.

From the first few minutes of the film, it’s clear that this is a labour of love for the animators.

Otomo’s Vision

Above all, Katsuhiro Otomo’s animation does an outstanding job of imagining a future society that is both plausible and surreal. “Akira” makes you think that Neo-Tokyo is a post-apocalyptic world consisting of motorcycle gangs, cults, and intricate social structures blended seamlessly with sci-fi elements. While some segments seem fantastical, others feel serious, as if humanity were confronted with a nuclear disaster.

The city feels very lived in, with the lore organically woven into every scene. It feels like a world with so much history, and along with the sense of spectacle, delivers an amazing viewing experience. Even when the gray-skinned “psychic” children arrive in the movie, they don’t feel too out of place.

It is deep, gritty, and thought-provoking; which leads us to the movie’s many themes.

The Many Themes of Akira  (SPOILERS!)

Yes, “Akira” is a cyberpunk anime. However, there is a deeper meaning to everything. The movie toys with the themes of creation and destruction, death and rebirth, and transformation. Due to its cosmic themes, it’s a psychological film that is not afraid to go uncomfortably deep into philosophy.

For example, the eponymous character of “Akira” is a mysterious being who is barely a human character. Instead, Akira is a concept – the big question of the movie. What and who is Akira? And why does he have Messianic powers that hold the fate of the world?

Not all of its themes are philosophical and incomprehensible. The movie also features the struggles of adolescence, where the teenage main characters grow up in a world that feels like it’s collapsing. This group of teenagers offers a welcome respite from the action through comedy, as well as heartfelt moments and character development.

Image Credit: GIF

The brotherhood between the two main characters is a large part of the story, where Tetsuo (who is the younger of the two) feels overshadowed by the cool capableness of his surrogate brother Kaneda.

When his latent psychic powers awaken, hell breaks loose as an angsty and petty teenage boy is given godlike powers.

When a cult who has been worshipping the mysterious destroyer of worlds, Akira, gets involved with the lives of the two main characters, things get even worse.

Grounded through the characters and their points of view, the film also shows themes of the corruption of a military government, revolution, and even religious zealotry!

Between exploding motorcycles, mysterious beings, compelling characters, and massive spectacle; “Akira” is a cyberpunk action film with a fresh, innovative take that makes it worth watching even today! 

How Akira Changed the Face of Animation & Pop Culture

Akira is widely credited as the film that brought anime to the West, but that’s not where its influence ends. From its cool futuristic bikes that inspired TRON Legacy and Motor Crush to the cyberpunk aesthetic that dominated Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and Alita: Battle Angel, the anime film’s impact continues to be felt today.

Firstly, it changed the way people viewed cartoons and paved the way for much grittier and more serious works of animation. Without “Akira,” cartoons may have never been able to tackle darker themes, and we wouldn’t have Netflix’s “Arcane” which is considered 2021’s masterpiece of animation.

The film also created a demand for better and more fluid animation, unlike the cartoons of its time. Amazingly, it was a film that single-handedly raised the standards for animation. After watching the film, people couldn’t go back to static backgrounds and silly toons. It was truly a cultural reset.

Surprisingly, “Akira” even makes a few appearances in pop music. The first is through Michael Jackson’s “Scream” music video where it shows the part where Tetsuo falls from the military laboratory. The anime film also inspired Kanye West’s song “Stronger,” with his music video replicating the futuristic Neo-Tokyo aesthetic of the movie.

Did you know?

Akira’s feisty Tetsuo originated the trope of the “dangerous psychic child who is a superweapon.” This trope continues to be found in several movies within the last decade such as X-men, Stranger Things, and Umbrella Academy!

The shapeless terrifying monster that takes up the climax of the film surely became the inspiration for many mutant boss battles in video games.

There’s just so much about the film that is legendary, which makes certain that its legacy and contributions will be remembered, referenced, and hailed for many more years to come!


About Aaron Ang

Aaron is a 20-year old college student who loves Pokemon, video games. and kpop (especially Twice and Loona!) He writes articles about East Asian culture and makes commentaries on pop culture. When not writing, he practices kpop dance routines or hangs out on Discord. His dream is to work at Disney or Nintendo one day!