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AKIRA (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 4, 2009 by  



“The first film/anime on Blu-ray to utilize 192 kHz/24-bit audio.  ‘AKIRA’ is a classic anime film that is impressive, gripping and all-out intense that is definitely enhanced through remastering.  I was literally floored by the outstanding soundtrack.  ‘AKIRA’ on Blu-ray is amazing and definitely a must own!

TITLE: AKIRA

DURATION: 124 minutes + 5 minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High-Definition, 16×9, Japanese Dolby TrueHD (5.1ch, 192khz 24-Bit), Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1ch, Japanese Linear PCM (Dolby Surround), English Dolby TrueHD (5.1ch)

CATALOG #: 62004

COMPANY: Bandai Entertainment, Bandai Visual, Honneamise

RATED: R (RATED R for Graphic Violence and Brief Nudity)

Director and Original Manga: Katsuhiro Otomo

Script: Izo Hashimoto, Katsuhiro Otomo

Animation Director: Hiroaki Sato, Yoshio Takeuchi

Supervising Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Director of Photography: Katsuji Misawa

Executive Producer: Sawako Noma, Shigeru Watanabe

Producer: Ryohei Suzuki, Shunzo Kato

Mitsuo Iwata/Johnny Yong Bosch as Shotaro Kaneda

Nozomu Sasaki/Joshua Seth as Tetsuo Shima

Mami Koyama/Wendee Lee as Kei

Kazuhiro Kando as Masaru (No. 27)

Masaaki Ohkura/Michael Lindsay as Yamagata

Mizuho Suzuki/Simon Issacson as Doctor Onishi

Sachie Ito as Kiyoko (No. 25)

Takeshi Kusao as Kai

Taro Ishida/James Lyon as Colonel Shikishima

Tatsuhiko Nakamura as Takashi (No. 26)

Tessho Genda/Robert Wicks as Ryusaku

Yuriko Fuchizaki/Georgette Rose as Kaori

July 1988 — World War III breaks loose.  Then, in 2019, in megalopolis Tokyo… As the leader of a group of young robust delinquents, Kaneda spent his nights tearing through the urban waters, racing his motorbike against rival groups.  One night while riding with his gang, his friend Tetsuo suddenly encounters a strange boy–the product of human experimentation — and is injured on the ensuing crash.  Shortly thereafter, a military squadron appears on the scene to take the boy and Tetsuo away to an army research facility.  Determinted to free Tetsuo from capture, Kaneda sneaks into the army research lab.  However, a regimen of extreme experimental procedures has awakened a new power in his friend, and now he is consumed by madness..

“AKIRA”, the 1988 anime film that became the masterpiece of mangaka and director Katsuhiro Otomo.

My first viewing of “AKIRA” was back in 1993.  I have to be truthful, it was one of those films that I had to watch several times because I felt I was missing something integral.  Each time I watched the film, there was always something new that I picked up and for anyone who has seen this animated film, just how much was put into the animation, the detail for an animated film.

In 1988, Disney had “Oliver & Friends” and being touted as the first animation to utilize hand drawn art and computerized graphics and as the film incorporated some darkness that may scare the kiddies, in Japan, “AKIRA” was a film that would set records in the Summer and eventually get a limited release in theaters.

The film would surprise and shock people because this was not a children’s animation, this was geared for adults.

“AKIRA” takes place in 2019, Neo-Tokyo has emerged after World War III and after the annihilation of Tokyo in 1988.  Tokyo has become a corrupted cesspool with rioting/anti-government demonstrations against police, biker gangs galore and people doing naught business in daylight on the streets.

In Neo-Tokyo, a major demonstration is taking place between the revolutionaries as the cops watch them with close eyes.  Meanwhile, two biker gangs are battling each other.  One gang led by Shotaro Kaneda and the other gang known as the Clown gang.  Kaneda’s gang consists of:

Shotaro Kaneda – The cool leader who rides a custom modified motorcycle.  Very brash but cares for the people in his gang.  Close with Tetsuo because the two grew up together.  Falls for a girl named Kei.

