Akira (UK - BD RB)
Our Marcus is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E. as this Blu-ray is missing some things...
Neo Tokyo 2019: After a cyber punk gang battle between Kaneda's bikers and the Clowns ends with a bizarre accident involving gang member Tetsuo’s bike exploding mere centimetres away from impacting a strange blue kid, events begin that may lead to this city's second nuclear explosion.
Now with Tetsuo returned from an army hospital with new powers that are ever increasing and the search to undercover the mysteries of Akira underway, Kaneda takes it upon himself to stop his friend before he becomes too powerful and wipes out the city all over again.
You know when Disney throw around slogans like “The one that started it all” for Snow White or how The Phantom Menace came loaded with “Every saga has a beginning” and it underlined the importance of those movies' releases. Well, however important a movie landmark that feels to its ever loving audience, is exactly how I feel about Akira. Y’see I loved movies long before I saw Akira, I grew up watching Return of the Jedi and E.T. on repeat, Arnie & Co got me into home videos, Burton’s Batman made me fall in love with the cinema experience and there’s a handful of other movies I can use as marker points to my movie watching evolution but Akira started something else - my love affair with anime.
From the moment I first saw the poster with Kaneda looming over Neo Tokyo, the slogan Neo-Tokyo is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E. and the big bold text that read
AKIRAI knew I had to, no scrap that, NEEDED to see this movie and on the first day it was available to rent I was at “Star Video” (my local video rental shop at the time) ready to pick it up.
Now as a bit more backstory, I was very much aware of Japanese animation. Not in a the same way I am now (thanks largely to Akira’s impact and the explosion of Manga titles) but for a thirteen year old with no internet, no access to pirate videos and really only TV shows to educate me, my understanding of the difference between US animation and Japanese animation and what I liked about the Eastern art was above average. Something about its look struck a chord in my young mind and Akira called to me like a siren. From the moment I put that video in and the movie started with the nuclear blast and the big bold AKIRA font and I saw that beautiful Katsuhiro Otomo artwork, I was in love. The colours, the streaking bike lights (still infinitely cool), the dark themes, the visuals for Tetsuo’s powers; everything about this story had me. Kaneda was immediately and still is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters and obviously, like everyone who’s seen the movie, I wanted that bike (hell who am I kidding, I still do). Some of the set pieces in the movie are etched in my brain forever. The screaming of “ TETSUO!!!!” “KANEDA!!!” between the two friends/enemies alone is just classic stuff. Akira truly is a masterpiece and over the years the more I’ve learnt about it from books, magazines and online articles or just hearing other people’s admiration for it has just made it even better.
Anyway, I think I watched that rented video at least five times that day. Got friends around to experience it, and even sat my Dad down to watch it with me (which started a bit of tradition with all the new Manga videos that followed, until we sat down to Urotsukidoji and I then censored what we watched together as that was just plain awkward). Akira pretty much consumed me and from there on in I was hooked. Reading the comics (which are comic books at their finest, especially the artwork), getting the ‘Production Report’ video, later picking up that awesome soundtrack and despite loving a good handful of the Manga releases that followed ( Wind of Amnesia, Battle Angle Alita and Genocyber, to name but a few) they never had the same impact. Akira was and still remains the jewel in the crown of anime for me and it wasn’t until 2001 that the shiny perfection of Akira took a knock.
The US black tin box edition got announced. Akira on DVD!! It was a great looking boxset. The video remaster looked awesome, the features were pretty good and I finally got to hear the Japanese audio track. It was all good. This was what the DVD format had been made for. But wait... the new 5.1 English track was different. Pioneer Entertainment has redubbed the English track and not included the option of the original English dub. Honestly, I was shattered.
Now generally speaking, nowadays I always go with the original Japanese track with my anime watches. For example, I feel that Ghost in the Shell isn’t Ghost in the Shell unless Motoko is Japanese, especially in the Stand Alone Complex series (she’s has much more edge in Japanese). There’s something lost in the English tracks for me. The only exception is Studio Ghibli titles because the English tracks are sort of adorable, but the more adult themed anime really only shines with the original Japanese dialogue. That is for everything except for Akira. I think it’s the impact it had with me as a teen but Kaneda isn’t Kaneda unless he’s voiced by Cam Clarke (yeah that’s right, the Turtles guy).
I don’t care if the 2001 re-dub is closer to the Japanese dialogue (actually I do because most of the original dialogue is clunky, too descriptive and just not cool—even if you fans of it think it “makes the story clearer”, which granted it sort of does, but not all of it for the right reasons). I don’t care if the 2001 remaster looks and sounds technically better (again I do, but my preferred dub overrules my feelings on that) and I don’t care that there’s a legion of fans who fight for 2001’s dub as the only way to go (yeah that one I really don’t care about). It comes down to Kaneda not sounding like the Kaneda I connected to when I first saw Akira and nothing’s going to shift me on this one. The attitude Cam Clarke gives him is great, he's way more cocky and bull headed, the animation seems to have been made for Clarke's voice and honestly I can’t even make it through the “What you doing on my Bike Tetsuo?” scene in the 2001 dub, it just sounds wrong. The 2001 dub doesn’t have the right feel to it and honestly if I was in that gang, I know which version of Kanada I’d want leading the bikes.
