Akira is a 1988 anime film that is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential works of animation and science fiction ever made. Based on a manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film, Akira tells the story of a dystopian future where a biker gang leader and his friend get involved in a secret government project that unleashes a powerful psychic force that threatens to destroy Neo-Tokyo and the world.
Akira is a stunning visual and auditory experience that explores themes such as youth, power, corruption, violence, and rebirth. It also inspired countless works of art, music, film, and culture that followed it. In this article, we will explain the plot, themes, and influence of Akira, and why you should watch it if you haven’t already.
The Plot of Akira
Akira begins with a bang: literally. In 1988, Tokyo is destroyed by a mysterious explosion that triggers World War III. 31 years later, in 2019, Tokyo has been rebuilt as Neo-Tokyo, a sprawling metropolis plagued by crime, terrorism, riots, and corruption. The film follows Shōtarō Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang called the Capsules, and his childhood friend Tetsuo Shima, who is insecure and envious of Kaneda’s charisma and skills.
One night, while chasing a rival gang called the Clowns, Tetsuo crashes into a strange boy with psychic powers named Takashi, who is being pursued by the military. Tetsuo is captured by the army and taken to a secret facility where he is experimented on by a scientist named Dr. Onishi. There, he awakens his own latent telekinetic abilities, which are similar to those of Akira, a legendary being who caused the explosion that destroyed Tokyo.
Tetsuo escapes from the facility and goes on a rampage across Neo-Tokyo, using his powers to kill anyone who stands in his way. He also develops a severe headache and a growing tumor on his arm, which are side effects of his unstable powers. He becomes obsessed with finding Akira, who he believes can cure him or make him stronger. He joins forces with the Clowns and attacks the Capsules, killing one of them named Yamagata.
Kaneda vows to stop Tetsuo and save him from himself. He teams up with Kei, a member of a resistance group that opposes the government’s cover-up of Akira’s existence. They also encounter three other psychic children: Kiyoko, Masaru, and Kyōko (also known as Numbers 25, 26, and 27), who are Takashi’s friends and former test subjects. They warn Kaneda and Kei about Tetsuo’s dangerous power and urge them to stop him before he awakens Akira.
Meanwhile, the military is led by Colonel Shikishima, who is determined to prevent another catastrophe like Akira’s explosion. He stages a coup against the corrupt politicians who want to exploit Akira for their own gain. He also tries to kill Tetsuo with a powerful laser satellite called SOL.
However, Tetsuo survives and reaches the Olympic Stadium where Akira’s remains are stored in a cryogenic chamber. He opens the chamber and finds nothing but vials of blood and organs. He realizes that Akira was dissected by the scientists long ago and that his power is beyond comprehension. He screams in frustration and anger.
At this point, Kaneda arrives at the stadium and confronts Tetsuo in an epic showdown. He tries to reason with him but fails. Tetsuo attacks him with his powers but Kaneda fights back with his laser gun and motorcycle. Their battle is interrupted by the arrival of Shikishima and his troops, who fire at Tetsuo with tanks and rockets. Tetsuo retaliates by destroying them all with his powers. He also transforms into a giant grotesque mass of flesh and metal that consumes everything around him.
As Tetsuo loses control of his body and mind, he calls out for help to Kaneda. Kaneda tries to reach him but is engulfed by Tetsuo’s mass. Inside Tetsuo’s body, he sees visions of Tetsuo’s past: how they met as orphans in a foster home; how they became friends and formed the Capsules; how they survived in the harsh streets of Neo-Tokyo; how Tetsuo always felt inferior to Kaneda; how he suffered from abuse and neglect; how he longed for power and freedom; how he loved Kaori, a girl who was killed by Tetsuo’s mass.
Suddenly, Kaneda hears Akira’s voice calling out to him. He sees Akira appear before him, along with the other psychic children. They explain that they have come to take Tetsuo with them to another dimension where he can be at peace. They also thank Kaneda for being Tetsuo’s friend and ask him to say goodbye to him. Kaneda agrees and tells Tetsuo that he is sorry for everything and that he will always be his friend. Tetsuo smiles and says that he is sorry too and that he is glad to have met him. He also says his name: Tetsuo.
Then, a bright light engulfs them all. Akira creates a new explosion that destroys Neo-Tokyo once again. Kaneda is transported back to the real world, where he sees the mushroom cloud rising from the stadium. He is reunited with Kei, who tells him that she heard Tetsuo’s voice in her head. They also find Kai, another Capsule member who survived the chaos. They ride away on their motorcycles, hoping to rebuild their lives.
