Akira: When Cyberpunk Anime Meets Body Horror

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Hello there my fellow fans of the futuristic frenzy that is cyberpunk. I recently had the opportunity to check out Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, from 1988. I really enjoyed this film as I’m sure most other fans of the cyberpunk genre feel the same, and here is why.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the plot borrowed from IMDb:

A secret military project endangers Neo-Tokyo when it turns a biker gang member into a rampaging psychic psychopath that only two teenagers and a group of psychics can stop.

The film opens in Neo-Tokyo in the near future of 2019, post World War III after an explosion that destroyed the city back in 1988. We immediately catch a chase on a motorcycle, a flurry of colors in the background blend together as the imagery pans showing the scenery of Neo-Tokyo. This is when the viewer is introduced to Kaneda and Tetsuo, the primary characters. We’re also introduced to Kaneda’s band of bike riding cronies, the Capsules. After a political brawl that takes place mid-city, a strange person appears protecting a boy, that appears to have not only an old man’s face, but some sort of psychic powers. This immediately kicks off the plot of the film and gets the curiosity ball rolling rapidly.

One major selling point for me as a viewer was the characters and the emotional construction you witness throughout the course of the film. Not only from skirt chasing Kaneda, but the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo becomes a struggle of power and authority recognition, which is a recurring theme throughout the film. There’s power struggle between Kaneda and Tetsuo which you see flourish throughout their growth from childhood to their current state of being as teens. You see the struggle of power between the psychic children, Akira himself and the scientists that are trying to keep the psychic abilities under complete wraps and total control. Not to mention the usual theme in any cyberpunk film, which is the struggle of power between civilians and the government, military, and politicians.

Tetsuo experiences body horror in Akira.

Being a huge fan of horror films, I appreciated the large elements of horror that were contributed to the plot of this movie. Although it could be argued by another critic that Akira should labeled more as science fiction, than anything. I highly disagree. Towards the climax of the film we bare witness to elements of extreme body horror. As Tetsuo begins to lose the grasp of his power, which was laid out with foreshadowing in the beginning of the film, we see some serious and morbid transformation as power consumes him. To me, this is highly comparable to the great David Cronenberg, the master of body horror. This film also includes a great deal of gore and blood as the strong arm of the military and the biker gangs wreak havoc throughout Neo-Tokyo. In my opinion, Akira finds a place nestled securely within the cyberpunk and horror genres.

Considering the film Akira is based directly off of the manga written by Katsuhiro Otomo, it does leave you with a bit of a cliffhanger unless you read the manga, which is about 6 volumes long. I personally have not yet read the manga, so I felt a bit lost at the end of the film. Not in the sense that I had no clue as to what was going on, but some things could have been elaborated on a bit more, which they are in the manga, making it relatively necessary to read the complete set of volumes.

Akira Poster

The manga was published between 1982-1988, leading directly up to the release of the film. The 80s were a high point of films that entertained the idea of the cyberpunk genre which I think really assisted the plot establishment of the story.

Akira should be resting highly on a list of films to watch if you haven’t seen it. It’s not geared directly toward anime fan’s which makes this film incredibly versatile. If you haven’t seen Akira, you can read more about the film here and more about the manga here. Additionally, you can find the film for purchase here or a copy of the manga here.

Signing off, this is Caedes Messor

May your thirst for blood and knowledge be plentiful.

Akira – 10/10


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