A Review by Noah Antwiler
I spend many nights alone in my room watching the incredibly dull G4 Channel in the vain hopes of seeing my one true love Morgan Webb, or tuned to the Sci-Fi Channel -- the morons who cancelled Mystery Science Theater and replaced it with such drek as Stargate Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica. Recently, I've become enamored with the Sci-Fi Channel for their new never-ending quest to be the network responsible for creating the stupidest movie of all time. Tune in at the wrong time, and you can catch cinematic upchuck as Boa vs. Python, Frankenfish, and Mansquito -- a movie about people who turn into huge mosquitos. Inspired by this new direction in programming, I plan to pitch such movie ideas as Dracullama ("Witness the horror of vampire llamas!") and Manchigger, where men turn into giant vampiric chiggers. Anyway, I usually end up invading my DVD collection after trying to force myself to watch yet another intensely painful episode of Battlestar Galactica, because the Sci-Fi Channel sucks, and Morgan Webb wouldn't touch me even if given the chance to bash me to death with a crowbar.
I'm getting to Akira, just hold your horses. One one particular Morgan Webb-less night, a commercial played on Sci-Fi shilling the cult anime favorite Akira. I'm well-known as not really being an anime fan (surprise!), because anything that inspires grown men to dress like anthropomorphic cats, rub blue Kool-Aid in their hair, and carry six-foot polystyrene buster swords while arguing vehemently with other cosplayers that Goku could TOTALLY kick Sephiroth's ass...well, it's evil and it must be destroyed. Like Enterprise. The commercial listed off a bunch of movie critic endorsements-- the kind you see so much your mind doesn't even process them consciously anymore-- until one in particular stood out. "Makes Blade Runner look like Disney World," it said.
I paused. I was intrigued. That's a bold claim for any movie. I know some guys who'd probably shoot you for talk like that. I'm not one of those people; I'm well-adjusted. But if you try to sell me the idea that Deckard was a replicant, I'll strangle you with your own small intestines. I had to see this movie now. It's not like I was doing anything more worthwhile, such as writing my Dracullama script.
Akira is based on the hit manga, which is Japanese for "twenty dollars a book." 'Akira' is a Japanese word that means "most honorable phone-book-sized manga you can easily bludgeon gaijin to death with." And 'gaijin' means "snarky American movie critic." At my last count, there are six total Akira mangas, and they all weigh in averaging 400 pages, and that translates to "not enough time in my life to read this stuff." Even Tolstoy managed to wrap up after about 1400 pages, but I've never managed to find a copy of War and Peace that had pictures. I felt cosmically inadequate in the face of comics that size, and so I abandoned my plan to investigate the source material before watching the movie. I'll just accept from the onset that Akira has a back story which rivals the most convoluted Gundam and DragonballZ series. Besides, I should approach this movie from the viewpoint of Joe Average viewer, without any advance knowledge of the story.
The movie begins with Tokyo exploding, which for anime is the cliché equivalent of "It was a dark and stormy night." The movie is actually set in a post-apocalyptic place called Neo-Tokyo, a place that has the whole cyberpunk motif of too much neon, bad highways, and pervasive gang violence. Sort of like now, only the gangs have better wardrobes. For some reason, the English dub on my copy has decided to give most of the characters New Jersey accents, so it's hilarious to hear Japanese people sounding like they're being dubbed by the cast of The Sopranos. From my conversations with various otaku (Japanese for "freaks who should never reproduce"), my version of Akira is known as "the bad dub." I still say there are few animes out there with worse dubs than Yu-Gi-Oh!, so anything is a step up from that.
Anyway, the movie's about two motorcycle gang members: Kaneda, a guy with a cool motorcycle and a strange jacket with a picture of a pill on the back, and Tetsuo, a whiny scrawny kid with a very large head. Everyone makes fun of Tetsuo because of his giant skull, which no motorcycle helmet will fit. Kaneda's gang is at war with The Clowns, which makes Kaneda a good guy, because nobody likes clowns. While engaged in a motorcycle chase with these clowns, Tetsuo swerves to miss a little blue person in the road and wrecks his bike. His name is Tito, rejected albino pygmy from the Blue Man Group. He's one of a race of blue people created by the government's Andorian/Hobbit Hybrid Program, and they want him back!
The blue guy just escaped from the military, but it isn't long before choppers swoop in and recapture him. They're led by another blue guy who looks like a shrunken Louis Anderson. All of the blue folks are short and wrinkly, like Smurfs who have Methuselah Syndrome. I have no idea where they come from, why they're blue, or what their role in anything is. All they seem to do is scowl and say foreboding things like "This chapter's finished," "The future is not a straight line," and "I'll never join you, Dooku." The blue guys take the injured Tetsuo, too, and take him back to a super-science lab to diddle with his DNA. But something goes wrong, and Tetsuo suddenly develops godlike power over every living thing on the planet. But Tetsuo is damaged goods because of all the teasing about the giant planetoid he calls a head, and instead of using his powers for the good of humanity-- like finding the ultimate no-workout weight loss plan-- he decides that inflicting horrible petty apocalyptic revenge on the planet is more fun. If I had hair like Tetsuo, I'd be angry and vindictive too.