Anyway, thanks to Manga releasing a DVD boxset a while back with the 2001 dub as well a second disc with the film in 4:3 with the original dub in Stereo 2.0, I could still sit down and watch Akira on DVD (without having to dig out the old video) and yes, I’ll admit, I have gone out of my way to sync up the audio of the original dub through one DVD player while watching the 2001 video remaster through another, once or twice (okay many more than that). I never opted for the Australian release which had new picture old dub as an option, so hearing that this release was coming and the US edition didn’t have the original dub, I was hoping good ol’ UK Manga would include the dub I wanted on the UK Blu-ray. I would even have settled for it in Stereo 2.0 again, but no, it didn’t happen and even though this HD edition has its highlights (more on that later), I have to say I’m more than disappointed and it's more than just the lack of the original dub.
Akira is nearly a twenty-five year old movie now but that doesn’t stop this HD presentation being anything short of amazing. That said this isn’t a Disney style restoration by any means, so grain, bits of dirt and odd unavoidable defects like out of focus elements and cell animation limitations are all on show from time to time.
Colours are obviously the noticeable elements of the upgrade, Kaneda’s clothes are now a different red to his bike (though I have to say my take on Kaneda’s jacket is redder than what is presented here, at least the toys and artwork have gone that way anyway). Tetsou’s powers have their fair share of show off elements, especially when he looks over his shoulder at the army from within the inferno and of course that small moment where he gets a red aura line around him really shines off the screen here.
Thankfully the overall colour palette hasn’t been to tampered with, Akira retains its darkness and while, to a degree, it ages the movie I’m personally glad they didn’t do a Transformers: The Animated Movie style restoration and make everything far too bright and cheerful for the sake of showing off on modern TVs all while losing the some of the original charm.
Another shining example of this HD presentation is the fantastic backgrounds that have really got a boost out of it. Honestly some of the work here is mesmerising and it’s never looked this clear or vibrant and now they can truly be studied for all their magnificence which really is what makes this upgrade so worth it.
Rounding it up, I’m happy with the HD presentation here but I wouldn’t say there’s still not room for improvement. Really this is only because of what we’ve seen with the likes of the Disney catalogue presentations. While I was happy with Akira there was still a sense that some frame by frame cleaning could push the transfer further but then anime like this isn’t and shouldn’t be going all out to be flashy, right? For the risk of losing the feel of certain moments because of their dirtier look I’d probably just stick with what we have. Oh and maybe we should all keep a bit quiet on this subject, they’ll only go and put some CGI scenes in there to bring it up to date URGH!
Well there’s a ton of options here, TrueHD English and Japanese, Dolby Digital Japanese and LPCM Japanese (yet still not original dub—okay, okay rant over). Each track is packed with power but the TrueHD track is a powerhouse of awesome. The Akira score has never felt and sounded so good and despite having various versions of the film over the years there seemed to be elements I’d not heard before, or at least I didn’t remember hearing them this crisp.
Small music elements in scenes really have a presence now, dialogue is fantastically clear and strong and while the larger moments (explosions, shows of power or gun shots) feel more like a wall of sound as opposed to strategically placed elements of the tracks, they are all still very effective and have never had the effect they do here.
Putting away my gripes for the sake of this review and being thorough (you lot owe me one) I checked out the English TrueHD track and it seemed a tiny bit less powerful than the Japanese option but there wasn’t too much in it. Everything is firing on all cylinders across the board, with small sound effects really coming to life. Things like the security guy’s hover bike things tonal sound as they pass really rocking the speakers, Kaneda’s bike engine sounding glorious and the Akira aura visual sounding delightful and a much stronger presence than before. Really the audio is the element this Blu-ray shows off in spades and everything is treated with great respect here.
As I only got the review disc to look at, I missed checking out the steel book edition or the forty page book that comes with it or indeed the DVD version also included. So, on to the extras on the disc. Wait, what? There're just trailers? No retrospective look at the movie and its significance to a whole genre? Nothing about the comic books or the old US featurettes about the remaster? Not even the old Production Report? Nope, just trailers. Teaser 1 (00:32), Teaser 2 (00:31), TV Commercial (00:16), Trailer 1 (02:07), Trailer 2 (01:01) and 369 pages of non-zoom-able storyboards. Feeling let down much? I know I am.
Watching Akira on Blu-ray was a joy. Seeing the HD presentation of the visuals and hearing the audio handled so well was feel good central. Akira still sits high on my all-time favourites list and its importance to me has not reduced since the first time I saw it but that’s just the positive side of the review.
The negative side is the extras. The lack of anything meaty here is honestly a huge disappointment. Akira should have been treated like royalty. There are enough fans out there and enough people in the film industry trying to get a live action version made that something of a retrospective could have been made for this. Not including the Production Report seems lazy and indeed odd as it’s almost a part of the movie, they’ve been so closely associated over the years and really this along with the lack of the original English dub just plain annoys me. Of course this doesn’t ruin the movie’s presentation and what you’re getting is a fine little package (especially in that pretty Steelbook), but I for one can’t help feeling pretty disappointed about a release I have been waiting quite impatiently for.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 27th June 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese, LPCM 2.0 Japanese
Subtitles: English, Japanese
Extras: Trailers, Storyboards, DVD copy, 40 Page book.
Easter Egg: No
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Cast: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama
Genre: Action, Animation and Sci-Fi
Length: 124 minutes
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