Akira (film)

is a 1988 Japanese animated film co-written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo based on his manga of the same name. The film is set in a neon-lit futuristic post-apocalyptic Tokyo in 2019. While most of the character designs and basic settings were directly adapted from the original 2,182 page manga epic, the restructured plot of the movie differs considerably from the print version, pruning much of the last half of the book. Akira is regarded by many critics as a landmark anime film, one that influenced much of the art in the anime world that followed its release. Therefore, Akira is regarded by critics as one of the greatest animated films ever made.

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 super-fluid motion as realized in the film's more than 160,000 animation cels. Notable motifs in the film include youth culture, delinquency, psychic awareness, social unrest, the world's reaction towards a nuclear holocaust and Japan's post-war economic revival. The film also explores a number of psychological and philosophical themes, such as the nature of corruption, the will to power, and the growth from childhood to maturity both in individuals and the human race itself. Elements of Buddhist symbolism are also present in the film.

Plot summary

On July 16, 1988 a mysterious explosion destroyes Tokyo. 31 years later, Neo-Tokyo was built. One night a gang of teenage bikers called the Capsules, led by smug 16-year-old delinquent Shotaro Kaneda, engage a rival gang in a street fight. In the midst of the fight, Tetsuo Shima (Kaneda's close friend) is injured when his bike inexplicably explodes in an attempt to avoid running over an unusual boy. The Capsules arrive at the scene only to see soldiers collecting the boy (who is named Takashi) and Tetsuo while they are brought in for interrogation. They are eventually deemed innocent and Kaneda convinces the interrogators to free Kei, a female rebel along with them. Tetsuo escapes from his captors and after meeting up with his girlfriend, decides to run away far from Neo-Tokyo. The rest of the Capsules catch up with them and Tetsuo and Kaneda enter an argument during which the former reveals a long-hidden resentment to the latter. Tetsuo tries to leave but then has painful headaches and is recaptured. Later that night Kaneda notices Kei, follows her to the Resistance hideout and listens to the group's plans to capture Tetsuo. Meanwhile, the Espers – Takashi, and two other children named Masaru and Kiyoko – concerned about Tetsuo's growing psychic powers, launch an attack on him. He manages to fend them off and makes his way towards their nursery for revenge. At the same time, Kaneda and the Resistance are spotted sneaking into the lab and a shootout ensues.

In the violent onslaught, Kiyoko possesses Kei and leads Kaneda to the nursery, where Tetsuo has already arrived wreaking destruction. Tetsuo then learns about something called Akira and hoping to find a way to end his headaches, heads for Akira's cryogenic chamber beneath Neo-Tokyo's Olympic Stadium. Kei and Kaneda are imprisoned and Kiyoko explains to Kaneda about the origin of their powers and how Akira destroyed Tokyo, after which the two teenagers are freed. Tetsuo eventually makes his way to Akira's chamber and destroys it, finding nothing but several canisters containing human organs. Kaneda then arrives and engages Tetsuo at the ruins of the chamber, during which Tetsuo loses his right arm. He flees to Olympic Stadium where he soon begins to lose control of his powers when his body mutates into an ever-expanding blob of flesh and machinery, forcing The Espers to summon Akira. They succeed and his arrival creates an energy sphere which begins to absorb Tetsuo. He drags Kaneda along with him and The Espers decide to sacrifce themselves to free Kaneda. He is freed and awakes outside Neo-Tokyo upon hearing Kei's voice, where they see the sphere obliterate everything on a catastrophic scale. In the aftermath, Kaneda and Kei survive and drive into the city to start over, wondering if Tetsuo is truly dead. It is revealed that Tetsuo is alive, now as a god-like entity far away in another universe.


