Fenrir: Hello and welcome to yet another edition of Objection! This is Fenrir, first time Objection-er and long-time neutral party on just about everything!
Starshine: And this is Starshine, super opinionated movie critic extraordinaire!
Fenrir: And we’re here tonight to debate on an animation icon that just about everyone — anime fan or not has heard of: Akira! Now I’m going to let Starshine open up this debate because she has some strong opinions on this movie — so in one word how would you describe Akira?
Starshine: One word? Unsatisfactory. The biggest issue I have is that the movie doesn’t do the source material justice, and that’s a real shame considering what a great story it could have been on the silver screen
Fenrir: Oh I can see why; it takes a lot to condense a rich manga into a movie. And to be quite honest, I understand that lack is what most people don’t enjoy about it. BUT I will argue that Akira is something that just about everyone should see.
I’m even going to compare it to a well-known, well-contested novel that everyone is forced at some point in their life to read: Akira has got a serious Moby Dick kind of complex. It’s immense. Admittedly impenetrable at some points. But not something to be avoided; it’s got several good things going for it after all and it is important within the great timeline of animation history.
Starshine: I think that it is a milestone in cinema because of it’s visuals, and you know how I love cinematography, and like Bennet the Sage from TGWTG said, it doesn’t have to be a good movie to be important. But there is something to be said for the fact that it was unable to pull together a story. Even in an adaptation of Moby Dick, one can outline the story more or less, even if you lose the metaphor along the way. This…this did not at all. It’s a trainwreck.
Fenrir: But a visually stunning and visceral trainwreck; also entertaining enough for those of you who happen to like psychic violence ala Elfin Lied. But on the topic of the trainwreck, let’s think of it this way – the production company was working with an unfinished manga storyline, and had to condense information what was already available, and any backstory was familiar to Japanese audiences for quite some time. So, I expect that for its initial run in Japan the audience could fill in some of the gaps; of course we don’t get that luxury, no one tells the first-time Akira watcher to “catch up on the manga it explains everything”.
But what impresses me the most about the film for overseas audiences and for the generations that didn’t grow up with Akira is that it still touches them. Whether you hate, or love it, there is something about the film that makes it memorable and stick out in your mind.
And I guess it also has a thing to do with when you watched Akira, too.
Starshine: …yeah, being like 10 and seeing a giant bulbous mass of flesh squish a girl to a pulp probably didn’t help. And it is indeed a memorable film but mostly because of how much it confused me.
Not to mention the whole thing with the title character, who we technically never see other than a glass of…organs? Blood? Life force? The film doesn’t make it apparent at all what’s going on with the Akira Project at all, something central to the plot. It’s things like that which really get to me about this movie. It’s so well drawn and animated, but when you try to understand, it’s near impossible
Fenrir: Haha yeah, I think being 10 kind of explains it. My first Akira experience was back in my freshman year of high school and my brother, a senior, was going through a serious “must watch all these cult films before I graduate” phase. Films like, Full Metal Jacket, Donnie Darko, and eventually Akira was what we sat down to watch every Saturday night.
Which is probably why I am not as, say, torn about the “Oh my goodness what is going on” aspect of it — sit through several “What is going on” films enough and expectations for some grandiose life-altering plotline is more or less thrown out the window. Instead of plot, we get visuals, and we get a sort-of insight into the human condition, which is just all kinds of mad. Did they have to have reasons for everything? Would have been helpful, but, then again, you can’t always explain away everything with concretes.
For instance I did enjoy the twist that Akira was nothing more than organs; not easily explainable but open for personal interpretation. To me, it seemed that he was just powerful enough that he transcended a material form; and at the end it is hinting that the scary-psychic-children ended up becoming their own mini-god-like-beings with that big-bang-sort-of-explosion-thing. Try to get your mind around that and it is indeed kind of “W-T-F mate”, but this isn’t the only film that serves us a slice of unsatisfactory-plot-explanation pie.
It’s more of what you make of it, definitely something to watch, but not something that is meant to change your life for the better.
Starshine: True, art-esque films are more difficult to understand but this film doesn’t quite make it into that category if only cause it is supposed to follow a very clearly laid out plot from a manga. More so than anything else, i feel like the movie tries to say something but doesn’t get across as clear as it would like other than: “Playing God…bad idea”
And did the old-people-children WANT Tetsuo to find Akira, or not? Cause they make it seem like both Ultimately, I think that while the film deserves to be remembered, it should be prefaced by the idea that it’s not a traditionally great film.
Fenrir: True, and I think more fans are wising up to the fact that it’s not the “BE ALL AND END ALL!!!111” for anime films. Rather, it’s something that definitely has to be appreciated for what it has done for the industry. It’s beautifully grotesque– from the bulbous flesh to the organ-shots–and is a reminder that there are boundaries you can freely cross and manipulate in animation that just isn’t possible with real actors and CGI, even the good and expensive stuff.
On top of that there was a lot of minute details that make Akira stand out — even twenty (?) years since its release. Characters (Despite their weirdly proportioned heads haha) move smoothly, their movements not stunted and stiff; even some Miyazaki movies are guilty of limiting frames used for facial movements, but Akira certainly has that going for them. Also the layers upon layers for the backgrounds — if you look at a single frame the amount of detail put into them is gorgeous. And when you think about it, you only really see some of these frames for .5 seconds or so, but the fact that they spent that time (And money) on such detail is immense.
So, the plot-line may drive you off the wall, but it definitely showed that animation is a worthy medium to tell stories — or in this case, to tell something.
Starshine: True that – not to mention it doesn’t suffer from that weird design scheme that in the future everyone dresses completely different from today – the design is futuristic without being grotesquely so. I mean, it’s also good to see the rebellion in the background of the action, giving the actions depth
Fenrir: Yep – it’s not jarring for a dystopian verse. The clothes actually scream nineties (I see your ripped biker jacket, and it’s not amusing) and you could forget that it’s what… 2019, and Neo-Tokyo is experiencing some issues with its population. The “future” doesn’t stop people from being unhappy, as Tetsuo demonstrates.
Starshine: Maybe the message is in part that humanity remains humanity, no matter how advanced we are. Or that power destroys all. Or it could just be a straight adaptation.
I think the reason people gravitate towards Akira is not just the visuals but also the design and the reflection of the chaos in out modern day.
…or I am looking into places i shouldn’t be
Fenrir: Haha I don’t think you’re looking in strange places at all. I mean, that’s why I compared it to Moby Dick in the first place: it’s an animator’s encyclopedia of what you should do to be fluid, to create icons (Akira’s red motorcycle, anyone?), etc. BUT, it’s also immense, maybe not as complex as we make it out to be, but definitely something to ponder over.
And that’s the beauty of Akira, whether you walk away from the film a believer (In something) or unimpressed, it still leaves room open for personal interpretation. People gravitate towards Akira for something, and whether it’s something satisfactory or down-right confounding, it was able to wring out some thought from its viewers. And it’s a thought that keeps it alive, and it keeps it up on lists of “must-see” films despite its plot problems.
Starshine: In that light, it somehow makes the movie better, though I still hold that even though it is an important film, I still think it’s technically bad on a storytelling level.
Fenrir: Annnnd with that, I think we’ve come to some sort of agreement! Plot-line is poorly executed BUT it’s important, and beautiful in its grotesqueness.
Starshine: This is true…damn Akira and its grotesqutide
Fenrir: It’s beautiful grotesqutide! Haha. Well folks I think this is our cue to wrap it up; tune in next week for another exciting round of Objection — with hopefully less fleshly blobs of flesh and more plot!