Tetsuo Shima – The secondary character who has a major inferiority complex towards Kaneda.  Always tries to prove himself as being as strong, if not stronger than Kaneda.  He has always been protected by Kaneda when they were smaller.  Dates a girl named Kaori.

Yamagata – A prominent member of the gang and the tallest member.  Always tends to get into Tetsuo’s face.

Kai – A member of Kaneda’s gang and a close friend with Yamagata.

While the gangs are facing off with each other, at the site of the protest demonstration, we see a guy carefully walking with a young boy who tends to be wrinkly and dark and tries to protect him with gun.  The protector of the boy starts shooting at the police and ends up getting killed.  The boy reacts with a scream and knocks out the windows of everything around its radius and the situation gets chaotic as the demonstrators fight the police and boy manages to run away.  Meanwhile, one of the revolutionary’s at the protest named Kei sees the boy and witnesses his power.

As for Kaneda’s gang and the Clown gang, they continue their battle and Tetsuo who wants to prove himself to Kaneda goes after one of the major Clown gang members.  While riding his bike at quick speeds in the freeway, he sees the boy (who was a the demonstration) and tries to avoid him.  Tetsuo crashes and gets banged up.  Meanwhile, Kaneda and his team arrive in time to check Tetsuo but then all of a sudden, helicopters and soldiers surround the scene and get the boy and Tetsuo and take off.

While the boy is reunited with people of his kind, Tetsuo is undergoing testing and we learn that the boy and two others are known as Espers.  Masaru (#27), Takashi (#26) and Kyoko (#25) who are paranormal and are used by the government as ways to influence the events in the country.

We are introduced to Colonel Shikishima, the head of an ongoing project that is monitoring the three Espers and Tetsuo.  We also learn that Tokyo was destroyed by a powerful ESPer named Akira in 1988.  A boy who has developed god-like abilities and was used as a test subject by the government.   His body has been tested by the Colonel and his scientists and they have discovered something special about Tetsuo.  It appears that Tetsuo may have the same, similar powers like Akira.

But unlike Akira, Tetsuo who has has an inferiority complex and a thirst for strength and power starts to become corrupted with the power and escapes the hospital where he has been watched and treated and now he is in the outside world and has literally gone psycho.    Who can stop Tetsuo?

Of course, there is so much more to the story than what I just summarized.  If anything, the film deals with friendship, corruption in the government and there are so much layers into the main storyline of “AKIRA” that it’s too difficult to explain and has to be watched to be fully understood.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

For one, the film is now in 1080p and 16×9.  Having seen this film evolve with each release from the VHS to LaserDisc and then DVD and now Blu-ray, for a film created back in 1988, “AKIRA” just looked amazing.

From the action scenes and just watching it on a large screen, I was amazed of how great it looked. Again, this is a 1988 release and I compared it to Disney’s “Oliver & Company” which was remastered and recently released on DVD.  But for an animation of that time, it looked like an animation of that time.  “AKIRA” looked fantastic!

The colors were vibrant, I swear I was noticing background art from the film for the first time and that’s considering that I watched this film probably two dozen times already.

As for audio, this is where Bandai Entertainment has really gone out of their way to create a top-notch product.  Being audiophiles themselves, the full capacity of the Blu-ray disc was used for the audio.  “AKIRA” is the first film on Blu-ray that is released in 192 kHz/24-bit in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound.  The highest level of sound quality attainable right now on contemporary media.

CD’s are sampled in 44.1 kHz and reproduces at 20 kHz.  This Blu-ray is sampled in 192 kHz and reproduces at 96 kHz.  CD’s are 16-bit, this Blu-ray Disc, the audio is 24-bit.  The original soundtrack of “AKIRA” was originally recorded as a master tape that contained frequencies up to 100 kHz and so, with Blu-ray technology, this soundtrack on the Blu-ray is how the composer intended for people to listen to it.

With that being said, the audio of “AKIRA” is just phenomenal.  From the music and the taiko drums, the the various sound effects of the motorcycles to the crowds that are protesting.  The film just comes alive with this soundtrack on Blu-ray and really, was floored by the outstanding quality.

