Only when you see AKIRA in Dolby Surround do you recognise that tag-line’s truth in advertising, Neo-Tokyo explodes at peak volume.
I’ve heard rumours, through dubious internet sources, that seeing AKIRA on the big screen instead of your telly or computer screen is a borderline religious experience. I’m a weird heretic who does not recognise the Streamline dub, preferring the newer Pioneer AKIRA dub instead, and prior to tonight as of writing I haven’t really explored the pros and cons of the Japanese audio track’s fullest potential. My opinion about why the Japanese audio track has hidden arcane mystical properties changed the moment I heard it in its clearest quality possible – an anime cult movie screening at a Sydney multiplex set up for such an event. What I discovered about AKIRA tonight may shock you as it did me, I expected this urban legend surrounding AKIRA‘s theatrical exhibition to be disappointing as Dark Side Of The Rainbow not matching Pink Floyd lyrics as much as I hoped. I wanted to articulate why stories about having religious experiences during screenings of AKIRA keep circulating and what these claims entail or mean, so many of these purported religious experience stories about AKIRA begin and end with thirty-something hippie burnouts saying “AKIRA changed my life, MAAAAN~”, which doesn’t tell us much we can gather anthropological data from does it? Well, I’m here to inform you AKIRA‘s great and terrible power is legit, it’s just very rare to observe this same effect happen due to watching anime rather than hearing the Islamic call to prayer in Cairo Bazaar. AKIRA‘s killer-app which preserves its staying power is its immaculate symphonic sound-engineering, my autistic sensibilities struggle with DJs cranking set-lists way too loud at the club which makes sipping drinks there unpleasant, meanwhile AKIRA‘s sound mix calms the audience to the extent you almost forget about its rougher scenes like two dogs getting shot in front of a kid or Kaori’s shirt getting torn off during an attempted rape. Whenever the latter subject is discussed on Twitter, amnesiac otaku will stammer acting defensive trying to convince themselves those scenes weren’t part of the nostalgic version they saw, and now I’ve seen AKIRA in a theatrical presentation I understand why this phenomenon occurs. You’re so mesmerised by the spectacular awe of what you’re witnessing, that harsher elements present in AKIRA‘s narrative which would otherwise bother audience members if they attended the upcoming Ninja Scroll screening (also organised by Outta The Box Anime), don’t disturb or upset them in the slightest. I find it hilarious how AKIRA continues to attract both die-hard veteran otaku and highbrow art-house hipsters who wouldn’t be caught dead at anime screenings unless it’s Studio Ghibli, Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga adaptation of his bad bromance between Kaneda and Tetsuo is a paean to juvenile delinquency which somehow found an audience with MFA post-grads, uniting each disparate economic class better than your woke Marxist professor ever could. Speaking of student protests, the eighties historical/political aspect of AKIRA‘s context was made explicit by its subtitled presentation, adding profound dimensions to an animated sci-fi film often derided for its alleged nonsensical plot and central protagonists shrieking their names at each other ad-nauseam. Omnipresent graffiti arguing both for and against various in-universe labour strikes decorates AKIRA‘s meticulous background illustrations, seeing it all translated grants fresh poignancy to a film I’ve seen dozens of times already. I worried that the jokes wouldn’t translate well in subtitled form for the newbies with us, I was surprised that strangers seated next to me laughed at several punchlines I’d laughed at for years; Kaneda’s smooth pickup artistry and his buddy Kaisuke complaining why he can’t use his own bike instead of borrowing his to charge the laser cannon battery added comic relief. My favourite part shall always remain Kaneda breaking out his Blue Steel gaze at Kei, his line “You called me didn’t you? And I heard you…” confirms his status as one of the most underrated anime heartthrobs of the eighties, I ain’t afraid to say he’s a dreamboat! It boggles the mind how there aren’t any AKIRA AMVs centred around Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run, the way this film communicates fraternal love between Kaneda, Tetsuo and his fellow bikers rubbed off onto us when a man seated beside me whom I’d met tonight initiated first hug after I gestured to shake his hand. Metaphysical themes in anime are a dime a dozen, Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s cynical plundering of gnostic symbolism being a prominent example, yet I felt more spiritual energy in that room during AKIRA than I ever did when my Dad took me to see T.D. Jakes preaching at Hillsong’s stadium megachurch. Pentecostal Christianity