The film ends with a shot of the universe and a voice saying “I am Tetsuo.”
The Themes of Akira
Akira is a film that explores many themes, such as:
Youth and rebellion: The film depicts the struggles and frustrations of the young generation in a society that has failed them. The biker gangs, the terrorists, and the psychic children are all examples of youth who rebel against the oppressive and corrupt system that exploits them or ignores them. They seek freedom, identity, and meaning in a chaotic and violent world.
Power and corruption: The film shows how power can corrupt and destroy
those who possess it or seek it. Tetsuo is the most obvious example of this,
as his psychic powers turn him into a monster who loses his humanity and
The government and the politicians are also corrupted by their greed and ambition, as they try to use Akira for their own benefit or cover up his existence. Power also breeds fear and conflict, as shown by the military’s attempts to stop Tetsuo and Akira by any means necessary.
Violence and destruction: The film portrays a world that is constantly
plagued by violence and destruction, both physical and psychological. The
atomic bomb that destroyed Tokyo in 1988 is a symbol of the ultimate violence
and destruction that humanity can inflict on itself and the planet.
The film also shows how violence and destruction can affect the characters’ lives, such as Tetsuo’s trauma from his childhood abuse, Kaneda’s grief over Yamagata’s death, or Kaori’s death by Tetsuo’s mass.
Rebirth and transcendence: The film also suggests that there is hope
for a new beginning after the end of the world. Akira’s explosion is not only
a destructive force but also a creative one, as it opens a new dimension where
Tetsuo can find peace and harmony.
The film also implies that Akira and Tetsuo are part of a larger cosmic cycle of life and death, as they are connected to the origin of the universe and its evolution. The film also shows how some characters can overcome their pain and loss and move on with their lives, such as Kaneda, Kei, and Kai.
The Influence of Akira
Akira is a film that has influenced countless works of art, music, film, and culture that followed it. Some examples of its influence are:
Animation: Akira is widely considered a landmark in animation, as it
set new standards for quality, realism, detail, and style. It used over
160,000 animation cels, 327 colors (including 50 custom-made ones), 24 frames
per second (instead of the usual 12 or 16), lip-syncing for every character
(instead of just the main ones), computer graphics (for some scenes), and
rotoscoping (for some movements).
It also featured stunning action sequences, fluid movements, expressive facial expressions, intricate backgrounds, atmospheric lighting, and realistic sound effects. It inspired many animators and directors to improve their craft and experiment with new techniques.
Science fiction: Akira is widely considered one of the greatest and
most influential works of science fiction ever made. It created a vivid and
immersive vision of a dystopian future that influenced many other works in the
genre. It also explored complex themes such as technology, humanity, society,
politics, religion, philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, and more.
It influenced many science fiction films such as The Matrix , Inception , Chronicle , Looper , Ready Player One , Blade Runner 2049 , Ghost in the Shell , Stranger Things , Alita: Battle Angel , Cyberpunk 2077 , and more.
Music: Akira also had a significant impact on music, especially in
genres such as hip hop, electronic music, rock, metal, pop, and more. The
film’s soundtrack was composed by Shōji Yamashiro and performed by Geinoh
Yamashirogumi , a musical collective that used traditional Japanese
instruments as well as synthesizers and samplers and chants.
The soundtrack was innovative and experimental, blending traditional and modern elements, creating a unique and atmospheric sound that matched the film’s tone and mood. The soundtrack influenced many musicians and artists such as Kanye West, Gorillaz, Daft Punk, Radiohead, Muse, Linkin Park, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, and more.
Culture: Akira also had a significant impact on culture, especially in
terms of popularizing anime and manga in the West. The film was one of the
first anime films to be released theatrically in the US and Europe, where it
received critical acclaim and commercial success.
It also introduced many Western audiences to the style, themes, and aesthetics of Japanese animation and comics, sparking a wave of interest and appreciation for the medium. The film also influenced many aspects of pop culture such as fashion, art, design, gaming, literature, and more.
Akira is a film that deserves to be watched by anyone who loves animation, science fiction, or cinema in general. It is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time and has influenced generations of creators and fans. It is a film that will challenge your mind, dazzle your senses, and touch your heart. It is a film that will change your world.