AKIRA. Cyberpunk anime masterpiece

This film is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and iconic Japanese animated productions. The title Akira is recognized by all manga and anime enthusiasts, and it’s also the greatest and...

Adam Ludzen

24 August 2023

AKIRA. Cyberpunk anime masterpiece

This film is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and iconic Japanese animated productions. The title Akira is recognized by all manga and anime enthusiasts, and it’s also the greatest and most famous work of Katsuhiro Otomo – primarily because it was originally a comic before becoming a full-length animated film. I watched Akira for the first time quite a while ago – those were the days when I literally didn’t “digest” manga and everything related to it. Later, my perspective completely changed – manga and anime not only started to appeal to me, but also captivated me. So why wouldn’t I revisit one of the most iconic works? I decided to watch it again (more than once) and evaluate it through the lens of my current interests, as well as compare it to the best Japanese productions I’ve seen so far.

“Adult” movie

Akira is a film that is challenging in its reception. Both its content and message are directed more towards adult viewers. Younger audiences certainly won’t grasp the true essence of this production, and certainly, some scenes are not suitable for their eyes – mainly due to the brutality and the depiction of the entire world and reality. Blood and many gruesome scenes are commonplace. The film’s action takes place in 2019 in Neo Tokyo. The city looks entirely different after the last catastrophe that occurred in 1988. This event was referred to as the Third World War, but what actually happened is something you will discover while watching the film. The film starts off excellently – the main characters are young boys who form a motorcycle gang and fight against another gang – the Clowns. Additionally, the entire city is engulfed in revolution – the destruction caused by rebellious citizens is massive, and there are spies everywhere and illegal demonstrations. Day by day, chaos engulfs the city, and with time, even religious fanatics appear, waiting for the arrival of the Messiah – the legendary Akira…



Neo Tokyo awaits a significant change. This city is already corrupted. It has become a rotten fruit that is beginning to stink. But inside, there is a new seed. We just have to wait for the wind to blow, and the fruit will fall into our hands. Wait for the wind named Akira…

One of our main characters – Tetsuo – accidentally ends up in a military laboratory, where he undergoes certain experiments. As it turns out later, he’s not the first, as there are already certain individuals with immense power but who can control it. The purpose of the experiment on Tetsuo is to activate the power within him, which quickly makes him grow stronger, and his power becomes unimaginable. He has always been smaller and weaker than his friends, they treated him with no respect, he was always hurt and simply inferior. Now, he dictates the terms – but not with the result that the scientists and the military expected. The boy quickly becomes arrogant and dangerous to his surroundings. His anger brings destruction and terror. Tetsuo slips out of control, and he can’t even master the power he possesses. Furthermore, he learns that there is someone much more powerful than him – Akira…


Akira ‘s Message

Akira has reached pure energy. Human beings achieve a lot throughout their lives. They discover and build various things like houses, motorcycles, bridges, cities, rockets. Where does this knowledge and energy come from? (…) Humans come from monkeys. Before that, there were insects and fish. And much earlier, there were plankton and single-celled amoebas. If you think about it, every form of life must possess its own energy. I’m talking about life force, which exists even in water or air. Maybe even in cosmic dust. If they evolve, they must retain their memory locked within them. If we could go back, even to the beginning of time… Maybe everything in this existence has such a memory. What will happen if the order of things is disrupted? If, as a result of experiments, an amoeba is endowed with the power of a human being… Amoebas don’t make motorcycles or atomic bombs. They just eat everything they encounter on their path. There were already people who tried to harness such power at the request of the Executive Council. But they failed, and the destruction of Tokyo was inevitable…

This film is a classic with an important message – “You cannot abuse the power you’ve been given. Otherwise, you’ll lose control over it, and the whole world will suffer…”. But besides that, the director included many other, more or less important motifs and themes. Above all, it’s about the friendship between the main characters (another main character of the film, Kaneda, comes to the forefront), and its crisis moments. There’s even a romantic subplot, but not on a larger scale. In Akira, there are several elements that speak to the cultural consciousness of the viewers – gangs, motorcycles, a big city (metropolis), anti-social individuals, and above all – characters with whom the audience can identify. All of this led to Akira becoming a hit in Japan and beyond.

akira new tokyo

Akira ‘s production values

A few words about the film from a technical standpoint. Even though Akira is a bit older (after all, it was made in 1988), you can hardly tell. The drawings are very well done, and the animation is of the highest quality and is not much inferior to today’s works that employ digital animation. The same goes for the sound, which is well-matched. The film is sometimes highly surreal – especially when it comes to Tetsuo’s visions and hallucinations (at times his insides fall out, and at times he sees some huge toys trying to catch him). Surrealism also applies to the music – which, by the way, isn’t of the highest standard (I say this with a heavy heart…). The scenes of motorcycle gang battles and all the destruction caused by Tetsuo also look extremely impressive on screen – it’s truly spectacular. And the meticulous attention to detail – both in the city’s appearance and in the drawings of various equipment like motorcycles, weapons, tanks, helicopters – deserves a big round of applause!

akira new tokyo


And a few flaws – there aren’t many of them, but every film has them. In Akira, I found three. The first is that the film can sometimes be quite weird and incomprehensible to the average viewer. This is also related to the second flaw, namely the chaos in the image and action – sometimes you don’t know what’s happening or what’s going on at a given moment. However, this impression only arises when watching the film for the first time. In relation to the first viewing, another thought occurred to me – I’m referring to the ending of the film. It’s a bit too long and drawn-out. But this is a one-time flaw – you only feel it when watching Akira for the first time.


So many merits and so few flaws, however – even though Akira is undoubtedly a genre classic, a groundbreaking and iconic film – after so many years and having seen so many excellent anime, it didn’t leave as perfect and colossal an impression on me as other, best Japanese productions I’ve had the chance to see (Ninja Scroll, Ghost In The Shell). Disregard my complaining and go for Akira without hesitation – it’s really worth it, and you certainly won’t regret it. And for fans of Japanese animation who haven’t yet experienced this cyberpunk classic, they should hide their heads in the sand out of shame.