Akira: The Special Edition
There was a time — oh, let’s call it 1988 — when the world of feature length animation was all but dominated by Disney. And it wasn’t even good Disney — it was ”Oliver & Company” Disney. ”The Little Mermaid” was still a year away from ushering in the great American animation renaissance. Cartoons were still seen as just for kids. And then ”Akira” came out.
Written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, ”Akira” was unlike anything Americans had seen before — at least, Americans who hadn’t scoured comic book and sci-fi conventions for bootleg videos of Japanese anime. It’s a violent, brooding, mature, quasi intellectual tale of life after World War III in the neon nightmarish city of Neo Tokyo, where cycle gangs terrorize the streets, the military conducts experiments on children, and giant teddy bears demolish hospitals.
Armed with a digitally restored anamorphic image and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix, the first platter of the two-disc Akira: The Special Edition offers the movie (with a newly translated English dub, as well as the original Japanese with English subtitles), which you can watch with the aid of what’s called the ”capsule option” — occasionally, a pill-shaped graphic will float over certain scenes, clueing you in to when more information is available, like the translation of Japanese graffiti and road signs.
The second disc holds the supplements: documentaries on the film’s production, sound design, and restoration; an interview with Otomo; storyboards; conceptual art; trailers; and a glossary of the film’s terms. They’re a little dry — primarily because so much of it is either subtitled or dubbed in English, and the passion that these artists have for their work is lost in the translation.
Much like Steven Spielberg’s recent project ”A.I.,” parts of ”Akira” are as well directed as anything you’ll ever see, but there are also sequences — especially the last half hour — that are just mind-bogglingly daft. And, much like ”A.I.,” it’s no less of an achievement because of it.