Akira: Special Edition (& Limited Edition) - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: A+
  • Video Rating: N/A
  • Packaging Rating: A+
  • Menus Rating: A+
  • Extras Rating: A+
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 39.99
  • Running time: 124
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Akira

Akira: Special Edition (& Limited Edition)

By Chris Beveridge     April 17, 2002
Release Date: July 24, 2001

Akira: Special Edition (& Limited Edition)
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.

What They Say
Finally! A new English translation of the original Japanese AKIRA script!

Neo-Tokyo has risen from the ashes of World War III to become a dark and dangerous megalopolis infested with gangs and terrorists. The government seethes with corruption and only maintains a token control over the powerful military that prevents total chaos and hides the secrets of the past.

Childhood friends Tetsuo and Kaneda plunge into Neo-Tokyo’s darkest secret when their motorcycle gang encounters a military operation to retrieve an escaped experimental subject. Tetsuo, captured by the military, is subjected to experiments that make him a powerful psychic, but, unfortunately for Neo-Tokyo, Tetsuo’s powers rage out of control and he lashes out at the world that has oppressed him! Nothing can stop the destructive forces that Tetsuo wields except possibly the last boy to destroy Tokyo - AKIRA!

Pioneer Entertainment has re-mastered this classic work with the highest technological standards: A new film transfer from new interpositive of the original negative, completely restored and digitally re-mastered by High-Definition digital mastering (1080i, 16:9, D5). THX Certified Audio components are re-mixed to Dolby Digital AC3 Surround Sound (5.1 Channels, English only).

The Review!
Considered one of the few top tier theatrical anime ever released, Akira's arrival onto the DVD format, with region 1 being the first to provide it, is a cause for celebration for many reasons. And from what can be seen on this release, it was a true labor of love to bring about this immensely popular film. And that love definitely shows in what simply is the best release in region 1 for anime yet.

For our primary viewing session, we watched this disc in its original language of Japanese. While we've seen the Japanese release once previously, watching it again with the newly rewritten subtitle track provides almost another different movie from past incarnations. The Japanese stereo track works well with the material, bringing the forward soundstage nicely into play when required. Dialogue is well placed, with several key moments of directionality used perfectly. The music, being such an integral part to Akira, also come across wonderfully here with a good wide feel to it and a lot of depth. Having also taken in the English 5.1 track in full, I'm even more impressed. The increased clarity of the music and sound effects brings this film nicely up to date with more recent releases. The big action sequences naturally make out the best here, but dialogue gets a good bump in clearer directionality and the music separation is fantastic.

Any issues I have with the transfer of this release are simply going to be excessive nitpicking. Especially when you look at all the other source material that's out there to work with, and see the condition of the various trailers and promotional reels. This is a gorgeous looking print. The amount of new detail that's visible is astonishing. In many instances, it's essentially like watching it for the very first time again I'm so much I never saw before. The colors are vibrant, the darks are solid, there's no rainbows or line noise. This is about as perfect looking transfer for this film that I think we'll ever see. It's jaw dropping on our HDTV in full anamorphic mode using the Skyworth.

In keeping with the jaw dropping theme, Pioneer has managed to release a package that I think really tops a lot of the boxes I've seen and gotten out of Japan over the past couple of years. The limited edition tin (which had a run of 100,000 copies made) is perfectly suited to this show. The slightly oversized case (by about half an inch on the top and left) is a simple black with the raised lettering for Akira. The simple exterior look is one that simply exudes shinyness. The interior to the case, on the two back panels, is the painted background skyscrapers from the movie at night. The disc holders themselves are basically the same clear ones we've seen with Pioneer's cardboard box set releases. These bad boys hold the discs nice and secure. The discs themselves have some nice silkscreening on them, while the foldout insert provides a good amount of help in finding all the extras and the various still image locations.

