Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG and thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Otomo Katsuhiro’s 1988 anime based on his sprawling, nearly 3,000-page manga takes place where many Japanese anime do — in a post-war dystopian future ravaged by nuclear destruction where an oppressive and all-powerful military government is in control of people’s lives. The importance of Akira in the world of anime cannot be overstated. Its adaptation of cyberpunk manga to the screen, innovative lip-synch techniques at a time when most anime did not use such a thing, full-body motion animation and exploration of philosophical themes of metaphysics, technological advancements, and war preceded Ghost in The Shell and The Matrix by several years, influencing those films immensely.
Taking place in Neo-Tokyo, a city built on the sea by the nearby ashes of the Tokyo that once was, some 30-years after World War III, the city is overrun by warfare between motorcycle gangs and drug abuse. As the protagonists of the story, a motorcycle gang led by Kaneda and his ultra-customized motorcycle, are introduced to viewers, so is a clandestine government program to test people for psychokinetic abilities. During a fight with a rival gang called the Clowns one day, Kaneda’s best friend from childhood, Tetsuo is beat up, but just before they can rape his girlfriend Kei, Kaneda and the rest of his gang show up to rescue them. After the fighting is over, military men descend upon them and abduct Tetsuo, because he has begun to exhibit powers of superhuman ESP and telekinesis.
What follows from there is an amazing science-fiction adventure that is not always easy to follow, but is multi-faceted and always entertaining. As it falls to Kaneda, a girl named Kei, and her group of resistance fighters to rescue Tetsuo and save the world from another disaster, director Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk classic is squeezed into a 2-hour drama that is masterfully depicted and scored. The artwork and backgrounds of Akira may seem outdated against the standards of those so used to today’s anime features supported by the wizardry of CGI effects, but the hand-drawn animated cels hold up well under contemporary scrutiny in the same way the Disney classics stand the test of time.
It is not possible for Akira to be completely fulfilling given that its original manga was started in 1980, not fully realized until 1990 and this film saw its release in 1988 and squeezed the complex themes of the nearly-3,000 page manga into only 2-hours. With that being said, however, Akira should still not be passed up by any film or animation enthusiast.
Akira’s original 1.85:1 framing arrives on Blu-ray from Bandai/Honneamise in an AVC/MPEG-4 1080p/24 high definition encodement. For an anime film 21-years of age, Akira looks pretty good in high definition. It doesn’t look spectacular in the way that Disney’s animated restorations look when given the “Blu” treatment but, in comparison to some other catalogue anime releases on Blu-ray, Akira is a solid presentation. The original cels show some obvious wear in places and black levels fluctuate from deep and inky at times to washed out with high levels of noise, but the level of overall detail in the transfer is strong, colors are bold and the line art is distinct. Akira certainly looks much better now than it ever has, and this Blu-ray is superior to any DVD release that is available.
Akira is the first Blu-ray film to be released with a 192Khz/24-bit lossless soundtrack (there have been music-only Blu-ray Audio discs from 2L previously released with 192Khz/24-bit LPCM and lossless 5.1 mixes) and as such it will probably be held up as a reference for a long time to come. It’s a good thing too, because Akira’s Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is an amazing thing to listen to. What Bandai has dubbed “hypersonic” sound, is a relentless balance of sound design fully utilizing the entire 360-degree soundfield and filling it up with discrete effects, tons of ambience and an extremely wide dynamic range. Low frequency extension is quite impressive, with every explosion resounding with great effect and Kaneda’s iconic motorcycle engine — actually a composite of a 1929 Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a jet engine — roars with authority. Even the film’s score gets the aggressive treatment, with instrumentation being placed around the room. Occasionally the sound effects can drown out the dialogue in some of the more aggressive scenes, but the mix is still strong overall.
There is also an English TrueHD 5.1 dubbed option available, but as any true anime fan knows, it’s always best to stick to the original language track. It’s just as well in this case anyway, as the English track comes in a dumbed-down 48Khz/16-bit resolution that isn’t quite as engaging as the “hypersonic” Japanese mix.
Supplements are weak on this monumental Blu-ray release, consisting merely of trailers, teasers, TV spots and storyboard sketches, which are, thankfully, all provided in HD, but it’s still too little.
The supplements available on this release are:
- Teaser #1 (1080p/24)
- Teaser #2 (1080p/24)
- TV Commercial (1080p/24)
- Trailer #1 (1080p/24)
- Trailer #2 (1080p/24)
The Definitive Word
Akira set the stage for the second renaissance of anime in the west, helping to influence many filmmakers in the process. The high definition transfer from Bandai is not absolute reference for animated releases, but it is one of the stronger-looking catalogue anime titles that have been released to date. Of course, the exceptional 192Khz/24-bit 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack makes this one even more worthy of an absolute recommendation.