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Click above to purchase "Akira: The Special Edition" at amazon.com

 

Akira: The Special Edition

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rated R

Studio: Pioneer

Running Time: 125 minutes

Screenplay by Katsuhiro Otomo and Izo Hasimoto
Based on the graphic novel "Akira" by Katsuhiro Otomo

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo

Retail Price: $39.98

Features:
Disc One - THX Optimode, Capsule Option

Disc Two - Production Report, Akira Sound Clip, Director's Interview, Production Materials, Restoration, Glossary, Trailers, TV Spot

Specs: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, Scene Selection (36 Chapters), Two-Disc Set, THX Certified

Released: July 24th, 2001

It's always hard for me to talk about movies that are so groundbreaking and so incredible. "Akira" is truly one of those movies. Released in 1988, it's largely credited for starting the animé boom in the United States, not to mention the impact it's had across the world and animation itself. With it's incredible and really unique style, I think from "Akira" on, Japanese animation really started to take shape and find its voice. So many other animated films have been inspired by it, but what makes "Akira" so groundbreaking is that it still holds up well over a decade later. It proves that any kind of animation doesn't have to be "kiddie" or purely fun, that animation and animé can be an incredible art form to tell all sorts of different stories with adult themes such as sex, violence and pretty deep messages that aren't always meant for younger ones. Every time I see "Akira" I always think it's breathtaking and I never get bored of it. I always find something new within the film.

"Akira" follows two childhood friends, Kaneda and Tetsuo. It's post World War III in Japan, where Neo Tokyo strives for survival during the year 2019. However, Tetsuo has strong psychic abilities and is given drugs to enhance them after being captured. However, as the film progresses he gets a bit more crazier and a lot more powerful. He has hallucinations and soon his anger and powers take control of them, which is where chaos begins to form. As Kaneda and Tetsuo's friendship is put to the test, who can stop Tetsuo from his mass destruction?

There's so much to like about "Akira", I don't know where to begin. I'll start with the animation. Every time I see the film or a clip, it makes me go "Wow". It has impressed a lot of people and myself of course. The futuristic, neon filled Neo-Tokyo looks so brilliant and still surpasses many animated films today as far as depth and style (in my opinion). The backgrounds and the character designs are also pretty incredible. There's a ton of great visuals to enjoy. And of course... the fantastic climax and ending. I won't say much about it, but the first time I saw the film it really blew me away.

What's so great about the film though is how it's really a commentary on society. It's a pretty deep story actually, and points out some interesting things about politics, violence and the government. You really have to watch the film a few times to take it all in. I could go on and on about this, but I'd rather let you see it for yourself. There's a lot of interpertations of what this film represents, but it comes to talk about loyalty and honor. I'd even say it's a character study of sorts, how Kaneda and Tetsuo's friendship is tested and comes together through the course of the film.

I mentioned earlier how Japanese animation really took off after "Akira". While it can be argued, I'm not sure if it would be as popular if the film didn't start it. After the film's release in the U.S., more titles began to pop up and the film as well as Japanese animation started to have a cult following. While I think animé has gone really mainstream now with a lot of television series ("Dragon Ball Z" and "Sailor Moon" come to mind), Japanese animation still retains a fairly diverse and nicely-sized audience in the United States. I also talked a little about how the style really began to define the genre and how other films have been inspired by it. That still holds true today as I think "Akira" has defined what animé is all about. I guess you can say it helped shaped the mold. While there will always be all different types of stories with Japanese animated films, "Akira" is credited for helping to create such a unique and interesting tale with a lot of subject matter geared for adults. Simply put, I think it really began the whole animé revolution and helped make the genre what it is today.

"Akira" is truly a revolutionary movie and truly raised the bar for Japanese animation. While some of us still think animé is basically big-breasted women and some TV series on certain properties meant for kids, "Akira" has defined a generation of film and animation lovers. Even if you're not that big into animation or anything, I highly urge all of you to see "Akira". The visuals are tremendous, the story is deep and exciting but once again you have the chance to see a root of a giant tree that still grows today. The root? A memorable movie that truly broke some major ground. Whatever you do, don't miss it.

Sadly, the transfer for "Akira" is a bit disappointing. It's not terrible, but for "digitally remastered picture" and a recent restoration of the film I expected a whole lot better. I'd think a movie like "Akira" they would have used direct digital files seeing this film recently came off a selected theater run in digital cinema, but alas, it seems they did not. The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the same ratio the film was originally presented in and is THX certified. The transfer is pretty sharp, but not as sharp as I hoped. It is plagued by grain at a lot of times, a little bit of shimmering at points, some scratches on the print and quite a few blemishes that I found on the print were very distracting. On the plus side, there's a lot to like about the transfer. The bold and wide variety of colors look incredible and really give that punch to knock your socks off. Detail is very good and black levels are right on target. The excellent animation looks wondrous on DVD and any Japanese animation fan as well as fans of the film are going to be really pleased. The transfer is also pretty sharp at certain points. I guess I was expecting perfection because of the whole digital thing, but I didn't get it. Either way, this is still a very nice restoration that shows off the beautiful animation, the gritiness and darkness the film has to offer.

