Neo Tokyo Drift – Akira turns 30

Author: David Ager

What’s that, mate? You love future bikes? I do too. And what was that? You like laser guns and people that swell to a thousand times their normal size like they’ve been filled with Sunny D? I like that too. It may have been that strange combination of interests that means I ended up loving Akira, or maybe it’s the fact that if you have even a passing interest in science fiction then it’s almost impossible not to like Akira (even if you don’t understand it.)

It’s Cyberpunk week on Corehammer and when Nate threw the question out to everyone to see if they’d like to talk about something Cyberpunk that was close to their hearts, I knew that top of that list for me was Akira. I first saw Akira at a friends house when I was about 13, at the time we were obsessed with Metal Gear Solid, his Desert Eagle BB gun & these large figurines you could buy of SWAT and SAS figurines from a weird shop in Hull. Looking back at it now we were probably going the direction that several school shooters took but luckily my friend showed me a frog he’d killed and we didn’t speak after that.

I’d known of Anime and the films coming out under the Manga label for quite a while, I’d seen them in the import section of Virgin Megastore priced at about £22 each which means I was never going to buy one. However, my friends brother worked at Morrisons and was therefore loaded – he pulled out a copy of Akira one night and then I proceeded to have my brain blown apart for the next 2 hours.

For the uninitiated – Akira is a well long comic series that I’ve only read the first few issues of. I am not going to be talking about the comic at all, regardless of how amazing it may be, sorry! To me, Akira is a movie adaptation of the aforementioned comic set in Neo Tokyo, 2019 after the third world war. It’s a cyberpunk movie so obviously everything is going shit and totally on it’s arse – you’ve got protests against a corrupt government, gangs running the streets & of course crazy tech everywhere like future bikes. Enter Tetsuo, Kaneda and their bunch of bad motherfucking biker mates ‘The Capsules’ driving around fighting other gangs like they rented The Warriors from Blockbusters the night before. During one of these nightly skirmishes Tetsuo crashes his bike into a small old person that’s actually a young person – the important thing here is that this old/young person is actually little magical government experiment person. After government agents grab Tetsuo to do some experiments on him, turns out he’s only bloody psychic and magical too?!

From this point everything just goes a bit mental, Tetsuo struggles to comprehend his powers and ends up killing quite a few people unfortunately. The film is chock full of symbolism and deep meanings which have always been slightly beyond me despite me clocking onto them more over the years. I believe their’s probably something said about Japan’s school system and probably some commentary on Japans growing role as a technology front leader in the world. I have to admit that typically when I watch Akira I am waiting for the latter parts of the movie because that’s when Tetsuo and Kaneda have a big fight with Kaneda driving around on his future bike shooting his future laser gun at Kaneda. A future satellite gun shoots at Tetsuo from space, Tetsuo gets his arm blown off but still manages to fly into space, chins the satellite and grows a well good arm from flesh and USB cables. It’s completely bat shit insane.

But, it is this bat shit insanity that makes Akira an almost overwhelming experience. Whereas most live action films are held back by budget or technology not being to create a convincing experience – Akira doesn’t have to worry about that because it’s animated, they’re able to draw whatever mad stuff pops into their heads after they’ve drank 6 tins of Tango. The result of this is that Akira has very few scenes which aren’t either complete eye candy or have you picking your jaw up from the ground. In terms of visuals, Akira is for me the most fleshed out vision of cyberpunk there is – the streets are grubby, the buildings are high, street urchins are tearing shit up in alleyways and the government are proper pricks. You really feel like the rebel resistance is creeping on to the edges of civilised society and there’s nothing the government or norms can do to stop things from spiralling out of control. The ending of Akira is such a visceral display of the conflict between modern man and technology you can’t do anything afterwards then just have a nice sit down with a cup of tea and be thankful your town hasn’t been blasted apart by the nuclear explosion you just watched on screen.

After seeing the film I did get into more anime like Appleseed, Neon Genesis Evangelion & Patalabor – I liked them but none of them had that hard, gritty, political feeling that I got from watching Akira that first time. Maybe looking at all that grimdark artwork when I was a few years younger had already put my mind on a singular path it had no interest in deviating from.

My final thought is that this film will never age badly, it will never be anything but a bona-fide classic because it takes a genius to strike the balance between a film so beautiful but has plenty of moments which turn your stomach. You forget about any ‘Cyberpunk’ labels because it’s own fully realised dystopian world independent of any labels. And even if you don’t understand every little message it’s trying to convey you’ll enjoy every second of the ride and you’ll tell all your mates that you understood it, so in the end who cares?

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