  • Akira (アキラ) – The eponymous, principal subject of the story. Akira was a young boy who developed transcendent psionic, nearly god- like abilities when serving as a test subject for secret government ESP experiments in the 1980s. He subsequently lost control of this power and annihilated Tokyo in 1988. After the cataclysmic event, Akira's dead body was recovered and subjected to every test known to modern science, which proved unable to solve the mystery. His remains were placed within a cryogenic chamber underneath the Neo-Tokyo Olympic Stadium, to be entrusted to the study of future generations.
  • Shotaro Kaneda (金田 正太郎 Kaneda Shōtarō) – The anthology's main protagonist, Kaneda is a carefree gang-leader who boasts a custom-modified motorcycle. He and Tetsuo have been best friends since early childhood. He is brash and not above teasing Tetsuo despite feeling affection for him as a younger brother. Upon rescuing Kei, Kaneda becomes involved in the activities of her group of anti-government guerillas in hopes of locating Tetsuo.
  • Tetsuo Shima (島 鉄雄 Shima Tetsuo) – Kaneda's best friend since preschool and the second principal subject of the story's theme. Tetsuo is shown as a black sheep in the gang he and Kaneda are part of, and quietly suffers from a deeply rooted inferiority complex. He admires his friend yet at the same time strongly resents his own reliance upon him. After his psychokinetic abilities manifest, Tetsuo quickly becomes Kaneda's nemesis; he desires Kaneda's motorcycle (a symbol of status and power), and seeks to prove himself supremely powerful, without need of protection. Eventually, his power overwhelms him and the Espers are forced to awaken Akira to stop him.
  • Kei (ケイ) – A young female revolutionary whom Kaneda meets and becomes enamoured with on his quest to find Tetsuo. She is a member of an anti-government faction that Ryu and Nezu are also involved in. Although she does not possess preternatural abilities, Kei is employed by the espers as a type of medium on several occasions.
  • Colonel Shikishima (敷島大佐), also known as simply The Colonel – The head of the ongoing government project which was responsible for inadvertently unleashing Akira's power thirty years earlier.
  • The Espers – Masaru (マサル, codename "Number 27"), Takashi (タカシ, codename "Number 26") and Kiyoko (キヨコ, codename "Number 25") – Akira's fellow psychic test subjects kept in a perpetual yet aging childhood. They exhibit a variety of paranormal powers which they use to influence the course of events to the best of their ability. While individually of lesser strength than Akira or Tetsuo, their combined effort proves decisive in the story's final confrontation.
  • Nezu (根津) – A mole in the government, who is responsible for Takashi/Number 26's kidnapping.
  • Yamagata (山形) – One of the most prominent members of Kaneda's gang. He often derides Tetsuo, which leads to harsh feelings between them that will ultimately seal his fate.
  • Kai (甲斐) – Another member of Kaneda's gang, Kai plays an important supporting role in the eventual battle against Tetsuo. He appears to be close friends with Yamagata given that they remain together when the gang breaks up.
  • Kaori (カオリ) – Tetsuo's girlfriend. She stands by Tetsuo even though he treats her rather harshly sometimes, which ultimately leads to her demise.

