Review: The epic that taught us anime could be great gets even greater as Akira goes Blu-ray

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Mike Toole
Dec 14, 2012

We're a decade past the time when hits like Pokemon and Dragonball Z helped make Japanese animation a smash mainstream phenomenon, so it's gotten pretty easy to forget some of the older classics. We're talking about the real cornerstones of the medium, the works of animation genius that established a handful of quirky Tokyo film and TV animation houses as artistic and storytelling pioneers.

Foremost among these oft-neglected classics is Akira, an electrifying science fiction fable from 1988. Yep, that's more than 20 years ago. Time flies, huh?

Akira is often remembered for its importance in establishing anime as a mature, sophisticated storytelling medium going way beyond just presenting a startling tale of youthful rebellion and corruption in a bombed-out future Tokyo. It showcases the sheer visual potential of the animation medium in a way that very, very few films have; it's a movie bursting with arresting images and luster (and cool motorbikes).

But why am I bringing up Akira? Well, it's pretty simple: You can now nab this beauty of a movie on Blu-ray. Granted, Akira's DVD release—now sadly out of print—benefited from a video remaster and re-recorded English audio. It took a movie badly in need of a makeover and made it pretty again. But that DVD's gotten scarce, and even if you picked it up, there are other reasons to give Akira another look.

The film's producers have gone back to the well and created an even fresher transfer for this new high-definition release. Akira is a revelation in 1080p, exploding with color and movement. It seriously has never looked this good. The original Japanese audio is also a technical highlight: It is gorgeous to hear and totally uncompressed. It's also packed with extra documentaries and storyboards and all of the little things we've come to love about movies on optical media. It's also important to note that the English audio features the newer dubbed version, which is notable for its accurate translation and lack of hilarious one-liners from the old theatrical dub ("Men, we're going to the Olympics!").

It's high time that anime fans witness this film in its full glory. Akira used to be a staple of anime—just part of the curriculum, you know? But decades after its arrival, a lot of younger anime fans don't know that much about it. It's time to take them to school with this Blu-ray release—if you hunt carefully, you might even find Bandai Entertainment's initial version, which includes a slipcase and nifty booklet. Time to rediscover an anime classic; you can start right here in Neo-Tokyo.