The audio for "Akira" is quite nice and I don't think people are going to be disappointed. A new English dub for the film has been created and is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital. As far as dubs go, this one is very good. Words often match the mouths of the characters, but sometimes they don't exactly which some may find irritating. The new dub is very true to the original Japanese script. The voices aren't annoying at all and fit quite well with the characters, but perhaps one or two may seem a bit cheesy to some. As far as the track goes, I'd say this newly created 5.1 mix is reference quality. This film is heavy on action and violence, and in that area it does not disappoint with audio. The .1 LFE is really incredible and some of the best I've heard lately, while surrounds come active with the haunting music, the loud gun shots and futuristic bikes whirling by. I often felt I was caught in the middle of the action in the bleak, post World War III Tokyo. Even smaller sounds such as foot steps and doors opening sound so natural. Yet a lot of the meat with this new 5.1 mix comes with the fantastic action sequences... explosions, fires bursting out... I was really impressed. It sounds like the same old "Akira", but a little updated staying true to the original sounds. There's a lot to like with this mix, and I highly reccomend you check out the Restoration feature on this set to learn more about the creation of this mix.

Also included is the original Japanese track in Dolby Surround. It sounds pretty cleaned up. While it's surround use is not as good as the new 5.1 mix, it packs a good punch in its own right. Dialogue is crisp and clean and easy to hear, no distortion or muffling. It sounds very natural and not a day older after the thirteen years it has been. Fidelity is very good and the sounds do sound very good and gives it that whole original feeling. While it's not as immersive as the new 5.1 dub, it's still excellent in its own right and fans should be happy with this track. English subtitles are also included.

"Akira" is being released in two seperate versions for the time being: a standard version with just the film and a special edition with two discs. If you're the type who loves supplements and collectibles, this is the version to go with. It's a two disc set and comes in a really spiffy metallic case. But hurry, this version is limited to only a 75,000 copy run.

The first disc features THX Optimode so you can adjust your home theater to represent the film's incredible video and audio. Also on the disc is the Capsule Option, a "follow-the-white-rabbit" sort of deal. During the film when you have this turned on, a capsule (as in the movie) appears on the screen. When you click on it, you are taken to some literal translations of the Japanese on the screen and can get more info out of the film. Chapter seven is a good example of what this feature does. It's basically text but does give you the translations, some of the stuff gives further depth to settings and the characters. Keep in mind due to this, you can't have English subtitles on or even toggle to get them.

Ah, disc two, here's where the good stuff is. The Production Report was a 1988 documentary about the making of the film. It's divided into chapters and in Japanese, but thankfully you get English subtitles so you can under stand it. It has stills from the film, live action footage of the studio where the film was produced and a whole lot more. This lasts an incredible forty-eight minutes and is well worth a watch. It's not the cheesy promotional stuff so many of us are so used to seeing. It talks about the creation of "Akira", the characters, backgrounds, the music, the voices, storyboards and a lot more. Don't miss this whatever you do.

Akira Sound Clip was also made in 1988, and is divided into seven chapters complete with optional English narration. "Akira" features a lot of great sounds that really bring the film to life, and this nineteen minute feature has a lot of information about the sounds. It's well worth a watch.

Director's Interview is a great Katshuhiro Otomo (the "Akira" creator) interview (duh) where he talks about the film. It's in Japanese but has English subtitles. Fans of the film won't want to miss this, as Otomo discusses the world, creating it, his influences and a whole lot more. There are clips from the film and stills throughout the interview, as Otomo shows off his notebooks and the original notes he had. It's in full frame and a nice length, and again, fans of the film should really check this out.

Production Materials is the whole film broken down in hundreds of stills that has storyboards, drawings and a whole lot more. Pretty interesting.

The Restoration section is pretty neat, as it has three different featurettes about the film's restoration which I found pretty fasinating. Each feature interviews and clips from the film. The first, "Picture", talks about taking out grain and dirt (even with an example to show), THX and correcting the picture. I'm always interested in a procces like this, even though it's technical, it's pretty cool. "English Voice Over" has interviews with the voice actors and their thoughts on the characters. It's nicely done. Finally, "English 5.1 Audio Mix" talks about creating a new surround mix for the film with interviews with the sound guys, film clips and behind-the-scenes footage. Basically, this little piece talks about keeping true to the original soundtrack while updating it for new technology. It talks about the machines they use and the process. A bit short but very cool.

The Glossary section is an amazing stills section where you can learn about every single thing in the "Akira" universe. There's a tremendous amount of stuff here that includes settings, characters and a whole lot more. So if you've had a question what something was in the film, look no further and get it here.

Finally, the Trailers section has two Special Announcments, two Trailers and a TV Spot, all with optional English subtitles. They're pretty neat to watch. On another note, I really liked the menus. Inside the case you'll find a registration card, a McFarlane promo (for the figures) and a booklet with a chapter stop list.

"Akira" is an incredible film that help put animé on the map and make it what it is today. The restoration is very good and the new sound mix is incredible, not to mention some pretty cool features. This is a great release for a fantastic film that I think adult audiences should check out. I for one am incredibly happy "Akira" is now on DVD. If you're a fan of the film and know you're going to get the set, you better hurry: the special edition in the tin case is limited to a 75,000 run. Still, enjoy Japanese animation fans!

(4.5/5 - NOT included in final score)

(4/5)

(5/5)

(4/5)

(4/5, NOT an average)

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