When I found out the folks over at Nightjar, LLC were the ones behind the menus for this set, I only found myself really anticipating it even more. And they haven't failed me yet. The movie disc menu is an exercise in simplicity combined with a great layout and a mix of animation. The menu selections are all listed at the bottom, and are quick an easy to get to. Through the center you have the specially created animation of the various bikes rotating through while you hear (in Dolby Digital 5.1 no less!) the bikes whiz by underneath, mixed in with the black and white animation from the movie. The supplements disc is set up with the same colors (red/gray/white) and provides all the extras right from the get go. Selections within the extras are well laid out also, with subtitles defaulted to on and plenty of chapter stops when necessary. Add in the fact that the menus are anamorphic as well, and I'm in heaven.

While I've seen some of these extras previously, revisiting them after all these years is a treat. And with some of them, I know I'm getting more out of them this time as they all appear to have been retranslated (and all use soft subtitles).

The big extra is the Production Report, a 50 minute piece that goes into a lot of detail about the production of the movie from conception to execution, talking with all manner of people and showing how things are made. It's an insightful piece, especially in this age of digital animation, to see just how much work goes into a project as immense as Akira.

There's a 30 minute interview session with Katsuhiro Otomo himself, and much like the the Production Report, listening to him talk about his project and the way his career led him up to these points are all very interesting. Things like this may bore many people to tears, but for those truly interested in the nuts and bolts behind the magic we see, this is another fantastic piece.

A new piece is the Sound Clip that features the Geinoh Yamashiro Gumi. This is as close to music videos as we're going to get for Akira. The couple of themes, as done by the Gumi, are presented between live action interviews and clips of the group putting all the ethnic and little known instruments together and how they created the moduling to allow the music to be placed easily, as the entire score was done before the animation had started.

The production materials section... well, I admit to not making much progress into the 4500+ stills that are in there. It's a wealth of information that I'm sure the Akira junkie is going to just pore over. The same can be said of the glossary, which is interesting in bringing to light several smaller known facets of the show, but with over 100 pieces of information in it, that section got a cursory glance from us.

There's a section for the various trailers, which are thankfully subtitled as well, that run about five minutes total. The special announcement trailers for the summer roadshow release are particularly interesting in how they advertise the movie.

The odd piece out, and the one I really enjoyed, was the three interviews with the restoration folks at POP, THX and Magnitude 8. Listening to them talk about what was involved in remastering the picture and sound was definitely interesting, and the brief 14 minutes that it runs was never dull. I wanted to know more and wanted to see more!

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For many, Akira is a love it or hate it movie. A number of fans have a hard time finding a middle ground for it. A lot of this stems from the fact that for many years, it could only be had in dub form, and for many people it was just a bad dub that could be made quite a bit of fun of. That's all we're going to talk about previous releases. Pioneer has gone quite far in distancing themselves from those releases, and their work and effort definitely deserves to move beyond what came before.

Akira's story is like just about any other manga to anime translation, especially in going to a movie as opposed to a series of some sort. The changes are fairly strong, the pacing is entirely different and the ending and a good part of the final act have almost nothing in common. The core storyline though, at least the one I perceive, of friendship and the strength of those bonds is still there.

The film opens with the destruction of Tokyo in a black expanding ball in 1988. We flash forward 31 years later to 2019, where the rebuilt Neo-Tokyo is the shining jewel of Japan. The buildup and restoration is nothing short of amazing. The city has become filled with immense skyscrapers, giving the illusion of reaching the clouds with what looks like hundreds and hundreds of stories. Scattered throughout are tons of smaller but still tall buildings, each adding to the light and activity of it all.

But the story isn't focused up in these gleaming towers. It's down in the dank streets, where the citizenry is restless and there's a feel of something powerful happening. Some of those in power can see it, they can feel that the city has become rotten, but those who appear to be in control are oblivious to it.

And down in these streets, this is where we get to know Kaneda, Tetsuo and others in their bike gang. Our introduction to them is terse, as one of the more experienced bikers, Yamagata, strides into a dank underground bar to get Kaneda. Their street enemy, the Clowns, have been herded to a less used route, and it's time for them to teach them some respect.

What ensues is a bike chase/combat sequence that has been lifted in a number of other shows, including a homage in a recent animated dark knight show. The combination of the music, the visuals with the light streams from the bikes and the energy of the animation provides an exceptionally powerful sequence. Watching Kaneda, Yamagata and the Clowns go at it, the power that comes across from them is fantastic. While it's certainly not the real thing, it's a wonderfully visualized experience.

