Rixflix A to Z: Akira (1988)

Director/Original Comic: Katsuhiro Ôtomo // Studio; 2:04; Color
Crew Notables: Izô Hashimoto &
Katsuhiro Ôtomo (screenplay)
Cast Notables: Mitsuo Iwata (Shôtarô Kaneda), Nozumu Sasaki (Tetsuo Shima), Mami Koyama (Kei)
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

Hard to believe there was a time, and not that long ago either, when anime (or manga, for that matter) weren't practically household words. At least, not in America. Sure, in the 60s and 70s, some parts of the country got their cracks at early classics like Gigantor, AstroBoy or Speed Racer. Maybe they played at some point in Anchorage, Alaska, but not on my watch. I saw them later on when cable came about and you would get blessed with an episode here and there, but in my youngest days, the only anime show that I recall seeing was a few episodes of Kimba the White Lion. I don't even remember where I saw them (it may have been the UHF channel that also showed sporadic Terrytoons cartoons), but I did all the same. I guarantee you this: I read the TV guide in the Sunday newspaper the way other kids devoured their dad's hidden Playboys. I knew that thing back and forth, trying to steal a few moments with any cartoon I could find. If they were on from the time that I was seven to about fourteen, I would have found them.

Two things spun my head around, making me realize that something incredibly right was happening in those islands not so incredibly far away from Alaska. The first was Battle of the Planets, a repackaged and Americanized version of an anime series originally called, I believe, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (but which is usually referred to with the last word in the title). When it showed up, on ABC Channel 13 on Saturday mornings I believe, I was astounded. Not that it was so great, just that it was so different from the dreck that dominated the little screen animation-wise in those days. We knew it was something new and special, but that didn't stop our juvenile attitudes from mocking it over and over again everytime we watched it, though my youngest brother Chris loved it without reservation. The second was a video that I found at Video City one morning, which made me tilt my head like a confused puppy and figure "What the heck!" The movie was called Winds of Change, and was a Japanese animated version of Ovid's Metamorphoses. From what I understand, the film actually had an international construction, but was produced in Japan -- at the time, while some quality was lacking overall, the keyword was "different" -- it wasn't formulaic Disney animation (however swell the work, the House of Mouse was rather downgraded in my mind at the time); Winds of Change represented something unique to me at the time.

Pop ahead a few years, with those series and that movie long lost to me, or at least subsided into memory's hammock for a comfy slumber. The word is out that there is something incredible hitting art house screens around the country, and the film is made in the hot and growing new genre called anime. What? Something different, something exciting, something NOT HOLLYWOOD? Count me in, and I was, and I saw Akira. I thought it was incredible. Or rather, I thought the design and the animation and the action and the violence were incredible. However, I found the characters annoying and the plotline and motivations confusing beyond belief. The ending made little or no sense to me. And the endlessly repeated cries of "Tetsuo!!!!" and "Kaneda!!!" corny and overdone to the point of nausea. In other words, I loved it. I found the manga version, and was thrilled beyond belief -- Katsuhiro Otomo's world gone mad started to make more and more sense to me, and I purchased the video as soon as it became available.

The surprising part is that Akira did nothing to further open the world of anime to me. I took cracks at a couple of series when they hit the market, but neither really thrilled me. I saw My Neighbor Totoro and liked it very much, but I didn't really get into Miyazaki until my pal Tatsuya hooked me on a purely Japanese copy of Mononoke-hime (my conversion to his camp is now full and total). Not long after, I fell into deep, abiding (and continuing) amour with Cowboy Bebop, but that is a story for another time.

The truth of the matter is that I am an anime poseur. It's not that I am pretending to like it; it's just that I am incredibly picky about the series into which I allow myself to get dragged. I loved Neon Genesis: Evangelion for about the first two-thirds of the run, and then the last few episodes pissed me off so much, I don't know if I will take the plunge again. Lately, I've been taking hits off a couple of the horror-related series, and have attempted a few episodes of some lighter, comedic series -- but I know full well that I will never surrender fully into the arms of anime.

Unless those videos are in the arms of one of those little cosplay cat-girls with the fake ears and tails. Now, that's entertainment...


EggOfTheDead said…
Tetsuo!!! Kaneda!!!

That, and the awesome motorcycle scenes linger with me to this day. Akira definitely turned me on to a whole new world of films. A seminal viewing experience.

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