Akira ★★★½

Short take:

Come for the spectral sight of tracer lights darting through Neo-Tokyo, stay for the sonic architecture of 100 Balinese jegogs thrumming. 

Long take:

*cracks open an ice cold Akira canister*

I expected grade-A visuals (love a good neon nightscape), but the Swans-on-synths intensity of the soundtrack was a surprise.  Dr. Shoji Yamashiro’s (Shoji MD!) experimental Geinoh Yamashirogumi collective created a 2001-level score for Akira that draws on exotic instrumentation and vocals to exceed the fantastic animation. I’ll be looking into more of the good doctor’s work.

For me those two elements were the primary pleasures to be had here. The story feels loaded with promise at the start, with nuclear and dystopic elements, but then descends into a pedestrian superhero showdown for the entire third quarter that seems interchangeable with any Transformers or Marvel franchise regurgitation from the last 10 years in the way that it piles climax on climax on climax. Maybe Akira was the first to do it, but it’s boring now, and it was probably boring then too.

Fortunately, there’s also more interesting elements of body horror and paranoia in Tetsuo’s story that lead to some extraordinary scenes, including an awesomely grotesque finale that woke me up from a smash bang stupor. 

Couple days after my first watch it feels like the popularity of the anime aesthetic and raw nostalgia have inflated the rep of Akira a little beyond what’s actually there, but I keep thinking about how hard that first needle drop hits and could see myself watching again.

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