Akira (1988): The Apocalypse and Humanity’s Awakening

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We begin Apocalypse Week with “Akira.” “Akira” was one of my favorite films, and it still holds up. It has great characters, philosophy politics and more. I’ll go into the details in the assessment.

“Akira” is based off the manga of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed this film. The film was written by Otomo as well, but also Izo Hashimoto. After seeing this again, I really want to read the manga.

I chose this movie for apocalypse week for two reasons. The story takes place in Neo-Tokyo (which has a broken steampunk feel to it), a city which has recently rebuilt from the apocalypse of World War 3. The reason for this I’ll discuss this later, since it has to do with the theme. The story in Neo-Tokyo is based around Shotaro and his biker gang who get attacked by the government when one of the gang Tetsuo is attacked psychically by an esper who was trying to escape from the government attacks him. From here Tetsuo is taken into custody as a test subject and the gang is brought in. An attack from the anti-government faction soon after brings Shatoro into contact with Kei, and the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros:

The World: Neo-Tokyo is fascinating. It is a city that was built from the ruins of World War 3 and has a really cool Steam Punk feel to it, as it was once the height of industry, and now has just reached there again. There are many factions too, the government faction, the anti-government faction, the Espers and the Gangs and the Akira Worshippers.

The Music – The music has this mystic and haunting feel to it that contributes to the world changing events that occur throughout the film really well.

The characters – All the characters in this are great. I’ll go into it individually too, since it is through the characters that the story and world is fully revealed. All the characters have agency and their choices matter and advance the story.

Shotoro – Most of the drama is based around this character. He is leader of the Capsules, his biker gang and is good at looking out for all of them. He is also very clearly a punk too as when we first meet him he is fighting the Clowns (another gang) when a government take down of an Esper  (psychic telepath)a is going down which brings him into the drama itself. The youngest member of the gang Tetsuo gets taken in by the government after he’s attacked by an esper and after the government finds out that Shotoro and his gang know nothing about the Espers so are released. After there is attack by the anti-government faction and Shotoro follows a woman who comes out of it leading him to the work by the anti-government faction and closer to the actions of the Espers. Shotoro is a character who is stubborn, but also extremely loyal. No matter what Tetsuo does, Shotoro is always trying to find a way to stop them, he also goes along with Kei and the government faction out of loyalty and attraction of Kei. This I think, is how he is able to survive all the events that go down.

Kei – Is the woman who works for the anti-government faction and The Colonel in the work with the espers. Their goal is to protect the city from another Akira incident. It is for this reason that dark has been done, such as killing the esper’s parents to raise them by the Colonel’s agency. Kei does all she can to prevent Tetsuo from bringing about another Akira Incident, even allowing the Espers to possess her and use their abilities against Tetsuo. She also eventually grows to care about Shotoro when she sees his actions to try and save Tetsuo.

The Colonel – The most interesting of the government factions, this is a guy with enough awareness of the city dying in it’s current form, but wanting to protect it anyway, because he does not want it fully destroyed. For him the honor of a soldier and protecting the people is the highest goal, after Tetsuo goes on his rampage and he is asked to step down by Parliament he does a coup in order to bring the fight to Tetsuo and prevent another Akira incident.

The Espers – The Espers are all children who have the bodies of old people, since containing the power caused them to age. Each of them has a distinct personality. Masaru is the leader and is larger kid in a floating chair, he is the planner, Takashi is the one who was recently kidnapped and is the one who acts quickly and there is Kiyoko who is the feeler and predictor who sees the next Akira incident tied to Tetsuo. It is from them we learn about the other subject Akira was who experimented on and could not contain his powers, so ended up destroying Tokyo. We also learn from them all have this powers, they are just unique in that they are aware of it.

Tetsuo – Tetsuo was a character who grew on me. I didn’t like him at first, especially when he first got his powers. He was a kid who was bullied but also a bully as seen by his membership in a gang. He becomes more sympathetic when he tries to escape it all with his girlfriend Kaori, as this is the first time we’ve seen him in an equal relationship. All the others he was mad with power and angry at being less so kills (the one who experimented on him, and a member of the gang, as well as the Clowns who beat and attempt to rape Kaori). You get why he goes mad at the end…and why he comes back when his power is turning him into a giant mutant baby that is absorbing all things and life. He loses Kaori, but after the Espers and Shotoro go into the center where Akira has melded with Tetsuo a mini big bang occurs and Tetsuo creates another universe in another dimension (though still destroys a lot of Tokyo). In the end he does look out for Shotoro though, and limits the damage he was causing in his mad power trip.

Akira – Akira functions as a reveal of the full potential of humanity. He was a normal kid who was overwhelmed by the power but eventually transcended his body…becoming one with the universe. A form of enlightenment I’d say, as the kid’s identity is still there…and he is one of the people able to help Tetsuo transcend.

The Message / The Ending – The message reminded me of Buddhism, as there is a lot of Buddhist symbolism in this film. The Akira Incident is that moment of change. Tokyo, Neo-Tokyo are the ego part of the self and it is in that destruction of the anger and the hate (the actions in the city going on as it is a civil war and in Tetsuo himself who is all anger and hate until it leads to him losing Kaori and overwhelming his identity). It is when that is destroyed that he is able to become a God like Akira and is guided through that process by Akira and the vespers. Symbolically it is really cool and a great metaphor for Buddhist enlightenment. Practically within the story, most of the population dies again, just like the first Akira incident. We see that someone was reached though as both Kei and Shotoro are left in the aftermath, and Shotoro is left holding a single point of light…all that is left of Tetsuo. The second apocalypse that lead to a second destruction (Tokyo, Neo-Tokyo) and Creation (Akira, Tetsuo), it is powerful and a really great and unique apocalypse.

Okay: The Government – The government is just a corrupt organization, we don’t really get their desires beyond wanting to keep the status quo, so when they are overthrown it isn’t as much of a shock as it would have been. More could have been done with them, like having an operative working with The Colonel or watching the Espers. All we get are corrupt politicians and police as the face of the who they are.

“Akira” still holds up as one of my favorite films. The point about destruction and creation in regards to Buddhism is fascinating and very true, in regards to letting go of the parts of our anger and hate and destroying the fear that bombards us. The approach to apocalypses is unique as well as the Esper abilities are fascinating and how that is used as a metaphor for our own potential in our actions and being. I highly recommend this film. It is a classic for a reason.

10 / 10 and also remembering Robin Williams today (will be reviewing one of his film later to honor him). “Akira” was one of his favorite animes too. R.I.P.

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