Akira (1988)
Pioneer Entertainment
Extras: Production Report, Sound Production Featurette, Interviews, Image Gallery, Glossary, Teasers and Trailers

"Akira" is a landmark in Japanese animation. A milestone that has made history and redefined the genre and animation films in general. Its mature theme, the epic animation, the futuristic world, the action and violence depicted and the explosive storyline have immediately catapulted "Akira" into the Olympus of animated feature films. Since the inception of DVD, fans have been hoping to see a DVD version of the film, but only now, Pioneer Entertainment is releasing it. It was well worth the wait, however, as you will soon see. Fully restored and remastered, the film is coming in two versions. A DVD that features only the movie itself, and a 2-disc limited Special Edition that comes in a metal case, offering the film, along with a number of very exciting supplements. Eagerly we took a look at this acclaimed release.

Tetsuo and Kaneda are childhood friends and with their motorcycle gang they stumble across a military operation that is set out to locate and retrieve an escaped science experiment. But while getting close to the borderlines, the military captures Tetsuo and uses him as a lab rat. They conduct experiments on him that open his mind, to the point that he can suddenly use his psychic powers to manipulate and destroy others. When Tetsuo realizes the power that lurks within him, he has increasing difficulties, controlling these powers and before long they flare up uncontrollably as Tetsuo lashes out at the world that oppressed him.

"Akira" is not an easily approachable film and if you plan to use this movie as an entrance into the Japanese animation genre, be forewarned. The dark nature, the furious editing, the style and story are hard to follow at first and it may take repeated viewings to fully understand what is going on in the film. Once the viewer is familiar with the story however, suddenly a number of new elements come into play, as "Akira" reveals its subtext, its real intentions and a style of storytelling that is unparalleled. Combined with the breathtaking animation and the incredibly detailed backgrounds, "Akira" is well-deservedly hailed as a landmark in the genre.

The first disc of the set contains a newly restored <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer of the film in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. <$THX,THX>-certified and entirely remastered and cleaned-up, the transfer is meticulous and entirely free of blemishes or speckles. The transfer is also breathtakingly clear and reveals a staggering amount of detail despite the fact that some light grain is evident on occasion. The colors are powerfully rendered, bringing out the best of the atmospheric backgrounds and the gigantic sprawls, although pure reds appear somewhat oversaturated. Blacks are absolutely solid and deep, giving the image remarkable visual depth and shadows are always finely delineated, even in the murky urban scenes where directional light is used to basically shadow-out certain parts of the screen. Generally no edge-enhancement is evident in the transfer, but there are a handful of shots were it has sneaked into the transfer, creating visible ringing artifacts. But for the rest, the animation is just as it was originally designed with pencil strokes that are sometimes brutally contrasted, or finely graded at others. The compression is also flawless and no hint of compression artifacting is visible – no question a result of the extremely high bitrate utilized with this video presentation. Never has "Akira" looked anything like this. The level of detail and the color reproduction are absolutely amazing!

The film comes with the original Japanese <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio track as well as a newly remixed <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track in English, to which the disc defaults upon insertion. Fans of the original Japanese language track are treated to a good presentation, although the audio is not nearly as refined as the new Dolby Digital mix and more importantly sounds slightly harsh, clearly dating the film to the 80s. Although I am typically not a fan of dubs, in this case, the English track is definitely worth a try. It may also be interesting for you to know that a completely new dub of the movie has been created for this release, so even if you are familiar with previous English versions of the film you should check out the new language track. With a gruesome dynamic range, it puts some serious power behind the pictures, as the thunderous soundtrack, vast explosions, frenetic motorcycle races and the film’s other action elements make their furious appearance. At the same time the frequency response is immaculate. The bass response is very good with an extension that goes very low. At the same time, the high ends are always clear and pleasant, never creating a harsh or shrill presentation. Overall, the new soundtrack for "Akira" shows a sophistication that is typically found in new theatrical productions only, and even there I have heard worse! Don’t dismiss the English track simply because it is a dub.

On the second disc, the Special Edition of "Akira" contains a number of interesting supplements, such as the "Akira Production Report." It is a documentary from 1988 taking you behind the scenes of the film’s production, but also explains some of the film’s background and its characters. It takes you inside the "Akira" animation studios and allows viewers to look over the shoulders of the artists as they work on the film. But also voice recording and the music is touched upon in the 48-minute documentary, making it a well-rounded addition to the release.

"Akira Sound Clip" is a 20-minute featurette on the making of the soundtrack for the film. Also full of behind-the-scenes footage, it offers a good look into the making of this important part of the film and how scoring it was approached. Since most of the featurette is made up of clips from the film, it is more on the promotional side, but nonetheless interesting and full of information – if only on ethnic instruments.

An interview with director Katsushiro Otomo is also part of the release. Like most other features on the release, it is in Japanese with English subtitles. Otomo talks extensively about the origins of "Akira" both as a comic book and eventually as an animated feature film. The interview is full of valuable information that especially fans of the film and Japanese animation in general will love. It digs deep into the comic culture and brings out a lot of the incentives and ideal Otomo was applying when creating "Akira."

An image gallery with over 4,500 images is also part of the release, and the majority of these images are made up by the original storyboards from the film. But also pre-production art, concept sketches, production art, unused backgrounds, character designs, comic book covers, posters and countless other images can be found in this extensive gallery.

Four trailers and a TV Spot can be found in another section on this disc. All of them are in Japanese and presented in <$PS,widescreen>.

If you want to learn more about the glorious resurrection of "Akira" for this DVD, three featurettes take you behind the scenes of the film’s restoration. In interviews it is revealed how the video transfer has been created from a new interpositive, converted into a high definition master. It is surprisingly technical, but at the same time gives viewers an intimate look at the procedures involved and hence gives viewers a good idea what the steps are to bring a film to DVD and to make sure it looks as good as anyhow possible. Another interview featurette focuses on the newly created English dub while the third one examines how the film’s soundtrack has been remixed to a 5.1 multi-channel presentation. Once again it is a rare glimpse behind the scenes that shows how these projects are approached and hopefully helps to give people an idea of the scope of this remastering processes.

The release is rounded out by an extensive "Akira" glossary, which explains many of the weird terms used in the language to explain the futuristic world of the film.

Fans of "Akira" are already licking their fingers for this exciting release, and they should. This is a spectacular release that Pioneer is serving up here, and the landmark that is "Akira" is certainly worth it. I can already see people flocking into stores to grab the disc when it is released and I am sure none of the will be disappointed. The film is spectacularly restored and looks and sounds better than it ever did, and the supplements are rich and diversified, offering a look behind-the-scenes on a variety of levels. This is what Special Editions are supposed to look like, and the ultra-cool stylish metal packaging just adds to this. This is hands-down a must-own DVD for all serious collectors!