Principal cast

Character Japanese English [Streamline] (1989) English [Pioneer] (2001)
Shotaro Kaneda Mitsuo Iwata Cam Clarke (Jimmy Flinders) Johnny Yong Bosch
Tetsuo Shima Nozomu Sasaki Jan Rabson (Stanley Gurd Jr.) Joshua Seth
Kei Mami Koyama Lara Cody (Deanna Morris) Wendee Lee
Ryusaku (Roy) Tesshō Genda Steve Kramer (Drew Thomas) Robert Buchholz (Robert Wicks)
Colonel Shikishima Tarō Ishida Tony Pope (Tony Mozdy) Jamieson K. Price (James Lyon)
Doctor Ōnishi Mizuho Suzuki Watney Held Simon Prescott (Simon Isaacson)
Kaori Yuriko Fuchizaki Barbara Goodson (Barbara Larsen) Michelle Ruff (Georgette Rose)
Yamagata Masaaki Ōkura Tony Pope (Tony Mozdy) Michael Lindsay (Dylan Tully)
Kai Takeshi Kusao Bob Bergen Matthew Mercer (Matt 'Masamune' Miller)
Masaru Kazuhiro Kamifuji Bob Bergen Cody MacKenzie
Takashi Tatsuhiko Nakamura Barbara Goodson (Barbara Larsen) Mona Marshall
Kiyoko Fukue Ito Melora Harte (Marilyn Lane) Sandy Fox
Miyako Kōichi Kitamura Steve Kramer (Drew Thomas) unknown
Nezu Hiroshi Ōtake Tony Pope (Tony Mozdy) Mike Reynolds (Ray Michaels)
Inspector Michihiro Ikemizu Bob Bergen unknown
Mitsuru Kuwata Yukimasa Kishino Bob Bergen unknown
Eiichi Watanabe Tarō Arakawa Jan Rabson (Stanley Gurd Jr.) unknown
Yūji Takeyama Masato Hirano Eddie Frierson (Christopher Mathewson) unknown
Army Kazumi Tanaka Steve Kramer (Drew Thomas) Kurt P. Wimberger
Harukiya bartender Yōsuke Akimoto Bob Bergen John Snyder (Ivan Buckley)


Akira Committee was the name given to a partnership of several major Japanese entertainment companies brought together to realize production of Akira. The group's assembly was necessitated by the unconventionally high budget and ambitious scale of the cinematic project, in order to achieve the desired epic standard equal to Otomo's manga tale.

Akira Committee consisted of:

The film was completed and released in 1988, two years before the manga storyline officially ended in 1990. Otomo had immense difficulty completing the manga; he has stated that the inspiration for its conclusion arose from a conversation that he had with Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1990, but Jodorowsky cannot recall what he said to Otomo.

Katsuhiro Otomo is a big fan of the classic 1950s manga Tetsujin-28 (Ironman-28, known as Gigantor in the US). As a result, his naming conventions match the characters featured in Tetsujin-28: Kaneda shares his name with the protagonist of Tetsujin-28; Colonel Shikishima shares his name with Professor Shikishima of Tetsujin-28., while Tetsuo is named after Shikishima's son Tetsuo Shikishima; Akira's Ryūsaku is named after Tetsujin's Ryūsaku Murasame. In addition, Takashi has a "26" tattooed on his hand which closely resembles the font used in Tetsujin-28. The namesake of the anime, Akira, is the 28th in a line of psychics that the government has developed, the same number as Tetsujin-28.

The sound of Kaneda's bike engine was produced by compositing the engine sound of a 1929 Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a jet engine.

In the early 1990s, Kodansha Ltd. was in negotiation with Sony Pictures to produce a live-action remake of the film. Talk circulated again a decade later, but the project has yet to materialize. Rumors circulated that the project was cancelled in both instances when the projected budget for the film was upwards of $300 million. Recent talks have begun again as Warner Brothers has signed on to produce the movie with Stephen Norrington (writer) and Jon Peters (producer).

Live Action Film

Akira will be developed into two live action films with the first scheduled for a summer 2009 release. Warner Brothers and Apian Way will adapt the two movies from the manga, with each one covering three volumes. Akira will be Ruairi Robinson's directorial debut for a feature film. He was nominated for a short film Oscar in 2002 for Fifty Percent Grey. Gary Whitta is writing the script. Andrew Lazar, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Davisson will produce the film. No announcement has been made regarding the cast.


The original July 16, 1988 release by Toho in Japan set attendance records for an animated film. Fledgling North American distribution company Streamline Pictures soon acquired an existing English-language rendition (originally dubbed for the Hong Kong market) which saw limited release in North American theatres from late 1989 throughout 1990. Streamline is reported to have become the film's distributor when both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg labelled it unmarketable in the U.S. VHS releases included the initial Streamline Video offering (May 1991), later wider distribution by MGM/UA Home Video, and a subtitled edition from Orion Home Video (September 1993). The Criterion Collection released a laserdisc edition in 1993, and Pioneer Entertainment issued a DVD and a VHS with a new English dub in 2001.