has a reputation for charismatic speaking in tongues, flailing my arms in the air beckoning God’s Holy Spirit evoked bugger all, I guess literal rubbish bins on wheels repurposed as offering plates displeased Lord Jesus. As the late artist formerly known as Prince sang, there are thieves in the temple tonight. Whilst we’re all bewaring the sacrilege, my mother’s disappointment that she bought two tickets to see Spirited Away at Graphic Festival 2010 is unfounded, missing out on Regurgitator’s AKIRA Live At The Sydney Opera House was not a tragedy on par with Robert Crumb cancelling his appearance there fearing wowsers would assassinate him at the airport. I’m glad I waited seven years to see AKIRA awaken in its pure unadulterated form, Regurgitator weren’t bringing anywhere near the noise that Geinoh Yamashinogumi conjured up using gamelan folk instruments. Each explosion thunders and sizzles into place in AKIRA‘s original 1988 recorded symphonic mix, having a Swedish Gore-Grind band noodle on stage accompanying old trashy retro anime sounds cool in theory, until you remember they’re doing this to AKIRA and not better suited candidates like Mad Bull 34 or Wicked City. I omitted Violence Jack, due to its tasty riffs being impossible for any band to supplant with their own unique rescoring, let alone Gore-Grind. Rescoring films shouldn’t be a verboten concept, both Battleship Potempkin and Man With A Movie Camera have excellent alternative soundtracks, Tod Browning’s music-less Dracula is enjoyable with musical accompaniment composed by Phillip Glass. Giorgio Moroder’s pop-saturated rescoring of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has its fans, however I’ll always choose Frank Strodel conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; slapping eighties Billboard chart hits onto this epic story about the mediator between the head and the heart after the fact undermines and cheapens the subtle retro-futurist monochrome splendour of Metropolis in direct proportion to how Guardians Of The Galaxy and its sequel Vol. 2 are enriched by a selection of seventies classic rock songs. It’s easy to mistake AKIRA as just another violent schlock anime relic from an embarrassing era of localisation where Westerners assumed Legend Of The Overfiend would condemn Japanese animation during Britain’s video nasties hysteria, if you strip away its unique orchestral score and argue the scenes showing Tetsuo Shima mutating into grotesque blobs of sentient goo are representative of its main appeal, I doubt we’d still be talking about Cannibal Holocaust at length without Ruggero Deodato’s fiendish juxtaposition of Riz Ortolani’s beautiful love theme against real animal cruelty and fake genocide. AKIRA manages to make the ridiculous prospect of a choir chanting “DAHN… DAHN… DAHN-DAHN!” sound ominous enough to haunt your nightmares for decades, teddy bears, bunny rabbits and toy cars advancing towards their target shouldn’t be this scary. I can’t help squirming each time I see that maggot-eaten rat float up towards the surface in the sewers when Kaneda and Kei have to duck underwater to dodge a hail of hover-bike bullets, adding tension to a scenario where our heroes are vulnerable and the penalty for failure is certain death. It’s ironic how the scientists and military leaders claim the scum of Neo-Tokyo’s decadent neon-pleasure paradise will soon be wiped out by a wind they call AKIRA, but it’s the gutter-punks and the biker gang members whose resilience allows them to live to see another tomorrow. Corrupt leaders like Mr. Nezu die clutching their suitcases full of stolen currency, choking on gobbled heart medication as he collapses gargling in an alleyway spooked by Ryu, persisting forward in his eerie zombie-gait despite having been shot. It’s not quite on par with Barefoot Gen‘s nuclear bomb victims shambling with shards of broken glass stuck in their flesh, but the fearful symmetry is too close for comfort, this is a film which opens on an atomic blast leaving a burnt crater the size of a city in its wake. Then again, this is also a film where the smaller explosions matter just as much as the big ones. My favourite comedic setup-and-payoff moment in cinema comes from AKIRA, when a political dissident detonates his grenade which fizzles out as a damp squib before he is tackled by police. Kaneda’s gang are released from being detained, thus Kaneda uses his freedom to flirt with Kei as he leaves. What follows is the crassest, transparent attempt at pickup-artistry I’ve seen since Will Smith macked on fly honeys in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Kaneda’s flippancy towards the revolution Kei risks her life for betrays his lack of wokeness regarding their socio-political situation in Neo-Tokyo, she continues to reject his advances, culminating in Kaneda’s fist-pumping fuckboy tantrum as the dissident’s squib grenade we believed was harmless explodes in the top-right corner of the