Akira changed the game for anime with Western audiences

With Akira being one of my favorite classics and recently showing the film to some close friends of mine, it only seemed right to do a little digging and discuss why aspects of Akira opened up the eyes of anime fans during its time. The anime movie is not an easy movie to watch. In fact, it’s quite heavy and makes you think twice about the content. (Those of you who have seen it obviously know that.) And the reason why it’s the opposite of fun and fruitful is what makes it such a staple regarding anime at the time. So let’s dig a little deeper and talk about why Akira opened up a new path for a genre, especially (and more focused towards) the Western side of the world.

First things first, if you have yet to see Akira, I highly recommend watching it. The article you’re about to read holds no spoilers, and I hope that if you haven’t seen it yet that reading this while inspire you to do so a little. It’s a film that changed me and made me look at anime much differently, and I can assure you it’s the same for most people. After watching, there’s a guarantee you’ll probably have to do some Reddit browsing and YouTube analysis videos. (We really need to do something like that! What do you think?) Because it is quite mysterious and deep. There’s almost always something you miss out on the first time you watch it. And it’s cool to dissect it at the end and pick up on all its hidden meanings and messages.

The Story

The movie takes place in 2019 neo-Tokyo and follows the story of a high school biker gang called The Capsules. When one of the members, Tetsuo Shima, comes into contact with a rather unusual, little boy, things rapidly change for the once notorious biker boy. We then follow along in his story to figure himself out a little more and answer some questions that develop within the first five minutes of watching.

Anime up until Akira’s release in 1988 had solely been focused towards children, especially that of Western audiences. Although it was not subjected to just kids, it was definitely targeted in that direction. Akira, however, was a movie for anything but. With boobs, blood, and lots more, it was an anime and movie for a more mature audience. This allowed a new target demographic and paved the way for anime to be more diverse and open to audiences other than children. It allowed anime to become grittier and bloodier and gave us food for thought.

A Pioneer of Its Time

Not only was it unique in ways like that, but the production of the anime in general despite the story was something new for human eyes. It was different, it stood out, and it fully captured the feel of 2019 neo-Tokyo. The colors stood out (327 were used and 50 were created just for the movie), and the music was different. The animation alone held more detail in one scene than I have ever seen in another anime before. The cityscapes pay such close attention to detail it’s unreal. It was also the first time the mouths fully moved when the characters spoke, due to the fact the entire script was pre-recorded. They were able to match up the animation to the dialogue created because it existed before the movie did. It might not seem significant now, but for 1988? Damn.

Akira’s Music

The music for the film was so different. Not to mention the use for it as well. There were times where the movie fell completely silent, and Akira didn’t need music to explain itself or fill gaps. And when there was music, it hit you. It was eerie and it stood out, making it resonate with you. After watching the film, I find myself thinking about the soundtrack constantly for a few days. It sits with me, and I can assume it does the same for other people. This one specifically sticks with me, especially around 4-minute mark.

And you can listen to the full soundtrack here:

But Akira wasn’t about just the style, the music, or the new audience it grew. Akira’s story was different, it was twisted, unusual, and deep. It made you uncomfortable for all the right reasons. The film showed the Western community that anime was more than jumping around and being shallow. It showcased that anime as a whole could dig much deeper than surface levels, and opened up the eyes of Western audiences to take anime more seriously.

Akira’s Influence

It inspired the whole genre of that time. Weird, sci-fi, psychological anime hadn’t been done before – at least not to that extent. And bringing it to the Western side of the world opened doors for other anime to take the same course. It brought light to a story that hadn’t been washed, rinsed, and repeated a million times. It stood out more than anything I have personally watched before the film. After Akira, things like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Monster were released, and they both followed the path of making you think outside the box, something Akira did first.

Throughout the years, Akira has inspired multiple people and movies/shows. Films like Inception and TV shows like Stranger Things have huge relations to the 1988 masterpiece. Artists like Michael Jackson and Kanye West have borrowed inspiration from the film.

Akira Inspired Kanye West

“He was always inspired by Akira,” Hype Williams tells SOHH (via Dazed) about West. The director worked with the rapper in the “Stronger” music video. “There was a point where we really dove in and wound up filming parts of that movie for the video, but we decided to back off it and do something a little more abstract for the final version. So originally it went from inspired by – to us really diving into that world and giving him a piece of the story and that kind of transmuted into the video that’s out now.”

Akira to this day still continues to inspire and change the way we think about anime as a genre. It stands out in a multitude of ways, whether it be animation, story, or music. It became a phenomenon and still remains to be one. It’s definitely an anime I can’t go without showing my friends who have yet to see it. Akira is and was a foundation for anime – it’s a classic after all. And it’s a must watch.  

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