I watched both Japanese and audio soundtracks.  A few things I need to let people know is when you see the menu being offered in Japanese or English, if you select Japanese, you get four choices of audio.  If you select English, you get only three selections (Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1ch track is not on the English selection but the Japanese menu selection) of audio but I’m sure that most fans will be listening to the Dolby TrueHD tracks.

Also, another note is that this release features the Pioneer 2001 English audio dub and not the 1991 Streamline dub.  Having been subjugated to the Streamline English dub which was terrible in my opinion, this Pioneer dub is more to my liking.

With that being said, with the Blu-ray disc focusing so much on audio quality and using the Blu-ray disc for that purpose, that would mean that special features that fans were accustomed to on the VHS or DVD release will not get on the Blu-ray disc, so don’t toss your DVD’s out just yet.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

The Blu-ray disc was utilized completely for audio, thus there is not much room to put anything else.  Included are the two teaser trailers, the TV commercial, two trailers, storyboards (Still images) and a 32-page color booklet.

The 32-page color booklet features 16-pages that go into the science behind the creation of the audio for “AKIRA” and “Hypersonic” which is “a medium that allows for the expression of something that was never possible for conventional sound limited to 20 kHz”.  Also, an “Interview with Katsuhiro Otomo”, “The Effect Animation That Made AKIRA Shine” and more.

So, missing are the “Production Report (The Making of Akira)”, “Sound Clip (a documentary of the creation of the soundtrack), director’s interview and the documentary on the Akira restoration that were included on the DVD.  So, don’t throw away your black tin DVD special edition just yet.

The Blu-ray case comes with a slipcase (front cover shown above and rear-side features the image below) and according to Bandai Entertainment, the slipcase and the 32-page booklet  are part of the first press only.

“AKIRA” will always be regarded as one of the top animated films of all time.  It set a precedence in animation quality in the late 80’s and the 90’s due to its detailed scenery, the vocal dub matching the lips (“AKIRA” was the first anime production featuring voice acting done before the animation was completed) and utilized over 160,000+ animated cels in order to achieve the fluid motion throughout the film.  Again, this was animation geared for adults and has become a classic, must-own animated film.

I have to admit that having watched the film so many times, by the time the DVD came out, I think I was burned out on “AKIRA”.  So, watching it nearly eight years later on Blu-ray and hearing the audio really bringing the film to life.

It’s hard to explain but having watched this film nearly two dozens times, this was the first time that I actually watched  and thoroughly enjoyed the film.    I was excited because of how much life the TrueHD audio brought into the animation.  Just sitting down and hearing the taiko drums, the motorcycles revving, the people talking and to hear the overall soundtrack, it made a big difference for me watching it now than any of those times watching it before.

I was amazed by the vibrancy of the colors of the film, but I admit that I was waiting for the dust and the scratches and to my surprise, there were none.  They cleaned this film up pretty good.  So, aside from the much talked about audio, the video is no slouch either.

Last, I know that the direction of the Blu-ray in terms of going for superior audio quality is exciting for the audiophile but for those who want the special features that were featured on the DVD or fans of the original Streamline dub have a valid argument for them wanting inclusion of those features.  Personally, I love releases that managed to include as many features as possible but in this case, having something unprecedented for a film and getting superior audio quality, it may not matter to casual viewers/listeners but I totally agree with the Japanese reviewers, this new audio makes a big difference when you view this film on Blu-ray.

So, superior audio quality versus older special features that probably would be in regular 480p anyway, personally I would rather go with the superior audio quality.  Again, the production report has been offered on VHS and DVD already (and the DVD release of “AKIRA” was just too cool to own and by no means will I ever toss that release out).

What has made me even more excited is that the process invested in order to create this 192 kHZ process on “AKIRA” can hopefully now be used on other Blu-ray releases.  “Mobile Suite Gundam” movies on Blu-ray anyone?  How about those films in 192 kHZ,  24-bit ala Dolby TrueHD.  That would be awesome!

So, “AKIRA” has opened up possibilities for Bandai Entertainment and overall, although not loaded with special features, the improved audio and video quality can’t be ignored.  Again, “AKIRA” belonged on Blu-ray and it’s a solid release.

What can I say?  “AKIRA” on Blu-ray has definitely made me excited for this film all over again.   An incredible Blu-ray release that is simply a must-own!






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