frame. The Pioneer-dubbed version makes Kaneda’s glib sexual frustration even funnier: “At least you could’ve told me your name, you cold bitch!” gets juxtaposed with unexpected peril when the police office he was detained in moments ago is blown up as a near-fatal consequence of terrorist activity. Anime got a lot less grim within my lifespan, I’d first encountered Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z on Cheez TV, my brother’s friend chastised me for still watching Bumpity Boo on Channel Seven. I was the only boy I knew who was startled by Rock The Dragon, hence I’d neglected Akira Toriyama’s opus until Dragon Ball Z Kai lured me back into fandom with Dragon Soul, SBS broadcasted Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue when I was up late watching that on Saturday night which traumatised my twelve-year-old self. Perfect Blue by the way is another anime contrarians love to disparage as an outdated relic of sleazier nineties exports compared to Satoshi Kon’s later work like Millenium Actress or Paprika, never mind how its key themes of misogynist cyberstalking and female celebrity obsession are more prescient now than they were twenty years ago. Welcome To The NHK was scoffed at by Wacky Japan™ think-pieces asserting the otaku’s malady known as hikikomori could never escape its Tokyo quarantine, now our social media feeds are crawling with #GamerGate’s anime Nazis, political pundits all shrugged wondering how nobody predicted 4chan’s image boards would turn toxic as 2chan’s nigh-identical forum which m00t copied for his Western anonymous posting site. After Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign enabled his egomaniac agitation of North Korea’s nuclear sabre-rattling, it’s obvious AKIRA‘s Cold War fable for a demographic who didn’t have to worry whether or not their gas-guzzling motorcycles were eco-friendly, remains relevant today. The eighties might be over, but those leather rebel jackets never go out of style, do they? I saw AKIRA with an audience who dressed to impress, like Kaneda-san would be embarrassed to be watched by otaku wallowing in sweatpants on the Sabbath, I didn’t catch a single cosplayer text-messaging during the movie. The profound reverence people had for AKIRA is astonishing, considering how many patrons whipped out their cell-phones when I saw Logan at my local Hoyts multiplex; George St. may not offer me recliner seating Chatswood’s upmarket theatres equip by default, but it’s nice to know classic films can earn the respect they deserve from the peanut gallery munching their butter popcorn. I’ve had two psychedelic experiences at the movies before, one was when my mother and her friend dragged me to see American Hustle regardless of how tired I was at the time due to studying for HSC exams, which prompted me to repeat this experiment with Guardians Of The Galaxy in IMAX 3D. My severe sleep deprivation comes in one of two flavours: either I’ll become cranky and mean or I’ll enter a blissful state where I shout “WOO!” a lot like Rick Flair, I got dealt the latter hand during my IMAX 3D Guardians Of The Galaxy screening. For two hours I morphed into The Dude from The Big Lebowski, tripping Gutterballs as my lack of sleep merged with my 3D glasses to create illusions of IMAX 4D or something superior. AKIRA has never offered me that kinda psychedelic experience, I’d be disappointed if that’s all it did, judging from the absence of skunk-weed in the lobby I don’t believe that’s what our audience who came to see it on the big screen for looking for. I’m glad I saw AKIRA as God intended, although I was skeptical, I can assert firsthand there’s a reproducible effect this film has on even its stone-cold sober spectators. Yet there was one detail which stood out to me this time around, a tiny little fragment that felt unimportant in the previous two dozen viewings… Kei is contacted via telepathy by Kiyoko (designated No. 25). I had to look up her name, like I said, it seemed so implausible for my conscious mind. The way Kiyoko spoke to Kei inside her head bore an uncanny resemblance to my bizarre lucid dreams I’d been having. Anti-nightmares, scary dreams which can’t stick the landing for whatever stupid reason, where anonymous voices spoon-fed me instructions I used to defend myself when the odds were stacked against me. Schizophrenic as it sounds, I survived each new danger I encountered by following these helpful instructions, if you’ve got a lengthy family history of mental illness every fibre of your being will be spooked by hearing voices who won’t tell you who they are in lucid-dreamland. Arrival‘s twist ending relies on similar sci-fi trappings, but AKIRA‘s exploration of ESP added another layer of immersion to my Saturday evening, unidentified humanoid entities cramming unsolicited advice that may or may not save the world into your noggin is indeed disturbing as this movie tells you it’s gonna be. Numerous repeat-viewings of AKIRA