In the UK, Akira was theatrically released by ICA Projects on 25 January 1991, and then on video by Island World Communications later that year. The success of this release lead to the creation of Manga Entertainment, who later took over the release. In 2002, Manga released a two-disc DVD featuring the new Pioneer English dub followed in 2004 by another two-disc set containing the original Japanese as well as both the Streamline and Pioneer dubs. This version did not contain standard English subtitles, only closed captioning subtitles. In 2005 Manga Entertainment and Boulevard UMD released Akira on UMD for the Sony PSP (Playstation Portable) using the original Streamline English dub.

In Australia, Akira was theatrically released by Island World Communications distributed by Satellite Entertainment. The original VHS release of Akira started up Manga Entertainment Australia and VHS distribution was handled by Ronin Films and Polygram until 1994 when Siren Entertainment took over all of Manga Entertainment Australia's distribution including Akira under a special license from Polygram, who handled Island's video distribution. Akira was re-released on video in 1994, and again on DVD in 2001 and distributed by Madman Entertainment and The AV Channel. There is no schedule for a blu-ray release of Akira in Australia.

In 1988 Taito released an Akira adventure game for the Famicom. An Akira game for the Super Famicom was cancelled and never released. International Computer Entertainment produced a video game based on Akira for the Amiga and Amiga CD32 in the 1994. To coincide with the DVD release in 2002, Bandai released Akira Psycho Ball, a pinball simulator for the PlayStation 2.


DVD features

The available DVD releases of the movie each have their own particular features, including a 'making of'.

Special Edition

For the 2-disc Region 1 Special Edition DVD:

Disc 1

  • Akira Remastered version
  • Scene Selection
  • English 5.1 Surround
  • Original Japanese 2.0 Surround
  • Subtitles: English
  • Capsule Option - English translation of graffiti and signs

Disc 2

  • Production Report (The Making of Akira)
  • Sound Clip (a documentary on the creation of the soundtrack)
  • Director's Interview (conducted in 1988)
  • Production Materials
  • Restoring Akira, a Documentary
  • Akira Glossary A-Z

UK Collectors Edition

  • Make Your Own' Akira Trailer
  • Production Report - 'Making of Akira' Featurette (English dubbed version)
  • Multiple Choice Quiz whereby correct answers will allow you to gain access to particular parts of the website
  • Stills Gallery

UK Ultimate Edition

Disc 1

Disc 2

Brazilian 20th Anniversary DVD Edition

In 2008, after a seven-year delay from the Region 1 release, film company Focus Filmes released Akira on DVD in Brazil. There are two versions of the release: a custom single-disc version, featuring the remastered version of the film (presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen) plus some extras (original Japanese theatrical trailers and TV spots), and a 2-disc 20th Anniversary Edition, which comes packed in a steel box, featuring, along with the discs, some collector's items, most precisely a T-Shirt, an exclusive poster featuring Kaneda in his motorcycle and illustrated cards depicting imagery of the film. The content of the discs is shown below:

Disc 1

  • Akira Remastered version presented in widescreen (1.85:1)
  • Scene Selection
  • English 5.1 Surround
  • Original Japanese 2.0 Surround
  • Portuguese 2.0 surround
  • Subtitles: English and Portuguese
  • Extras: Original Japanese announcements, TV spots and theatrical trailers.

Disc 2

  • 4:3 version (VHS Port) - featuring the same audio and subtitle options of the remastered version. The video, however, was not restored at all, due to purist fans' demand.
  • Production Report (The Making of Akira)
  • Sound Clip (a documentary on the creation of the soundtrack)
  • Director's Interview (conducted in 1988)
  • Production Materials
  • Restoring Akira, a Documentary
  • Interviews with the English language voice actors (2001 version)
  • Akira Glossary A-Z (in Portuguese)

Blu-ray edition

A Blu-ray edition of the movie was expected to be released in summer of 2007. It has now been delayed to February 24, 2009.


