Akira (アキラ) is a 1988 animated film by Katsuhiro Otomo based on his Manga
of the same name. The movie led the way for the growing popularity of Anime
in the West, with Akira considered a forerunner of the second wave of anime fandom that began in the early 1990s. One of the reasons for the movie's success was the highly advanced quality of its animation. At the time, most anime was notorious for cutting production corners with limited motion, such as having only the characters' mouths move while their faces remained static. Akira broke from this trend with meticulously detailed scenes, exactingly lip-synched dialogue a first for an anime production (voices were recorded before the animation was completed, rather than the opposite) and superfluous motion as realized in the film's more than 160,000 animation cels.
While most of the character designs and basic settings were directly adapted from the original 2000-plus page manga epic, the restructured plot of the movie differs considerably from the print version, pruning much of the last half of the book.
Notable themes of the film include youth culture, delinquency, social unrest and future uncertainty weighed against the historical spectre of nuclear destruction and Japan's post-war economic revival. This pervasive atmosphere of impending doom is set to fuse in the feature's tag line, "Neo-Tokyo is about to EXPLODE."
The story takes place in the politically volatile city of Neo-Tokyo, built over Tokyo Bay after an unexplained explosion inciting World War III destroyed the original city in 1988. The cataclysm is revealed to have been caused by the frightening psionic powers of a child, Akira, who had earlier been the subject of a secret government research project for the development of psychokinetic abilities.
Thirty-one years later, in the year 2019, a gang of teenage bikers led by a smug 16-year-old delinquent named Kaneda find themselves involved in a street fight with a rival gang called the Clowns. Tetsuo Shima
, Kaneda's best friend, having pursued two Clown members in the abandoned Tokyo, finds a child with wizened features (Takashi, an esper who has just been kidnapped from a government facility), blocking his path. As Tetsuo tries to avoid him, his bike inexplicably explodes. When the gang reaches the scene, several military helicopters also arrive. Led by Colonel Shikishima
, armed soldiers take Takashi and the injured Tetsuo away. Kaneda and his friends are arrested.
The gang is brought in for questioning, but the interrogators are soon convinced the boys are not members of the anti-government Resistance group. Among the other detainees, Kaneda recognizes a female Resistance member named Kei
from an earlier-spied mugshot and, finding her attractive, gets the soldiers to release her by convincing them she is part of their gang. Kei abruptly leaves the scene, leaving a spurned Kaneda behind. When the boys are returned to their vocational training school, they are harshly disciplined by the school administration.
Meanwhile, Colonel Shikishima, engaged in discussion of a Supreme Executive Council inquiry into Takashi's escape, is summoned by the Doctor, who is monitoring Tetsuo at the government lab. The Doctor says that Tetsuo is displaying strong mental frequencies that are unlike anything he's seen before. Warning that Tetsuo may turn into "another Akira," the Colonel orders the Doctor to kill Tetsuo without hesitation should his power grow beyond control. Tetsuo, apparently using telepathy, repeats Akira's name in his mind.
Tetsuo escapes from the government hospital and meets up with his girlfriend, Kaori
. Deciding to run away together, they go to the school the next day and steal Kaneda's bike, which stalls just as the two are leaving town. They are immediately attacked by Clown members, who beat them up and are about to destroy the bike when Kaneda and his gang show up and defeat them.
Tetsuo declares his longstanding resentment towards Kaneda and his leadership role, revealing an inferiority complex. Tetsuo then has a painful headache accompanied by disturbing hallucinations, including brief glimpses of Akira. Scientists and bodyguards, acting on orders of the Doctor, sweep in to recapture Tetsuo and truck him away.
That night, as the gang hangs out in the city, their excursion is interrupted by a terrorist attack. Kaneda glimpses Kei and Ryu, and follows as they flee the scene. When Kei separates from Ryu and enters the sewers, she is spotted by soldiers; Kaneda wrestles with one of them and Kei shoots and kills another in self-defense. Kei and Kaneda flee the scene.
Experiments are performed on Tetsuo again, who dreams of himself and Kaneda playing as children while the city around them and Tetsuo himself seem to crumble. Tetsuo suddenly wakes, his headache causing a nearby fluorescent light to shatter.
Meanwhile, the Colonel appears at the nursery, where Kiyoko
, another Esper, tells him she dreamt that she met Akira again, and that Neo-Tokyo was destroyed. The Colonel and the Doctor agree that this might be Kiyoko's precognition at work, and the Doctor notes that the Supreme Executive Council will want to hear about it. The Colonel travels to another top secret facility, this one at the future site of the Neo-Tokyo Olympiad. They descend to Akira's underground cryonic storage chamber, finding all of its systems to be operating normally.
Kaneda and Kei make their way to the hideout of the Resistance, where Ryu and other Resistance members lock Kaneda in a room. Nezu
, the Resistance leader, reviews their plan to use special ID cards to gain access to a government facility to rescue a new test subject named Tetsuo Shima. The group discovers Kaneda eavesdropping on them from a ventilation shaft and drag him out. He explains that he and Tetsuo are best friends and that he wants to help them. Ryu decides to take Kaneda on the mission, and perhaps use him as a decoy.
The next day, the Colonel appears before the Council, asking for more funding for the project. (Nezu, the Resistance leader, is revealed to be a member of the Council.) They flatly refuse, arguing on how to better spend the money on other projects and questioning the Colonel's sense of duty as a soldier. When he is told he will be placed before an inquiry committee, the frustrated Colonel abruptly leaves the meeting.
