After nearly 20 years of hearing here and there what a great, mind blowing movie Akira is, I finally had a chance to see it the other night. I'll start by saying that my mind was not blown. I kept waiting for my mind to be blown, but the mind blowing never ensued. I'm not sure if this says more about the movie, or if it just says something about all the people that insisted to me that it was some kind of religious experience. I'm not saying that this isn't a good film, I just don't feel that it rises above or stands out among other good Japanese Animated films.
Click here for the plot summary on Wikipedia
I'll start with the film's strengths; The animation is quite good. Doing a little research on Wikipedia informs me I'm not alone in this position and in 1988 when it was released was hailed as a major breakthrough in Japanese Animation and even animation as a whole. It raised the bar. Since then I've seen many animes that look better than this, but I can't say that I remember seeing any made before 1988 that look better.
The story is an interesting concept with multiple messages including evolution, ambition, power fantasies, and even a little coming-of-age-adolescent angst. Though I have to say I'm a little tired of seeing science fiction films with a "Man shouldn't meddle with things it doesn't understand" messages.
One of the weaknesses come in when the filmmakers try to make the plot more complex than it really is. At it's core, it's a very simple story, but at times it seems like they're just trying to fill out 2 hours of run time for the sake of it. The shame of this is that they could have spent that time explaining more to me about who the main characters of Kaneda and Tetsuo were. Instead, we're offered this very fuzzy framework of their friendship throughout the whole film, and the entire dynamic of their friendship is supposed to be explained at the very end with a series of flashbacks during Tetsuo's out-of-control psychokinetic rampage. The ending would have been more effective if going into it, we knew how deep their relationship was. The whole movie would have been more effective if we were presented with a more complete picture of who the characters were as individuals. Instead we're offered a series of awkwardly delivered lines from the main players, because each scene's dialog doesn't seem to be a natural evolution from the last.
At times, the story just seems like a vehicle to show off these cool powers that these kids have, much in the same way the matrix's story at times just seem like a vehicle for its' characters super-wow-awesome powers. I'm guessing the writers of the original Manga had the idea of these kids with these powers and simply used that to build the story's messages around.
All in all, a pretty cool sci-fi flick, but no where near the mind-trip it's been hyped as.