Akira: Original Soundtrack was recorded by Geinō Yamashirogumi (芸能山城組). The music was composed and conducted by musical director Shoji Yamashiro. It features music which was additionally rerecorded for release. "Kaneda", "Battle Against Clown" and "Exodus From the Underground Fortress" are really part of the same song cycle – elements of "Battle" can be heard during the opening bike sequence, for example. The score is generally sequenced in the same order that the music occurs in the film.

A second soundtrack was released featuring the original music without rerecording, but also including sound effects and dialogue from the film; the recording was probably a direct transfer from the film.

Symphonic Suite AKIRA is the same version than Akira: Original Soundtrack, but without the voices and sound effects

Track listing

  1. "Kaneda" – 3:10
  2. "Battle Against Clown" – 3:36
  3. "Winds Over Neo-Tokyo" – 2:48
  4. "Tetsuo" – 10:18
  5. "Doll's Polyphony" – 2:55
  6. "Shohmyoh" – 10:10
  7. "Mutation" – 4:50
  8. "Exodus From the Underground Fortress" – 3:18
  9. "Illusion" – 13:56
  10. "Requiem" – 14:25

Second Soundtrack Track listing

  1. "Kaneda" – 9:56
  2. "Tetsuo 1" – 12:36
  3. "Tetsuo 2" – 12:33
  4. "Akira" – 7:56

Differences between the anime and manga

Although they feature the same characters, premise and themes, the anime and manga versions of the story are quite different. Apart from numerous details of plot, very few scenes or lines play out the same way in both versions.

  • The most significant variation is in the role Akira himself, who in the film adaptation is relegated to backstory and only appears very briefly in the main action, and even then in a limited form, as his remains are revealed to have been dissected for study and stored via cryopreservation under the site designated for the 2020 Tokyo Olympiad. The manga, by comparison, has Akira as a major character from the end of Volume 2 onwards, joining forces with Tetsuo to preside over the city after it is destroyed by Akira.
  • The film is set in the year 2019; the manga is set in the year 2030.
  • The anime cropped the whole of the manga's destructive aftermath scenario caused by the title character, which notably included: the establishment of the Great Tokyo Empire, with Akira serving as its divine emperor and Tetsuo as its operational minister; Tetsuo's partial destruction of the Moon; and the arrival of an American assassin sent to kill Akira.
  • In the manga version, Akira destroys Neo-Tokyo halfway through the story. In the film version, he destroys the city at the very end.
  • In the film, Tetsuo manages to fly into space to destroy SOL, the Japanese military's laser satellite. In the manga, Tetsuo does not destroy SOL, but the Americans have a satellite with the codename FLOYD, which Tetsuo sends crashing down on the American naval fleet.
  • In the film, Mr. Nezu, the Parliament mole, dies of a heart attack, and not by the Colonel's soldiers, as in the manga.
  • Ryu dies after being shot by Nezu in the film, whereas he dies from falling debris in an elevator shaft in the manga.
  • In the film, Kaori, Tetsuo's girlfriend, is crushed to death inside Tetsuo's grotesque, swelling, and mutating body; in the manga version, she meets a less gruesome fate when she is shot by Tetsuo's lead henchman.
  • The Doctor, the Colonel's scientific advisor, is crushed to death in the movie when his mobile laboratory collapses; in the manga, he is frozen to death.
  • Lady Miyako, an esper who heads a temple in the manga, is turned into a fanatical follower of Tetsuo in the film, and then hit by a sliding vehicle when Tetsuo destroys a bridge; in the manga, she dies while helping Kei face off against Tetsuo. In the manga she is a major character, in the anime she is a 'throwaway' character. Also, both the 1989 Streamline English dub and remastered versions of the film portray Lady Miyako as a male.
  • In the manga, Tetsuo becomes the leader of the Clown gang, ousting Joker from the position. Joker later joins forces with his former enemies Kaneda and Kai in attacking Tetsuo. In the movie, Tetsuo does not become involved with the Clowns and Joker does not play a role in the film beyond his initial skirmish with Kaneda.
  • Chiyoko, an important ally of Kei and Ryu and a major supporting character in the manga, is completely absent from the film.
  • In the manga, Akira destroys Tokyo in the year 1982 (1992 in the western editions), as opposed to the year 1988 in the film.
  • In the film Kai and Yamagata meet Tetsuo in the bar and Tetsuo kills Yama offscreen, Kai later reports this to Kaneda. In the manga Tetsuo uses his power to crush then explode the back of Yamagata's skull.
  • Kaori is not in the manga until the fourth volume, she attempts to get pills from Tetsuo to save her father but instead stays with him and Akira. In the film she is, and has been, Tetsuo's girlfriend.
  • Tetsuo's character design is slightly different in the manga. Instead of boots and a sleeveless shirt, he keeps the slippers from the hospital and completely lacks a shirt. He also keeps his robotic arm obscured behind his cape. In the Anime Tetsuo's right arm is shot off, while in the American translation of the manga it is his left. This is due to the American version being mirrored for easier reading. Furthermore, Tetsuo's Hair goes from a pitch black to a light brown, then finally to a whiteish-grey.
  • Tetsuo is not designated "Number 41" in the film, which is a piece of information in the manga to which frequent mention is made.

