Popular opinion of Akira says that it is one of if not the best anime film ever produced. While there is some obvious appeal to that and a good case for it at least being one of the most important films, earning anime recognition on an international stage and helping create the 90s anime boom in the West, there is a counter opinion that isn’t unpopular. A lot of critics and fans, particularly those more engrossed in older anime, say that the movie lets down its source material.
The original Akira manga is six dense volumes long, much more than can actually fit in a 125 minute film. Because of this, most of the original content is left out, and the dissenters say the movie is stitched together and poorly paced. As for myself; I haven’t finished reading the manga yet, but yeah, I do find the 1988 movie confusing and not particularly good because of that.
Which is why I find it interesting to think about what could have happened if Akira had just been made some years later. Specifically, eight years. Why eight? Well…
Okay, try to explain the story, and particularly the ending, of Akira as if you were telling someone else about it. Chances are, if they know a little about anime history, they’ll say, “sounds like some post-Eva shit.” And they’d be right. Scientifically spawned pseudo-deities restructuring reality sounds a LOT like post-Eva shit, because in 1995 Neon Genesis Evangelion changed TV anime in a way even the hyperbolics have yet to adequately overstate. “Eva is a big deal” is the anime critic equivalent of “The sky is blue.” It’s just a universally recognized and agreed upon fact.
Pre-Eva TV anime wasn’t thought capable of handling big themes or complex narratives. Weirdly contrived and confusing plots, sure, just look at Dragon Ball Z (I’m done trying to understand Toriyama’s conception of multiverse theory, celestial-political tyranny, and whatever the hell Mr. Popo is!). But a depiction of metaphysically realized postmodern existentialism, ie this:
Or basically Google image search “evangelion” and filter out the hentai, and about 50% of the results will be what I’m talking about. The other 50% will still be hentai, because those filters can only do so much.
Yeah, you wouldn’t find that on TV anime back then. However, the same doesn’t apply to anime movies. Which is why Akira, in 1988, seven years before Eva, got the big screen, even if it was to its own detriment.
But if Akira hadn’t come out until the late 90s, I think it would be different. It would have run at least a 13 episode season, and maybe even a 26 episode double season (though that would probably be stretch, and the director may have to add the most hilariously out of place beach filler episode ever). It would have room to stretch its wings, and would probably be a more beloved piece among otaku today for it. And only among otaku.
If Akira were a TV anime, or even a multi-episode OVA, there’s no way it would have had the impact it did. It wouldn’t have gotten the same awards and accolades it could only get as a movie. It wouldn’t have played at international film festivals, or be noticed by movie-buffs world-wide. And Ghost in the Shell would have already taken its novelty as that big, impressive, sci-fi anime.
That’s the funny thing about this whole situation. What would have made Akira much better would also have made it have none of the influence it did.
I think the big reason we remember Akira today isn’t because it’s a particularly good movie. We remember it because it was such a big deal. For otaku outside Japan, it was probably a bigger deal than Evangelion. So I started this on a question, but I’d like to end on another. Would we remember Akira so well if it had been adapted into a niche 1996 TV anime instead? And which one would be more valuable?
Don’t Lose Your Way