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Akira (1988)
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

review by Porl Broome

Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira is a classic of the modern-cinema. When I say that I don't mean it's a classic amongst other animated films, I mean it's a classic amongst all films, be they animated, or live action. The plot is huge, the storyline is intricate, the characters are complex, and the presentation of the film is second to none. Trying to provide a synopsis of the plot is ultimately impossible, as there are several subplots and the film can be read on lots of different levels. Let's just say it's Blade Runner meets The Thing, with a little Brazil and Videodrome thrown in for good measure.
   The film centres on the characters of Kaneda and Tetsuo - teenage school friends and residents of Neo-Tokyo, a city that was rebuilt following World War 3. When Tetsuo is injured in a bike accident involving a mysterious pale child, he is placed under the supervision of a top secret military research project. Slowly - after a little experimentation - he begins to develop devastating telekinetic abilities, which quickly push him beyond the edge of sanity. Kaneda, meanwhile, has become mixed up with a small group of revolutionaries (one of whom he fancies). During a mission to infiltrate the secretive army headquarters, he comes face-to-face with the new Tetsuo. From here on mighty battle ensues. I've made no mention of the corrupt politicians, religious schisms, the history of the Akira project, and dozens of other plot elements - but I'd be here all day!
   Any true Akira fan will tell you that the ultimate Akira experience is to see the film on the big screen, and that is definitely true. The Manga video release was good, but the deadened sound and the dull picture held the film back from its true glory a little. So the DVD release was long awaited. And here it is, with newly scrubbed up and re-mastered visuals, a pumping soundtrack and a whole host of extras sprawled over two discs.
   Disc One hosts the digitally re-mastered film itself with 36-part scene selection, and featuring the choice of a Dolby digital 5.1 English dubbed soundtrack, or the straight digital stereo Japanese one (this is where the DVD loses points, as surely the Japanese soundtrack - the most popular amongst anyone with taste, could have been rendered in 5.1 as well?). The improvement in the picture quality is plain to see immediately, and the film appears as fresh now as it did on the big screen over a decade ago - the colours are bright, the famous taillight 'streaks' are resplendent in crimson, and the neon is N-E-O-N. The sound is crisp, and the subtitles (when watching the Japanese version) are much clearer than those on the subtitled Manga video release, and the translation appears to have been worked on somewhat - although the English dubbed version is just as ham-fisted as it always was!
   A quick note on the animated menu screens here, as they truly are wonderful and round the package off nicely. Running down the 'Extras Menu' from the top we have 'Gallery', which contains a slide show of stills from the film as well as a few conceptual pieces, but nothing really of any consequence. Next up is the 'Production Report', which is a 50-minute documentary featuring very good interviews with Otomo and others from the production team who fill in the history of Akira and its characters and take us through the production of the film from conception to final realisation. This documentary was originally available with Manga's double-video release, but it's far easier to dip into now it's on DVD.
   'Make Your Own Trailer' lets you make selections from eight possible scenes in order to, erm, make your own trailer - all a bit pointless really, but amusing once or twice. Next we have the Akira 'Quiz' - test your knowledge of Akira, answer the questions correctly and receive a code which you can use to access a hidden section of the 'Akira2000' website (only true trainspotters need apply, some of the questions are, well, highly esoteric!) 'Hyperlink' gives you a link straight into the aforementioned website for those not watching in the comfort of the front room, and finally 'Trailer' gives you the option of viewing the proper trailer (and not the crap one you cobbled together earlier!) as well as trailers for other Manga releases.
   As if it that wasn't all enough, you'll also get two sheets of stickers in the box. Yay! Which brings me onto my second and final mini-gripe: the packaging. Don't get me wrong, it's very nice, it all unfolds in a lovely manner and is very stylish. But why do we pay for special edition DVD, only to get a cardboard box? Even with the greatest care, they soon start to look dog-eared and tatty - personally I'd be happier with a standard plastic cover, but there you go.
   So, cardboard box and lack of a 5.1 Japanese soundtrack aside, this is the package fans of the film have been waiting for. A must-buy for everyone - even if you already have the video version, the re-mastering really is worth the extra outlay. Go get it now.
Akira
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