Akira isn’t just a movie—it’s the genesis of a genre.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark cyberpunk classic obliterated the boundaries of feature-length animation and forced the world to look into the future. The film shattered traditional thinking and led the way for more stories to be dreamed into our reality. Akira’s influence is everywhere.
As part of Funimation’s 25th anniversary celebration (and because this year lines up with the film’s 2019 setting), we’re diving headfirst into the movie that left a lasting impression on media and pop culture, and how its legacy affected generations of anime and non-anime fans alike.
The Man, the Manga, and the Making-Of
The making of Akira was slow and steady. Humble beginnings in combination with nurturing his own unique style sent creator Katsuhiro Otomo on his creative path. He had a long list of personal inspirations for Akira ranging from famed feature films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Exorcist, to shounen manga from his childhood like Tetsujin 28-go.
Even Japan’s involvement in World War II influenced his work. But what ultimately set Akira apart from other manga of the late 70s was the care and attention that went into it.
Akira was ahead of the curve not simply because science fiction was an underutilized genre at the time, but because Otomo’s art style was well beyond “traditional” manga illustration. When the chance to adapt Akira to film was brought up, maintaining the quality Otomo put forth was top priority.
Full-page spreads highlighting the tiniest background details just as beautifully as the foreground action had to remain intact between mediums. And because of that due diligence, Akira blew the animation standard out of the water with over 150,000 animation cels, pre-scored dialogue, and Katsuhiro Otomo’s input and original story at its core.
Akira in the West
The film did well enough in Japan, but when Western audiences got hold of it is when things really took off. Fans were over the moon about Akira’s dark, gritty take on science fiction and cyberpunk. To some, the movie wasn’t impactful solely because of the plot or story, but because Akira was like a conveyor belt of emotion.
Each scene piled on more and more feeling than the last. Fans who fell in love with the film craved it. There wasn’t much like Akira out there because the quality was unmatched, and its uniquely Japanese storyline was relatively new to the West.
That’s why Akira was one of a kind—and why it continues to be one of a kind even today.
Back in 1988, Akira came from a future way cooler than fans had ever seen—and yet, 31 years later, the film still holds onto that dystopian mystique. It left a lasting impression on both common fans and on creators as well. A wide range of Western media came into being because of Akira. The film Looper features a kid with psychic powers—and he even has a similar haircut to Akira.
Kanye West’s Stronger music video follows Akira’s aesthetic while highlighting the movie’s most popular scenes with Kanye as the focus. Stranger Things was also influenced by Akira with its cast of characters joining forces to save their psychic friend. Even fashion designers got in on the action with jackets and streetwear drawing from the film’s famous style.
Despite the many references, homages, and spiritual successors, there’s still one last bastion under construction—a live-action version of the film. The movie’s been in limbo for quite some time, but production has finally kicked off! And for a film like Akira, it makes sense to take it slow. To capture the raw, hard-boiled, and unparalleled emotional nature that the original Akira brought to the table, they’ll need time, talent, and a bit of luck.
We’re excited to see what comes of this Western adaptation and wish them all the best!
Akira in All of Us
Without Kaneda and Tetsuo, without mixing psionics and cyberpunk, and without that iconic motorcycle, our world would be a far less exciting place. But the manga became the movie, and the movie became a phenomenon that the world noticed.
If you can’t see it in the streets—if you can’t feel it crawling around inside your head—then you have yet to be initiated. So… what are you waiting for?