Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 animated feature film Akira is a masterpiece of animation. When it was released its visuals were unlike anything seen in anime before due to the superb artwork and incredible detail that went into creating 2019 Neo-Tokyo — but how does it look 20 years on in high definition?
Well, it's safe to say that Akira has aged gracefully. Its story is still hard to beat and the future Otomo has created is just amazing, even in 2010. Everything is just so chock-full of detail, from the animation to the story. The film has been completely restored in full 1080p high definition and it's presented in 16:9 widescreen. The colors are as clear and vibrant as ever, meaning Neo-Tokyo really pops and looks as if it has a real energy to it.
The way the film shows off changes in light and shadow is a nice touch that adds that extra bit of detail and realism. I've re-watched shows from the early '90s, like Tekkaman Blade, on DVD and they show their age with the colors losing their definition, a lot of graininess seeping into the image, and the animation feels like it's almost slowed down. Akira doesn't suffer from any of those problems. The bike gang chase scene at the start is a standout moment as it zips along at a cracking pace with the animation refusing to slow down for a second while all the explosions and chaos just look gorgeous.
The film also benefits from having a True HD soundtrack presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and Japanese. The dialogue is clear and crisp, meaning that amongst all the chaos of Neo-Tokyo the characters are still easy to hear and understand. The film's soundtrack also sounds excellent in HD. The songs are a perfect accompaniment to their place in the film and they add real atmosphere and energy. Also, unlike Vexille, where the guns sounded flat and kind of wimpy, the guns in Akira sound great. You can hear bullets ricocheting off of things and shots ring out properly and they just sound deadly. The sound effects on explosions, which there are a lot of, also sound excellent and there is actually a good amount of variety in the effects used.
Everything in Akira just sounds so natural and real. Things aren't so loud that they overpower the viewer; they are at the right level to really draw you into the world of Akira, they make it feel alive. The one issue I had was the English dubbing did not lip-sync well at all. Usually anime is great when it comes to dubbing but in Akira it was way off and after almost two hours it really started to get annoying.
While Akira the film transferred incredibly well to high definition, the lack of special features is really disappointing. The Madman Entertainment copy I reviewed came with a rather interesting production booklet which tells you why Akira sounds so incredible, deals with the film's legacy, and has a few storyboards. It's a nice little book but I would have preferred some sort of on-disc special features, of which Akira has none. With no special features, the film has no menu, just a screen where you select English or Japanese. It was quite an odd thing to see and this is probably the first film I've watched which did not have a full menu screen. You'd think with no menu the film would start quickly but it doesn't because a ridiculous number of production companies have their little five-second logo animation play at the start of the film.
Akira is a masterpiece of anime cinema. It's fitting that such a landmark film should have such a great transfer to high definition. If it wasn't for the lack of special features then this would be the perfect Akira experience. As it is it's a superb film which looks and sounds amazing but it just needed to be paired with some cooler stuff.