If you've ever seen a Godzilla movie in your life, you won't be surprised to learn that the Japanese military is about as useful as men's nipples. The army goes to pieces faster than the Packers' secondary defense, but luckily Kaneda's around to save the day. Where the entire armed forces of Japan fail, Kaneda manages to duel the demigod Tetsuo to stalemate twice and escape with his life. It must be the motorcycle. Unfortunately for Tetsuo, he didn't have Master Yoda around to have him float stuff around while standing on his head, and he can't control his powers. The big-headed dope's powers go bonkers, and he transforms into a gargantuan city-sized mass of chaotic shrieking fleshy stuff (like Star Jones). And then Tokyo blows up again. I know, it seems like a minimal plot, but frankly that's all there is to it. Oh, they pad it up with other stuff. There are clunky, stilted discussions of how stupid politicians are and their inability to learn from past Armageddons, a romance subplot that stalls from the outset, and an attack by malicious teddy bears who spew milk. I can't make that up.
All that comprises a scant 45 minutes of screen time, however. Here's what they fill the other half of the movie with:
"KANEDA!" *SCHWING* *CRASH*
"GRRRRRR!!! RRAAAAAAA!!! TEEEEETSSSUUUUOOOOOO!!!!" *FWOOSH!!*
"EEEEYYYAAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGGH!!!! KAAAAANEEEEEDAAAAA!!!" *SPLORCH SQUISH*
The majority of Akira is grunting, shouting, panting, growling, screaming, and Kaneda playing name tag with Tetsuo. You might make a drinking game out of it, such as taking a shot whenever someone shouts "Tetsuo" or "Kaneda," but I think you'd die of alcohol poisoning. I haven't heard this much angry screaming since I tried being a professional male stripper. Maybe the sidewalk wasn't the best place to try it. Becoming evil seems to inspire Tetsuo to speak like Jack Nicholson, but I suppose there are less-menacing people to sound like when you've become The Beyonder. I still can't stop wondering why an all-powerful being would pick that haircut. I'm also wondering how long it'll be before they make a good giant comic movie, like Watchmen. I love Rorshach almost as much as I love Morgan Webb. And if you don't know who she is, don't bother finding out, because she's mine. Mine! Mine, do you hear?? Soon I will collect all the Sacred Egyptian God Cards, and nations will kneel at my feet and weep at my glory! Any who resist will be crushed utterly by my Veritech squadrons and Gundam mecha! KANEDAAAAAA!!!!
I'll give credit where it's due. If you're watching a cartoon, it either has bad animation, good animation, or it's Akira. It's full of surreal, weird imagery on an epic scale. You'll see things that were never meant to be drawn, and they've made them breathtakingly gorgeous to behold. The action sequences are swift, gory, and brutal. I could say the words "a giant tentacle-covered fleshy cancer devours Tokyo," but to see it animated in Akira is akin to a religious experience. It's a rare movie that can show me something I've never seen before, and Akira is definitely one of those movies. It's also one of the most unfulfilling, confusing films you'll ever see, because by the time it's over, you'll have absolutely no idea what in the hell just happened. It's sort of like every girl I ever dated in college. I have no idea why Tetsuo has suddenly become the Kwizatz Haderach. I don't know who Akira is or why they've sealed all his internal bits floating in Tang in individual Mason jars. I don't know why he's buried under a football field. I don't know why people worship Akira as a savior. "Come back and kill us all, Akira! We love you!" I don't know who the Methuselah Smurfs are, or where they came from. I don't know why they're still continuing with this Akira-related experimental stuff, especially since he already nuked Tokyo once already and he's sort of making a habit out of it. I don't know why Kaneda--who is, as far as I can tell, a normal guy who is only cool because he has a motorcycle-- is able to engage in protracted battles with Tetsuo, who can make your head explode if a naughty thought crosses his mind. Why do teddy bears want to kill him?
What I really puzzle over is why Akira seems to want to end on a high, hopeful note. The entire city just got turned into smoking glass, and I'm supposed to be feeling good about it? The skies are blackened with the ashes of several million innocent people, crushed under the heel of a maniacal demigod, and they want me to be thankful to Akira and his holy blue gnomes for saving the day? Suck it, Akira!
So I return to the issue at hand. Does Akira make Blade Runner look like Disney World? I'm not even really sure what that's supposed to mean, but if we're talking about an overpriced waste of time with a lot of running and screaming, then Akira should be wearing the Mickey Mouse ears. There's nothing as memorable or as visually unique as the urban wasteland of Blade Runner, nor as poetic as Roy Batty's musings on the brevity of life. Best of all, I can watch Blade Runner and know what the heck just happened! Not only does Blade Runner win this contest, Ridley Scott holds Akira down and slaps the stupid out of him.
I can't even decide if there's any real message to this movie. What else is there than a Godzilla story about a kid driven by an inferiority complex that goes postal on an unsuspecting city? Don't tamper in God's domain? Those who are stupid enough to screw around with the Destroyer of Worlds a second time deserve to die? Don't pick on the runty kid in your high school, else he taps into the Power Cosmic and annihilates your ass? I've learned one thing for sure: if I see a teenager crushing tanks with his mind on the news, I'm driving somewhere safer. Like Camp Crystal Lake. And I'm bringing mansquito spray.