Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime “Akira,” along with the sprawling manga series on which it was based, stands alongside “Blade Runner” and William Gibson’s novel “Neuromancer” as seminal 1980s works that laid the groundwork for the cyberpunk movement. There’s always the risk that a film this old will feel dated, but while watching it again for the first time in several years, I was struck by how fresh it still is, whether you look at the story or its presentation.
In fact, I’d argue that its story makes “Akira” even more relevant today than it was then. While much of the technology in the film seems quaint for New Tokyo in the year 2019, the secret government project and its unintended consequences that form the spine of the story seem more ominous today than 25 years ago, when genetic experimentation was in its infancy. On the flip side, though, the fear of a nuclear holocaust emanating from World War III is less ominous than it was back then, when the Cold War was gasping its last breaths.
In addition, the stylish visuals, with their eye-popping color palette, the minimalist musical score, and the bone-rattling sound design remain striking. This was a movie that rippled through underground film circles in the late 80s and early 90s, when fans were trading videotapes with low-res images. Today, owning “Akira” on Blu-ray, with its full theatrical presentation realized, is a treat for those who were frustrated by the world of low-tech home video back then.
If you own Pioneer’s excellent 2001 DVD release, you’ll want to hold onto it if you’re an “Akira” completist, since not all the bonus features were ported over to this Blu-ray + DVD set. (Even if everything was included, I would hold onto that Pioneer release just for its cool metal case.) If you don’t have it, though, you’ll likely be satisfied by this edition, which makes up for the previous bare bones Blu-ray release.
The bonus materials are replicated on both the Blu-ray disc and the second DVD included in this set. You’ll find an examination of the film’s musical score, a half-hour interview with director Katsuhiro Otomo, a collection of storyboards, original trailers and commercials, a slideshow that translates the film’s wall graffiti, a text-based glossary of the terms that are used in the movie, and a piece that covers the expensive restoration that Pioneer bankrolled in 2001 for that earlier DVD release. And if you’re an audio track afficiando, you’ll appreciate the inclusion of both the 1988 and 2001 English dubs, along with the 2009 remastered Japanese audio.
My only quibble is that the quarter-century anniversary of such an influential film deserved more than a rehash of old special features. While I’m the kind of home video buyer who wants the old stuff ported over, I also want to see some new materials created. In the case of “Akira,” it would have been nice to see some contemporary interviews, especially with Otomo and some of the filmmakers who have been influenced by him. Maybe someone will bankroll that for the 30th anniversary.