In his hospital room, Tetsuo has a vision of the Espers Takashi, Kiyoko, and a third child, Masaru posing as gigantic toys. Erupting in a flood of milk, the nightmarish toys attack Tetsuo. When he cuts his foot by stepping on a glass, it scares away the Espers, who are apparently frightened at the sight of blood. Tetsuo, sensing the Espers' location their nursery, called the "baby room" proceeds to make his way there, killing soldiers and wreaking destruction.
Meanwhile, in sewage tunnels beneath the towering complex, the infiltrating band is soon spotted by guards riding "flying platforms" hovering one-man vehicles armed with machine guns and a battle ensues. Kaneda and Kei take control of a platform and escape. They hear over the vehicle's radio that Tetsuo is making his way to the nursery, that he's extremely dangerous and must not be allowed inside.
Kiyoko possesses Kei and leads Kaneda to the site, finding that Tetsuo is already within, busy attacking both the Colonel's Army
and the Espers. He has learned about Akira and is eager to meet him, hoping to make his headaches stop. Tetsuo is able to read Kiyoko's mind to discover Akira's location beneath the city's Olympic Stadium, currently under construction.
After leaving the nursery in a flash of light, Tetsuo goes to a familiar bar for a drug fix. His old gang buddies, Yamagata
and Kaisuke, arrive later, finding the place a mess and the bartender dead. Tetsuo, seeming to evince an ominous new madness in his demeanor, brutally kills Yamagata.
Back at the government tower, Kei and Kaneda are locked in a holding cell. Kiyoko speaks through Kei once again, explaining that scientists of the past had tried to harness the energy inside all living things but destroyed Tokyo in the process. Tetsuo, she says, has enough of this energy to consume everything around him. Kei then finds the door unlocked and they escape. The pair shortly unite with Kaisuke, who informs them of Tetsuo's murderous actions. A distraught Kaneda crashes Yamagata's bike into a wall as a funereal gesture to "send Yamagata his wheels." He and Kaisuke suddenly witness Kei walking on water in the adjacent reservoir channel, being escorted away by the esper Takashi, both of whom disappear.
The Colonel, initiating a coup, orders all members of the Supreme Executive Council arrested. Hearing of this at his home, the mole Nezu murders his staff. As Nezu is stuffing a briefcase with money, a bleeding Ryu enters the room, reporting that their mission has failed. Nezu angrily shoots Ryu and flees, but suffers a heart attack and dies on the street a short distance away.
Tetsuo is now wreaking havoc across Neo-Tokyo, using his psionic power to destroy helicopters, tanks, and a bridge on his way to the Olympic Stadium. Kei, again possessed by Kiyoko, attempts to fight him but is soon thrown aside. When Tetsuo tears the entire cryonic chamber from underground and opens it, he finds nothing left of the dead Akira except dissected body parts housed in canisters.
Making his way though wreckage of the scene, Kaneda, now armed with a laser cannon, confronts Tetsuo, and they begin to fight. In the middle of the skirmish, the Colonel activates a Satellite Orbital Laser, and its beam severs Tetsuo's arm. An enraged Tetsuo flies into space and brings down the laser satellite.
That night, Tetsuo hides out at the Olympic Stadium, where Kaori finds him screaming in pain. He has fashioned a new, apparently mechanical arm, which seems to throb with a life of its own, circuits weaving into the Olympic throne where Tetsuo sits. The Colonel soon appears, asking Tetsuo to come back to the lab with him, but Tetsuo attacks him with a barrage of flying rocks. When the Colonel shoots back, Tetsuo's arm transforms into a horrific blob that attempts to swallow the Colonel. Kaneda arrives and shoots the monstrous appendage with a laser cannon, causing the blob to receed. Meanwhile, the Espers have arrived at the stadium and seem to be communicating with Akira's remains in the canisters.
Tetsuo and Kaneda fight again. Soon finding Tetsuo targeted in his gunsight, Kaneda hesitates when seeing Tetsuo's body swell into a huge protoplasmic mutation that almost fills the stadium. Tetsuo's gruesome form swallows Kaori, crushing her, and attempts to consume Kaneda, who shoots his way out with the laser cannon.
Suddenly, the canisters shatter and Akira appears, triggering another explosion. Kiyoko touches the Colonel, instantly teleporting him to the safety of a tunnel far from the stadium. The explosive energy sphere starts to absorb Tetsuo, who pleads for Kaneda's help. Kaneda allows himself to be recaptured by Tetsuo, venturing inside the energy sphere with him. In an effort to save Kaneda, the Espers decide to enter as well, intending to use their combined powers to free him. Inside, Kaneda sees the memories of Tetsuo and the Espers. The Espers tell him that Akira will be sending Tetsuo "away" (to an undisclosed destination). Kaneda then seems to be ejected from the inside of Akira's onslaught, awakening outside the explosion upon hearing Kei's voice calling his name, perhaps telepathically communicated by the Espers.
Neo-Tokyo is destroyed by the violently expanding sphere; streets are gutted and flooded by the event. Kaneda survives, as do Kei, Kaisuke, and the Colonel. The former three meet up at the ruins of the Olympic Stadium, wondering if Tetsuo is truly dead. They then ride their bikes across a bridge into the ruined city.
Somewhere, a stylized "big bang" breaches the cosmic darkness and Tetsuo's voice is heard to say, "I am Tetsuo." This may imply that Tetsuo is now a god-like entity residing in his own universe, or that he has become another universe entirely.