on Blu-Ray entertained me, its rare theatrical presentation came the closest to enlightening me, I felt for Kei’s predicament more than ever having walked a mile in her shoes. Who hasn’t been there, am I right? Film critics often lament how men fail to identify with female characters in fiction, yet here I am empathising with one of AKIRA‘s few women lucky to get out of this adaptation alive, transcending neurological limitations. I’ve seen news reports on telly about hippies who died overdosing on ayahuasca in Peru, trying to accomplish the same sacrament I’d found through AKIRA by complete accident, I stay away from hallucinogenic substances because my medications I take on a daily basis are strong enough to warrant an MRI scan checking my cerebral cortex for brain tumours. They shoved me into this tubular machine with a towel wrapped around my ears to muffle its noise whilst it scanned my brain, my doctor said I was well behaved but I coped with an ordeal she subjected me to by pretending I was Tetsuo or an Evangelion pilot, she showed me x-rays of my enlarged ventricles I thought were birth defects at first. It’s surreal seeing visual manifestations of your autism when you’re unused to perceiving legit neuroatypical differences, you’re not confined to a wheelchair, so it’s hard convincing others Asperger’s Syndrome isn’t a made-up disease with an unfortunate name trolls online loved to ridicule. Even though I’m not fantastic at playing video games, The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time resonated with me on a personal level with Link’s “boy without a fairy” storyline. AKIRA also hits close to home, but it took longer for me to put into words why an old anime about two motorcycle gang members whose friendship gets torn apart by mysterious psionic powers felt relatable for an anxious twenty-something adult, who couldn’t earn his driver’s license due to Dad teaching me lessons in an archaic Volkswagen Beetle which often broke down at intersections. I’ve been chased by emus riding bitch on the back of a motorcycle when we were visiting our rural relatives, although velociraptors gaining on kids in Jurassic World gave me ‘Nam flashbacks to this trauma, I will say being a passenger pursued by an emu attack with a steel horse between my legs was an unforgettable thrill-ride I’d recommend. My father loved motorcycles, he still does to the extent he can still identify any chopper he encounters on the road by sight. Upon recognising how Dad’s outlaw genetics manifested throughout my upbringing, our pedigree of counter-culture lawlessness grants my AKIRA obsession totemic significance, the generation gap between boomers and Millennials was thinnest between me and him when we talked about Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love CD I bought at JB Hi-Fi one afternoon. AKIRA opened up the possibility that maybe monotheism was holding me back, I explored alternative spirituality, lighting my first incense sticks last year. Weeaboos are renowned for our “mall ninja” behaviour, clinging to pig-iron katanas like basement dwelling samurai, yet I’ve observed the “mall sorcerer” variant class in the wild upon the weekend when a coven of witches gathered their resources to hex Donald Trump, two women inquired which gemstones they needed like Al Pacino planning a heist. I demonstrated an equal commitment to throw money down the millisecond I heard AKIRA was playing near me, planning my anime Hajj pilgrimage weeks in advance, I had dinner at Hungry Jack’s and shivered with anticipation. Since I last saw an anime in a movie theatre, Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo to be precise, nerd-spheres all fractured into social media pockets with their own cliques and you were expected to conform to rules set by ostensible adults. I graduated from my SCA college campus, which sheltered me from the widespread decay of internet forums into radicalised warrens, my diploma left me better equipped for a new dawn scavenging the ruins of what was once referred to as the information superhighway. My boomer father also witnessed the mass curdling of his generation’s counter-culture, he said Easy Rider pissed off a group of bikers who’d come back from seeing it, we’d watched it together on DVD and his repressed memories returned with a vengeance. He told me a war story about his home town: “They make ’em tough in Bogan Gate…” – some farmer got shot in the stomach and crawled his way to the hospital through the outback, bloody hell! Only the toughest survived in Australia during his adolescence, my friend Rhys asked why he married my lawyer mother when he’s such a lawless hoodlum at heart. I responded: “I guess Mum wanted out of Parkes, and my Dad’s motorcycle seemed like her best option.” Growing up watching MTV’s Daria, that nineties cartoon felt like a documentary, Jake and Helen Morgendorfer’s relationship mirrored the spitting image of my flower child parents. I’ve never read Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA manga, because I spent a king’s ransom acquiring twelve-inch Medicom Real Action Heroes toys depicting Kaneda and Tetsuo’s likeness. Sex And The City‘s cast could blow what those dolls cost on handbags and shoes each episode, I wasn’t so fortunate to date Mr. Big, I bumped some Playstation 3 games off my Christmas list to help Santa bring both Kaneda and Tetsuo together under the same roof. Whenever I gaze up at my two plastic sons on the bookshelf, I feel no pangs of regret, they’re my pride and joy. I couldn’t afford Kaneda’s expensive motorbike accessory in a bajillion years, not that I cared, now I had welcomed my bishies who meant everything to me into my home. AKIRA‘s manga-literate fanboys seem to have mixed reactions to the 1988 anime film, I’ve heard it’s an alleged botched adaptation, I’m the idiot who adored The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy even after I’d read the Douglas Adams novel so my opinions are dubious fluff. Part of me dreads discovering how unlikeable Tetsuo is in the manga compared to anime Tetsuo whom I sympathised with no matter how many times I’d seen it, then again I saw Scott Pilgrim Versus The World opening weekend and despised Scotty regardless of medium the moment I laid eyes on him. Good God, Edgar Wright pulled a Superman making movie Scott Pilgrim tolerable, transmuting its shite source material into gold Holy Mountain style is a Herculean task I wouldn’t wish upon Leni Riefenstahl. I can’t stay mad at Michael Cera for portraying the devil in denim jeans, The Lego Batman Movie redeemed him in my eyes when his role as Robin required him to sing It’s Raining Dads. I’ve pre-ordered this fancy new AKIRA box set on Amazon, presenting Otomo’s manga in beautiful hardcovers, which will go under my Christmas tree this year. I seldom trusted manga which wasn’t written by Osamu Tezuka’s pen, like I’ve said, AKIRA taught me monotheism might be holding me back. I grew up without sufficient cash to furnish my humble library with manga classics, moving house yet again caused me to question whether I could’ve dedicated an entire IKEA shelf to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. The intimidating scope of Shōnen Jump sagas scared me away from Naruto and One Piece, serialised epics with no foreseeable end in sight. Inio Asano’s Solanin was a one-and-done volume I cherished, small in scale yet devastating in its raw emotions. Borders stocked Speed Racer manga, I’ll always prefer those campy sixties-era stories in anime technicolour. Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daioh and Yotsuba&! convinced me not every series had to be a gritty growl-fest like Lone Wolf And Cub or a dishonest ecchi rom-com like Love Hina to deserve a place on my shelf, I left behind three volumes of Love Hina behind at my previous address whereas Azumanga Daioh carries no guilt whatsoever. My retro anime DVD collection ballooned at an alarming rate thanks to Bennett The Sage’s Anime Abandon YouTube program, I’d stumbled across his Crying Freeman, Fist Of The North Star, and Venus Wars reviews at Channel Awesome. I made room for AKIRA in my life, it used to be this singular two-hour film I can switch on whenever I needed to nuke my negativity. Now it’s also this gargantuan Talmud which expands a faith I already believed in, granting new and revelatory guidance just as I began to worry AKIRA‘s like the madeleine moment from Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time, losing its potency with oft-repeated dosage. Chronicle stripped down AKIRA‘s motorbike window dressing to craft a bone-chilling character study of post-Columbine mass-shooters using fantastical metaphors of telekinetic fury, Disney’s Frozen fulfilled my monkey’s paw wish that poor Tetsuo got his happy ending for once, by letting Elsa thrive without surrendering her ice-magic which enchanted millions worldwide. I see AKIRA‘s imagination everywhere I travel: in Michael Jackson’s Thriller jacket, on Venice Beach, San Francisco’s Chinatown and its steep tram-hills, Egypt’s gridlocked metal ocean of honking road rage, the DMZ segregating Cyprus’ Greeks and Turkish citizens I’d walked through like a Warhammer 40,000 theme park. I’ll always appreciate new anime created by living artists, Maasaki Yuasa’s Kaiba, Mindgame and Ping-Pong all rule. Battle Of The Planets, Macross Plus and Star Blazers illustrate the glory of anime’s past, but I’m not a conservative crank who yearns for prelapsarian perfection. It will be thirty years since AKIRA‘s release in 2018, in those thirty years dictators fell, empires crumbled. AKIRA is timeless, it’s the best post-apocalyptic anime because our grandkids will still be watching it when we’re gone.
Weird how my father who looks this cool on a motorcycle defied the deadbeat Dad stereotype, his questionable parenting lay elsewhere.
Me and my brother at Universal Studios, riding the Terminator 2 bike.