Akira Anime Movie: Who is Akira?

In short, the Akira character in Akira (1988) is a god-like being who imbodies the energy of the universe.  Every event from the big bang to the evolution of life carries this cosmic energy within it, and Akira is a boy who has unlocked the culmination of all this energy.

Therefore, let’s go take a look at the question: who is Akira?

What is the story of Akira?

In 2019, Japan is in disarray after a cataclysmic event emerges from a powerful psychic (Akira) who wipes out Tokyo.  Now, orphans in street gangs roam the crowded streets of Neo Tokyo while the militaristic government funnels most of the economy into understanding the power behind this disaster.  Of course, “understanding” the power really means “controlling” the power—a force connected to the universe itself.

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We’re introduced to a local bike gang, the Capsules, led by the tough, trash-talking Shōtarō Kaneda.  The Capsule boys are in a turf dispute against their rivals, the Clowns, and engage in an all-out motorcycle street war.  Meanwhile, a mysterious man and boy with a strangely old face are on the run, pursued by police dogs through the streets of Neo Tokyo.  Though the man dies, the boy nearly escapes.  That is, until a fateful encounter with gang member Tetsuo during his street battle, where the boy’s psychic powers slam into the speeding teenager.

When the rest of the gang arrives, Tetsuo is in rough shape.  However, the real problems start when the authorities show up to capture everyone involved.

Tetsuo’s psychic awakening

Unfortunately, Tetsuo’s encounter with the strange psychic boy has aftereffects.  Somehow, the crash into the boy’s psychic powers has unlocked latened psychic abilities inside Tetsuo.  In fact, his brainwaves seem to be the closest to Akira’s ever seen.  The scientist in the military lab is stoked.  The general who remembers Akira wiping out Tokyo less so.

Tetsuo finds himself captured like the strange child he collided with, along with another boy and a little girl.  The children (called espers) range in ability from telekinesis to seeing the future. Now, he is one of them.

With the sudden influx in power, Tetsuo goes down a dark path.  A dystopian society, bad family situation, street violence and frustration with himself for not being like Kaneda drive him to misuse his newfound power.  Thus, the movie builds into a cataclysmic, yet deeply personal, ending as Kaneda tries to stop his friend alongside the military and espers.  Once the power of Akira reaches a breaking point, Tetsuo begins to break down with it, ending in a massive singularity that wipes out a large section of Neo Tokyo.

However, Tetsuo, the espers and Kaneda are transported to a strange place where time and space disappear.  They witness each other’s pasts, and Tetsuo connects with his fond memories of Kaneda.  Ultimately, Tetsuo leaves the others behind, going on to transcend humanity and create another universe.

What is the meaning of the Akira movie?

Akira is a movie about the dangers of unchecked capitalism, militarism and meddling in cosmic forces (you know, like splitting an atom).

What begins as a cyberpunk movie about outlaw teens grows into deep criticism of 20th century (and 21st) society.  Naturally, the fear of nuclear weapons is present as a theme, but let’s dive into these dangers that are spotlighted.

Neo Tokyo is a crowded metropolis, where people hustle through their daily lives.  We see society in the aftermath of a world war that was triggered by the Akira incident.  Kaneda, Tetsuo and their gang are living lives with little-to-no future, so they act accordingly.  In some ways, they are cool protagonists—outlaws with cool motorcycles and attitudes.  However, the truth is they are products of a shattered society.

All the while, those in power have the foolish audacity to continue spending endless taxpayer money trying to recover Akira’s power and hone it.  The lust for power is nearly as destructive to society as the singularity caused by Akira.

Within this setting, we follow our protagonists through personal growth and conflict.  Even with the world set against them, they transcend their human boundaries.  This is done literally (Tetsuo’s transcendence to another dimension) and figuratively (Kaneda experiencing a spiritual enlightenment through his experience in the singularity).

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Why is Akira so important?

Akira is famous for its groundbreaking animation that is still fascinating to watch 30 + years later.  Mix that with a mind-bending story that seems to have evergreen relevance, and Akira is among the best anime movies to ever be created.

Now, the Cold War is over, but it doesn’t make nuclear fears disappear.  Besides, other technologies will appear that need wisdom to handle.  Lust for ultimate power can destroy in many ways and Akira shows that transcending this lust with empathy is always necessary.