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Akira (1988) – DVD Review

Akira DVD cover art


Written by Izô Hashimoto, based on Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s original manga
Directed by Katsuhiro Ôtomo
Starring the Voices of Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, and Mami Koyama


  • New film transfer from original negative, completely restored and digitally remastered
  • New English translation dub from original screenplay
  • “Capsule” mode – provides additional information during the film
  • The Making of “Akira” documentary
  • Making-of feature on the film’s soundtrack
  • Interview with director/creator Ôtomo, circa the original release (1988)
  • Production materials gallery of more than 4,500 stills from the film
  • Trailers (TV and Theatrical)
  • Restoration featurette
  • Akira glossary
  • Wicked metal keepcase

Released by: Pioneer.
Rating: R.
Region: 1
Anamorphic: You betcha.

My Advice: Own it.

[ad#longpost]In 1988, Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s anime translation of his epic Akira manga series took the West by storm. Anime was still a largely unknown art form in the U.S., and Akira set the benchmark for the form. In large part, it still holds honors as perhaps the greatest anime film of all time. Set in a dystopian Tokyo in the not-too-distant future, the film presents a story of massive government conspiracy and genetic tampering, with disastrous consequences. Swept into this plot (quite unwillingly) are two good friends, Shôtarô Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima, members of one of the innumerable biker gangs that run the streets of Neo-Tokyo.

What follows is a fast-paced action fest, with these two friends caught up by chance and dropped on opposing sides, battling for the future of Neo-Tokyo (and perhaps the whole of the human race). Combat biking, telekinetic tank-smashing, genetic mutation, and a descent into psychopathic megalomania all figure into an incredibly stylish scream through a future that doesn’t look so far away. The animation itself, though a bit dated, still holds up remarkably well, and the fact that the look of the film was achieved without any of the high-tech tools that are now standard (CGI backgrounds, digital image correction and correlation, etc.) is somewhat staggering. The voice-acting (both Japanese and English) is first-rate, and the soundtrack is a nice atmospheric blend of traditional Japanese instruments and high-tempo electronica.

If you are a fan of Japanese animation whatsoever, chances are you’re already familiar with Akira, like it or no. Alongside Ghost in the Shell, it represents to many fans the pinnacle of the form. Many people unfamiliar with the tremendous body of work available in anime are at least passing familiar with this flick, so for the uninitiated, it is Japanese animation (though the recent Princess Mononoke at least gives them another title to associate with the form). In short, it is a fabulous movie that for too long suffered at the hands of a mediocre English translation, leaving many viewers befuddled about the plot, particularly the resolution of the story.

Akira DVD

The Special Edition re-release of the film saw a brand new print from the original negative, along with a spanking new English translation from the original screenplay, and the results were nothing short of phenomenal. Having liked the film to begin with (despite my confusion about some finer points of the story), the new translation was a welcome relief, clearing up vast swaths of the story that made little to no sense in the previous version. This translation takes a visually stunning movie with somewhat confusing story and turns it into an all-around fantastic film.

Pioneer then stepped up to the plate and sent one over the wall with the DVD production. With a set of special features to put most other DVDs to shame, this special edition DVD is amazing. The various documentaries on the bonus disc comprise nearly two hours of viewing, covering every aspect of the film from its original production to the restoration effort, and gives a great insight into what a herculean effort was involved not only in getting the film to the big screen the first time, but doing it all again for the re-release. Added to this is a handy glossary, and what has to be the most massive collection of production stills ever assembled for a DVD. There are nearly 5,000 original images, many from the film, though a great sampling of unused storyboards, backgrounds, character concept sketches, comic and magazine images, and promotional material is also included.

Katsuhiro Ôtomo from Akira

So if your DVD collection doesn’t have an anime section, start one with Akira. If you’re an anime fan, it’s a no-brainer and a must-have, and if you’re interested in the form but don’t know where to start, this is the answer you’ve been looking for.

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1 comment

  • Akira is one of those movies that are just too awesome to watch. Sure some people don’t get it the first time around, but by the 2nd time its awesomeness kicks in.