The first thing I learned while watching Akira this weekend was that I’ve been pronouncing it wrong for decades.
The 1988 animated film, based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga of the same name, is not pronounced “Uh-keer-ah.” According to the movie, it’s more like “Ah-key-ruh.” Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing I really learned from watching this 124 minute movie with my two boys.
Now before I dive into my thoughts on Akira, let me set the record straight. I’m a huge comic book fan. My office is loaded up with everything from a Cap Wolf action figure to a Lego Death Star to a Kool-Aid Man POP Vinyl figure.
I used to think anime was just really cool visuals with zero story. But then I was introduced to so many wonderful titles (both anime and manga) such as One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist, R.O.D., Fruits Basket and Ranma 1/2 to name just a few.
My mind has clearly been open to manga and anime over the years and when my younger son Ryan recently got himself into anime (He started with Hunter x Hunter and loved it, before moving on to One Piece.), I jumped at the chance to watch with him.
I had never seen Akira before, only small clips, but knew of it. After a few friends recommended it to me, I figured it was the perfect movie for Family Movie Night on a Saturday Night. My wife lasted three minutes before heading upstairs. In hindsight, I should have joined her.
So me and my two boys (14 and 16 years old) sat and watched Akira together. It was the dubbed version currently streaming on Hulu. The animation was really nice, especially for a film dating back to the late ’80s. There were also loads of giant explosions, super violent fights and screaming. Lots of screaming.
For any of you who haven’t seen it, let me give you my quick thoughts on what I think the movie is about. I can guarantee you the chronological order is far from perfect too, since my brain felt like scrambled eggs by the time the credits rolled. Note: You can consider the following a SPOILER, although, if you really don’t understand what you’re watching, can you really spoil anything?
My take on what happens in Akira:
- A nuclear bomb went off in 1988, wiping out Tokyo. The city is rebuilt as Neo-Tokyo and now it’s 2019 and the city is a mess. Rioters. Terrorism. Corruption. Loads of gang violence.
- The main character, Kaneda, leads a motorcycle gang and takes on a rival Clown gang. No, they’re not dressed up in ridiculous oversized costumes with red noses, but they do have clown-like faces painted on their helmets.
- Kaneda has a really cool bike. It’s red and looks like a NASCAR car with all its sponsor-like stickers on it.
- Kaneda’s name, at least in the dubbed version I watched, sounds really close to “Canada.”
- Kaneda’s best friend, Tetsuo, is always picked on by bullies and Kaneda’s always been there to help. With a huge chip on his shoulder, Tetsuo sets out to take on the Clown Bikers and almost dies in the process. He also meets some ghoulish-looking kid with a white face. Clearly he’s got some weird psychic powers.
- Lots of yelling happens.
- Things explode.
- More yelling.
- More explosions.
- Kaneda and crew are arrested and can’t find their buddy Tetsuo.
- Kaneda falls for some protesting girl named Kei, who wears a similar red jacket and has a short haircut so I keep confusing the two of them throughout the movie.
- Tetsuo starts manifesting some telepathic powers. He makes a glass moves across a table to his hand. Kind of like The Force!
- Tetuso breaks out of the hospital and steals Kaneda’s ride before being jumped by the Clowns. He’s beaten pretty severely before Kaneda and crew rescue them.
- Tetsuo’s still angry that Kaneda’s helping him. Even though he stole his bike. And almost died.
- Tetsuo gets crazy migraines and screams. And we see flashes of stuff we have no clue what they’re about.
- Some army dudes helicopter in and take Tetsuo away.
- Kaneda yells.
- Turns out, the white ghoulie kid was an experiment of the government’s. There’s three of these kids. This original kid (who reminds me of Wendell from The Simpsons), a ghoulie girl with pigtails and then a pudgy kid who flies around in a wheelchair-like contraption.
- These ghoul kids have ESP like powers. Crazy powerful ones.
- Tetsuo almost goes insane as he witnesses giant teddy bears made up of tons of other toys, walk around his hospital room and threaten to destroy him. Seems it’s all in his mind, with the ghoulie kids mentally attacking him.
- Akira used to be another one of the ghoul kids with super crazy powers.
- Seems Akira was responsible for the “nuclear’ explosion that wiped out Tokyo. I think.
- Akira (or his remains) are locked up in the basement of the facility. All his organs are separated into glass jars with some yellowish liquid.
- Kaneda thinks that Kei is his girlfriend just because he said so. He basically stalks her throughout the movie.
- Kaneda helps Kei escape capture (and death) when she and her terrorist friends are plotting something. In the sewers, she shoots a guard right through the eye, killing him. It was pretty hardcore and nasty.
- Lots of gunfire back and forth.
- Tetsuo goes nuts.
- Tetsuo goes back to the bar that he and his gang always hung out at. He ends up killing the bartender and one of his friends, all for some pills.
- Lots more weird stuff happens.
- Tetsuo loses an arm somehow.
- Tetsuo finds a a red blanket and whips it back to make a really cool looking cape.
- Tetsuo grows a new cybernetic/organic arm just by thinking of it. It’s very much not in proportion and is ginormous.
- Tetsuo steals Akira’s remains and brings all those creepy body parts to the Olympic Stadium construction site.
- Kaneda and Kei meet Tetsuo and his girlfriend at the construction site.
- More yelling.
- Lots of “Tetsuooooo!” screams.
- Tetsuo is in pain. He starts mutating into a bizarre, grotesque, giant baby made up of huge tumor masses.
- As he grows, his girlfriend Kaori tries to comfort and restrain him but is crushed by his sheer size. Yep, popped just like a grape.
- Akira somehow is back. Or maybe it’s just his spirit. He and the three ESP kids join forces to help stop Tetsuo from going nuclear and wiping out Neo-Tokyo. I think.
- Tetsuo and the ESPers (and Akira?) vanish. They go off into another dimension. Or something. I think.
- Neo-Tokyo is pretty much decimated from the entire thing. I think.
- Kaneda survives.
- Tetsuo is still “alive.” But in some weird, metaphysical, cosmic reality.
- The ESP kids are still “alive” but in that same weird, metaphysical, cosmic reality.
- “I am Tetsuo.”
- Credits roll.
As I said at the beginning, one of the only real things I took out of this movie that I can 100% be certain of is that I’ve been pronouncing Akira wrong all this time.
Can you explain Akira to me?