And Will It Be Hollywood’s Next Gentrified Shitstorm?
As an anime fan, I am no stranger to the third-degree of “why do you still watch cartoons?” or “how can you watch that?” (to which I like to clap back with “why do you still need to check your man’s phone?” or “how can you mind your own business?). While the medium is still generally viewed as “uncool,” we are slowly making our way to the normalization of anime in Western society through video games, cosplay culture, and cringe-worthy live-action remakes. You have none other than the 1988 cult classic Akira to thank for today’s exposure, and quite possibly for the birth of your favorite anime series.
The first time I saw Akira was on a Sunday in December 2013. That week, the movie was a part of Toonami’s lineup, and I had DVR’d it the night before. I didn’t know much about it, other than that it was a classic I’d been meaning to watch. I’d seen many anime series and movies in the past as a long-time fan, and it was right around this time that I decided to make it an obligation to watch as many classics as I could. I tend to do this a lot with the things I’m into. I’ve always found it crucial to familiarize myself with the history of anything I’d ever taken an interest in.
Suffice to say, Akira was one of those movies in a very small list, that changed the way I viewed film and it definitely changed the way I viewed anime.
Akira is a Japanese animated sci-fi thriller released in 1988 and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. The film is based off a manga series of the same name, written in collaboration by Otomo and Izo Hashimoto. For fans, the film is considered a cult classic for its detailed animation, and controversial narrative.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo in the year 2019, Akira follows Shotaro Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang known as the Capsules, as he tries to save his friend Shima Tetsuo from a secret government project.
Throughout Kaneda’s journey, he battles a variety of foes from greedy politicians to reckless scientists who are all trying to keep their deadly experiment a secret. That is, until Tetsuo’s supernatural powers suddenly manifest, and the secret of Akira is revealed.
For critics, Akira is a piece that would become the first prime example of the value of animation in the world of film. Let’s put it this way, if there were a Criterion Collection based solely on animated films, Akira would be at the top of the list. The film went on to be the highest-grossing film in Japan of 1988- surpassing Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi, and is considered by many to be the greatest anime film of all time.
Prior to Akira’s release, anime was an internationally disregarded medium. Hollywood blockbusters practically drowned out box office appeal for Japanese movies, even in the country itself. Before Akira’s release, animation across the globe was almost exclusively concerned with family appeal. Anime and manga critic Susan J. Napier notes that “at the time of Akira’s first appearance in the West, the animation was generally regarded as a minor art, something for children, or, perhaps, the occasional abstract, art-house film. Animation from Japan was marginalized even further. If audiences took note of it at all, it was to fondly remember watching Speed Racer after school on television, often without realizing its Japanese origin.”
Akira was the first film to challenge the idea that anime as a medium was made exclusively for children. It inspired countless animated and live-action films across the world for decades to come. From 1999’s The Matrix, which cited Akira’s cyberpunk themes and sensory overload as influence points, to 2012’s Chronicle, the film has had its fair share of impact on the Western entertainment industry.
Alongside the films live-action influence and quite possibly more important- is its influence on Japanese animation itself. Without Akira, we wouldn’t have anime staples such as Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, or Neon Genesis Evangelion. The film is crucial for both its hand in the expansion of anime into a tool for mature storytelling and its global influence on pop culture. In many ways, Akira can be seen as the film that started the anime explosion in the West.
There have been many rumors regarding the live-action Hollywood adaptation of Akira. In the past, the film was said to have been in production, then canceled on numerous occasions. For now, the film claims to be in development, with many rumors citing actors Ezra Miller (The Flash in the upcoming Justice League,) and Alden Ehrenreich (Star Wars’ new Han Solo) as potential leads. With the premiere of Hollywood’s Ghost in the Shell a week away and the first trailer of Netflix’s Death Note released earlier this week; one can only imagine what whitewashed abomination Hollywood is cooking up for the film that essentially started it all. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the American live-action never sees the light of day. But regardless of the outcome, we can always support the original. Not only for its cryptic story, attention to detail, and color design; but because without it, we wouldn’t have many of our favorites today.
Author: Mickey K (Micah Witt)
Editor: Han Angus
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.