Back to the Reviews On The Side Homepage Reviews On The Side
In this episode: A Restored Akira

I mentioned in my Atlantis review yesterday how good narrative animation—as opposed to the musical kind—is possible and needs to be explored more. Well here's one fine example. Akira is one of my favorite animated movies. The story is complex and can lose you if you're not all there. It's grown-up, even though it uses that typical Japanese anime staple, psychic ability. There's so much action in this movie, that's almost all it is. The characters are fairly flat, but they are each distinct and end up becoming more than you'd expect by the end of the movie. There is nothing fake about them, meaning there's no campfire around which they reveal their pasts via forced dialogue. These people just are, and you're coming into their lives as an observer, just plopped right in there. It's not a perfect movie, but it's still mind-blowing in its scope and scale, and the ambitious animation is truly something to marvel at.

I got lured into collecting the Akira graphic novel while I was in college because I'd never seen a "comic book" with such detail and realism and artistry and dynamics. I don't go for the overly-muscled folks in tights thing, and here was something fresh and new... to me, anyway. The story, too, was amazing, and only got better as the graphic novel went along. When the movie finally made it to our shores, I was incredibly disappointed. Katsuhiro Otomo had created something truly grand, but that—DUH—was not why I was disappointed. What made me cringe was the lousy dubbing we Americans had seen fit to slap over the film like a bad coat of varnish. It was wincingly awful.

It was not until I bought an illegal copy of the movie at a comic book convention in Boston that I realized how awesome this movie was. The tape I bought—and still have at home—had a bad picture and mono sound, but it had subtitles. I could finally hear the movie in the original language, and the translation used for the subtitles made the movie much easier to understand.

Of course, when the official video was released, it had the terrible dubbing on it. The Criterion laser disc version was not much better, putting the dubbed soundtrack on the digital tracks and the Japanese soundtrack on the analog tracks, all without subtitles. I bought neither of these.

Nope. Getting a pristine and beautiful copy of Akira was just not in the cards.

Slam cut to today. Pioneer has just spent who knows how much money restoring the print of Akira and re-dubbing it from a new translation, all for the DVD release later this year. This new version of the movie is also getting a very limited theatrical release, and I saw it last night in Burbank in digital projection.

Can nothing ever be done right?

Please don't get me wrong: This new dub is much better than the previous one. The translation is accurate. (How do I know this if I don't speak Japanese? Why, a keen sense of right and wrong, of course!) The voices are better. BUT— Oh, and I hate it, BUT it's just not good enough. I'm sorry, but dubbing never works. The Americanized versions of Princess Mononoke and Kiki's Delivery Service are probably about as good as you can get, thanks to the name actors Disney used, but they're still disconnected from what the movies really are. Dubbing calls attention to itself, and when you have mediocre voices, it's even worse.

I can and do applaud what Pioneer has done here, but I just wish they'd let the damn thing be. Fortunately, the DVD will have the Japanese audio track and, of course, subtitles. (The American soundtrack has been remixed to 5.1, but the Japanese soundtrack will be left alone at 2.0.)

Another thing that distressed me was the picture. Something seems to have gone horribly wrong. Maybe it was a combination of the restoration and the digital projection (I think it was DLP, but I can't be sure). The contrast was bright and garish, with all the detail in the dark areas being lost. Every little flaw in the animation process seems to have been brought out in this "print." For a movie made in 1988, there is a shocking amount of detail and attention to realism that you just don't see in other movies, even today. There are some individual shots that will blow you away with their artistry and technical prowess. But this version is off. I heard tell (no names mentioned) that part of the restoration process was discovered to be removing some of the detail out of the picture along with dust and scratches. They stopped doing whatever it was they were doing when they found this out. What I don't know is if they then went back and re-did the scenes were detail was lost. I hope so. Regardless, what I saw on screen last night was not primo.

I'm hoping the picture works on the DVD transfer. My God, it'd better! I want to finally own a real version of this movie. If everything else fails, I can always go re-read the comic book. It's about 300,000 times more complex anyway, and awe-inspiringly vast in its scope. Yeah. There's always that.




To Top of Page


Buy Videos and DVDs at
Buy Videos at


©2001 Steven Lekowicz except
Akira artwork ©2001 Pioneer Entertainment (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.