This sequence brings about a striking change though, as a wrong turn leads Tetsuo to run into a little kid, causing his bike to explode and throwing him off onto the pavement. Half unconscious, Tetsuo finds himself amazed to be alive and even more surprised to see this twisted looking little kid still alive as well. When the rest of the gang catches up to them, their surprise at this kid is quickly forgotten when the military arrives and takes Tetsuo and the kid away, while everyone else gets sent off to the police.

This is where the mystery begins to build, as Tetsuo learns of an immense psychic power that's contained within him. Experiments begin to be performed on him, and those who are keeping an eye on him begin to give him certain drugs that help enhance and unlock his abilities, much like the children that they have kept guarded for so many years in their secret facilities. Tetsuo begins to learn what's being done to him and why, and starts manipulating things to his advantage, as his mind slowly begins to warp under the drugs effects.

On the other side of the Tetsuo/Kaneda coin, Kaneda finds himself getting involved in a group that's after information and secrets about the project that Tetsuo has found himself a part of. His chasing of a particular skirt, namely the main female character named Kei, brings him into their lair after he helps save Kei twice from the military types who are on the lookout for members of this group. Kaneda lucks out though when he realizes that the information they're after is in regards to his friend Tetsuo, and they decided to take a slim chance with him.

The two sides of this coin begin to follow their own objectives, with the spiraling into madness Tetsuo searching for a power supposedly bigger than him and Kaneda trying to impress Kei and figure out what's wrong with Tetsuo. This all serves as the main feature, while in the background there's political wheeling and dealing, riots in the streets and the push of a civilization that's become corrupt trying to find its way back to a place where it can be happy.

As I said earlier, part of my coloring of the storyline is my love of the manga, and I know parts of it seep into my perception of the movies storyline. I've done this with many manga/novel to movies in the past and sometimes it can't be helped.

Since its original theatrical release, a lot has changed in the field of animation. What Akira, and those select few from the years around it, continue to prove is just how far ahead of their time they truly were. While theatrical anime movies of today are indeed flashy looking deals, Akira and its kind are so painstakingly detailed and richly animated, that they can continue to hold their own almost fifteen years later, and in some cases surpass the quality of the latest movies.

This release has given me a chance to really see this level of detail in a completely new light. I've watched it dozens of times over the years, but found myself fascinated by the little things. There are sequences early on where we see the buildings pass by, and looking into them you can see the outlines of desks, lamps and overhead lights, all things I've missed in past viewings. I found myself noticing a lot of little things like that this time around.

One feature that was added to the movie disc is the pop the capsule one. When selected from the menu (it, as well as subtitles, cannot be changed when its selected by remote) a subtitle picture of a capsule pops up at various places throughout the movie, such as for signs, banners and other little bits where the original Japanese written language is. It also provides some interesting information that fleshes things out along the way, with the first really noticeable one being a "location" map overlay during the opening sequence. A very neat feature, though it may play havoc with other controls, as for the first half of the movie I couldn't pause the feature, but I could during the second hour. Until I hear others complain about it, I'll chalk it up to an oddity of having a Chinese player.

Akira is a release that simply had to happen, and it had to happen big. Pioneer's release of it is something that makes my years of building up my home theater all worthwhile. When the show begins, and the widescreen set is filled with the rich imagery, and the movie jumps into the action... it's just a stunner, and a disc that will be pulled out many times to show off to people. I haven't been this impressed by a release in a long time, anime or Hollywood. Major kudos to Pioneer for pulling off a great release.

Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Language,English Dolby Digital 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Capsule Option - translation of Japanese graffiti,THX certified / THX Optimizer,
"Akira Production Report" - Making of Akira documentary,"Akira Sound Clip by Geinoh Yamashiro Gumi" - Making of the Akira music,Interview with Director Katsuhiro Otomo,Over 4500 stills of production materials,Over 100 terms and definitions in the Akira Glossary,Original teasers and trailers,
Interviews with restoration staff

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.


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