Starring (voices): Cam Clarke, Barbara Goodson, Jan Rabson, Bob Bergen, Melora Harte
Rated R for Graphic Violence and Brief Nudity
For reasons I don't understand, "Akira" is considered to be a classic. I don't know how it earned such lofty praise, since it doesn't deserve it. Don't construe that to mean it's a bad film, which it's not. It's a trippy, totally off-the-wall sci-fi action movie with some beautiful visuals but a storyline that is occasionally incoherent.
The film takes place in Neo Tokyo. 31 years ago, the city of Tokyo was destroyed and World War III begins. In 2019, the new city of Tokyo has been built on the rubble, but while it looks successful and glossy, the Neo Tokyo that "Akira" shows us is a diseased state riddled with corruption and crime. The streets are overrun with kids like Kaneda (Clarke) who get their kicks by riding around on their motorcycles (which look way cool, by the way) and beating the crap out of each other. One night while chasing down a rival, Kaneda's friend Tetsuo (Robson) crashes his bike and is captured by the military. There, he undergoes shady experiments that give him tremendous psychic powers, but he can't control them.
That's what's I could figure of the plot, and that's about 75% of it. The other 25%, which deals with political corruption and a military coup, doesn't make a lick of sense. Either the film was butchered in the editing room or crucial parts of the plot weren't animated. Whatever happened, it hurts the film.
The film's English translation is decidedly unimpressive. I don't know how much of a demand there was for this film in the US when it was released, but surely it deserved a better treatment than this. The dialogue is bland, and the voice acting is painfully generic. It's the kind of thing you find on Adult Swim, or god forbid! Cartoon Network.
While watching the film, I kept thinking of another anime film I saw a while back, "Metropolis." The film was written (based on his comic book) and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, which could account for some of the story and tonal similarities, since he wrote the screenplay for it (although he did not write the original manga or direct the film...those honors went to legendary Osamu Tezuka and Rintaro, respectively).
Is "Akira" worth seeing? It's a tough call. For one thing, it's not a normal film. Watching it feels like a weird dream; it's totally bizarre and whacked out, but on some level it you buy into it. It's kind of like late night TV. If you find that acceptable or even desirable, than go ahead.