The end of the world was only the beginning
Oh the nostalgia that comes out of this one. My roots back into Japanese animation actually reaches all the way back to this very movie, shown once on a Saturday morning before the Sci Fi channel became SyFy. This was the first of the batch I saw, and admittedly I cam in mid way through the adventure and was so lost I didn't finish watching it, but the seeds were planted and I tuned in for many other shows in that timeline, some of which would go on to become my favorite movies, hands down. Years later, I came back to this rather violent and strange tale - smartly watching it from the beginning to the end that time. Tell you what, the only way to watch Akira is from start to finish - otherwise be prepared to not get the most out of it.
Our story starts off showing us a huge explosion, the likes of which we would normally associate with an atomic bomb. Flash-forward to Tokyo 2019, the city has been rebuilt and all the kids seem to be punks. Kaneda leads a gang of street bikers, and things start getting interesting when him and the boys go out after a rival gang called The Clowns. Right off the bat, we are introduced to the fact that this story will end up being brutal, with folks being knocked off bikes and run over, a bit of broken bones and blood between rivals. Right as things really start to get interesting after Kaneda and his souped up motorcycle that looks like it belongs in the future win a bout of chicken with the rival Clown leader, the cops show up.
Action cuts to another story - one that's more complex than that of Kaneda and friends. A man is hustling off with a kid, being chased and presumably injured by the way he holds himself. After killing two chasing dogs, the man stumbles into a rather inconvenient place right between cops and a street full of rioting protesters. It's not long till his decisions end up getting him killed, and we are introduced to the more supernatural element of the story. The kid, you see, is no ordinary kid. He's a test subject who has some rather impressive mental powers - such things as teleporting away, and unleashing a pretty mean psychic blast that shatters nearby windows as well as severs part of a building. Again, right as things are getting interesting, we cut away and back to the other action.
Kaneda and crew are still pursuing the Clowns, and after a bit of anti-fire foam in a tunnel Tetsuo (who is almost like a younger brother to Kaneda) ends up taking the lead in the pursuit and verily becomes pretty much the only member involved for a time. Tetsuo manages to take down the remaining clown (after one exits early and ends up exploding on something), but after his direction is put back on the road finds himself about to run over the same strange kid we just saw a minute ago - bad news for poor Tetsuo. Slamming into a wall of psychic force cause some severe damage to his body and obliterates his bike, and as the kid is starting to walk away Kaneda and gang show up. Before anything can be done to discover what happened, the military shows up and whisks the kid and Tetsuo away, leaving Kaneda and crew for the cops.
From there in, things start getting more heavy, with a plethora of ways you could take what you are watching for meaning. The main plot as far as Kaneda is concerned is to find and save his buddy Tetsuo. Tetsuo finds himself awaking with all sorts of psychic powers that grow stronger over time, and in turn gets a bit of an attitude problem and a ridiculous body count, which prompts confrontation between him and Kaneda. Meanwhile, a game of political corruption and coups are playing off in the background as the General (head of the project that gave Tetsuo these powers) tries to convince the corrupt politicians that something must be done about these powers before it's to late. Yet even further still is the story of the "resistance," who are trying to expose everything the General has been doing without realizing fully that they are nothing but pawns to the greedy politicians they work with.
The animation is pretty darn smooth, and it holds up rather well considering it's age. It has since had a bit of remastering done to it, so it's possible that besides the original Japanese voice actors one can also find two separate English audio dubs as well now. The soundtrack manages to be quite effective, and at times contains both energy and a strange peacefulness to it that feels almost like a blending of new and old. The opening song, for instance, would be something I would think of listening to to relax if it weren't for the "Kaneda, Tetsuo" lines choir-ed in. If there is one flaw someone could find in audio, it's the nearly absurd number of times we get those two main characters yelling their names at each other - find someone who's watched the movie and one of the first things they will say about it is most likely "Tetsuoooooooooooooooo!"
The violence is pretty heavy and unforgiving - to the extent that we see bits of people dripping from ceilings after Tetsuo does starts using his psychic abilities for his own rage-motivated purposes. There is also a brief spat of nudity in there, a part which if nothing else really helps cement how twisted 2019 post WWIII Tokyo has gotten. People get frisky in the streets, kids have no respect for anything, gangs are just roaming around like they own the place, rioters are everywhere, and the government is secretly messing with things that it just doesn't comprehend - something that inevitably leads to it's own downfall. It's a rather bleak look at the future, but it's also not something that seems so ridiculous as time goes on and we see for ourselves just how the world is proceeding (and I don't just mean in Tokyo).
We get to see here a couple of staple ideas in the science fiction genre as well, particularly the science gone wrong trope. Humans trying to find the ultimate energy in turn bringing it down on themselves and turning it into a destructive force. We also get to see an almost noble take on responsibility, when Kaneda takes it upon himself to oppose Tetsuo and make him pay for all the things that he's done with his new found power. There's a bit of a small romance plot in there in a few different occasions, but they are never really developed outside of face value either. We could also touch on the whole misuse of power and prevalence of greed, but those are rather punch you in the face obvious I feel.
All in all, even with a complete watching some people may end up getting confused by this - it's a weird movie. I don't really feel that confused, and most people I know generally aren't that confused about most of it after a beginning to end watch, or a second watch (the "after the what the heck is happening" watch) to iron out the main ideas of what they are watching. It's violent and gritty in a futuristic way, but its also something that's relatable in a strange way. It's not really for folks who aren't a fan of anime, as it is one after all, but if you can handle weirdness and a bit of violence it may well be worth watching for the visual experience.