‘Akira’ is Frequently Cited as Influential. Why is That?

By  · Published on April 3rd, 2017

Almost thirty years later, the tremors of Akira can still be felt across the world. The quintessential anime film that not only is the pinnacle of its genre but continues to inspire artists worldwide even to this day. There have been numerous attempts to get a live-action film off the ground, the latest with Get Out director Jordan Peele attached. With any luck, the poor returns on Ghost in the Shell will put this one on the shelf. There is little chance that Hollywood would be able to get Akira right, for all the reasons that make it so great. Akira is still a landmark and continues to shine as a titan of animation.

For those unfamiliar with Akira, it takes place thirty-one years after an explosion led to the start of World War III. Tokyo is rebuilt as Neo Tokyo and in 2019, a young motorcycle gang gets into quite the mess. Shotaro Kaneda leads the group of hoodlums, even if Tetsuo Shima is desperate to get out of his shadow. When injured in a motorcycle accident Tetsuo is taken by the government, who then decides to use him as their newest test subject. Meanwhile, there is a terrorist group that wants to find the secrets of the one known as Akira and bring their own ideals to the government.

There is certainly a lot going on in Akira and similar to something like Ghost in the Shell, it might take more than one viewing to fully appreciate. Regardless of whether or not you grasp the entirety of the plot, there is no denying the level of artistry on display. Akira was made during the Cel animation days, meaning there were no computers that created the look of the feature. Instead, there were extremely detailed paintings layered upon one another, with the care taken in each of these paintings to the extreme. MoviePilot looked at a great example of this layering of the Foreground, Middle ground, and Background.

When Akira wasn’t showing its extremely detailed animation, it was also reveling in its usage of negative space and lighting. The feature uses the negative space to highlight much of its action or vitally important sequences. The lighting heightens the effect and every frame is lovingly lighted. Light could be considered a character of the film as it even devours Neo Tokyo during the finale. Nerdwriter has a terrific video going into even more detail of how the lighting in Akira is a step above other efforts.

Even audiences in the West could feel the earth-shattering reverberations of Akira. Anime had briefly entered American markets with such imports as Speed Racer, but none had quite the effect of Akira. The film was distributed on bootlegged VHS tapes throughout colleges and once American audiences witnessed the film, they were hungry for more anime than ever. Even more exciting than just the beautiful animation or fascinating story; Akira was proof that animation wasn’t just for children.

The amount of money thrown at Akira was unheard of for a Japanese animated film. According to Uproxx, a total of $10 million was used and was the record for the most expensive anime film for quite some time. Even if the production committee was willing to spend that much money, they still weren’t able to entice directors from the West to tackle the project. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were offered the chance to bring the property to Western audiences, but they believed it just wouldn’t suit Americans.

That didn’t stop Akira from being monstrously successful worldwide. It has influenced countless musicians as well. Michael Jackson included a clip of Tetsuo falling from a skyscraper at the end of his music video for “Scream.” Kanye West has repeatedly cited the film as one of his favorites.

He even played homage to it in his music video for "Stronger." He includes imagery that is similar to Tetsuo being examined, the signature motorcycles from the beginning of the film, and mirrors Tetsuo escaping the hospital using telekinesis.

Comics, both from the East and West, benefited greatly from the existence of Akira as well. Manga, the Japanese form of American comic books, really started to get get a foothold in America with the release of Akira. The manga release of Akira, featuring the artwork of writer/artist Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film, is a staple of the genre. Without its influence, the manga industry in America would certainly not exist in the fashion it does today.

Manga wasn’t the only form of comic books to be influenced by Akira. Current comics are still being inspired by the film. Jeff Lemire, the writer of the Image Comics series Descender, has certainly brought some ideas into his work. Although his series features stories of robots and robot hunters in a dystopian society, he was struck by the cinematic nature of Akira. ComicsAlliance talked to Motor Crush creators Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr who also cited Akira as an influence.

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Image Comics

Not only did Akira help shape some of our music and comic books, but its effect can also still be felt in current films as well. Feature films such as Midnight Special, Chronicle, and Looper were all directly influenced. Rian Johnson said as much in a Reddit AMA, saying that the manga was a huge inspiration. According to Mental Floss, both Looper and Akira feature a child whose psychokinetic abilities will eventually turn them into a monster. It also opened the door for plenty more adult anime television shows and features, including Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Akira continues to shape and influence artists across all forms of media. Countless artists from movies, music, and comics have all been taken in by the neon glow of Neo Tokyo. Whether or not the film does get a live-action adaptation, there is something about Otomo’s creation that has revolutionized anime and manga since its creation. It is even a bit of a prophet since it predicted the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

It remains one of the most important exports of Japanese cinema ever and earns its reputation among Rashomon and Tokyo Story as an extraordinarily influential work. Just as when the film ends with Akira creating another plane of existence, the film and manga have created their own new universe. Science Fiction has never been the same.

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News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.