Katsuhiro Otomo decried his fame and said that his conclusion of Akira was false in both the Japanese and American editions, and that he could never truly finish his epic. Nevertheless, Akira is widely considered a masterpiece of graphic storytelling.

Critical reception

Roger Ebert selected Akira as his "Video Pick of the Week" in 1989 on Siskel & Ebert and the Movies. For its wider 2001 release, he gave the film "Thumbs Up". As of September 2008, the film has an 88% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Source Reviewer Grade or score Notes
Anime News Network Bamboo Dong Overall (dub): A
Overall (sub): A-
DVD/Movie review of Limited Edition Metal DVD Case
AnimeOnDVD Chris Beveridge Content: A
Audio: A+
Video: N/A
Packaging: A+
Menus: A+
Extras: A+
DVD/Movie review of Special Edition
THEM Anime Reviews Raphael See 4 out of 5 Movie review (1 of 2 reviews)

References in other media

Akira has been referenced in popular culture many times, perhaps owing to its great international popularity. Clips of the film are used in the music video for Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson's 1995 song "Scream". In the video for Kanye West's 2007 single "Stronger" pays homage to Akira by reenacting scenes using CGI.. The phrase "you know we aren't meant to exist in the outside world", is used in the song "Outside World" by Sunbeam.

The Philadelphia based jam band The Disco Biscuits created an improvised score to the film during the third set of their epic New Year's Eve 1999 concert at the Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The film was projected onto a screen facing the crowd while the band watched on monitors and provided the completely improvised score.

In the video game The King of Fighters, the character K9999 is inspired by Tetsuo. Nozomu Sasaki, the Japanese voice actor who played Tetsuo in the film, also did the voice of K9999 in the video game.

Alex Jaegar of Industrial Light and Magic has said that the Akira-class starship from Star Trek, which he designed, was named for the film.

The stop motion animation TV show Robot Chicken has made numerous references to Akira in skits such as Tetsuo! and A Very Dragon Ball Z Christmas, in which Tetsuo appears briefly and Mrs. Claus transforms into a gigantic fleshy blob.

In British sitcom Spaced "Daisy reminds Tim that he promised to take her out to the cinema to see anime classic Akira. Tim says she can replicate the experience by watching it on video and sitting near the screen.

Kaneda's bike is constantly referenced in popular media. In the animated TV show "the Grim Adventures Of Billy And Mandy" Mandy rode a motorcycle resembling Kaneda's to scold Billy while he rampages through Tokyo as an oversized superhero. In the psygnosis PC and Playstation One game "G-Police" Kaneda's motorcycle can be seen as one of the many futuristic civilian cars driving along the cityscape.

See also


External links

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