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'Akira' is bold, brash and beautiful
By Brian Offenther

IN the world of "Akira," July 16 brings the apocalypse. In the real world and on the same day, we only get a screening. Both are huge, dramatic affairs.

Okay, those two things aren't exactly the same. To start, we're in the year 2013, and the film's apocalypse took place in 1988.

Getting through "Akira" is definitely a sea change, though, if you haven't experienced anime, the typical term for Japanese cartoons.

Over two hours long, to give even an introductory plot summary to "Akira" would take this entire newspaper page, and then some. Even the most epic cartoons produced in the West - "The Lion King" and "Finding Nemo" come to mind - feel palm-sized next to this sprawling work.

The best way to conceptualize "Akira" in both scale and style is to imagine the "Matrix" trilogy, squeeze it into two hours, and animate it. Since early animation, very rarely do cartoons innovate beyond normal human physics. It's somewhat surprising since a pen or keystroke to make a person have brown eyes is equally as easy to produce as to give them purple eyes.

"Akira" fulfills this promise by pushing the visual potential in ways similar to live action ones like the before-mentioned Matrix. Here are some things a mind has to wrap around in order to get through "Akira:" A hyper-violent and ultra commercial society built on the ruins of Tokyo; gangs of high school kids battling on motorcycles; a trio of adults in children's bodies with psychic abilities; a god-like creature named Akira that lives underneath the city; and surreal visuals caused when a normal person gains psychic ability.

In fact, the biggest criticism of "Akira" is that watching it is exhausting. It's a movie with lots of interesting things going on, some of them very subtle. Many get lost in the shuffle. The big set pieces, action sequences, and special effects can feel like an onslaught.

"Flashy" is the correct word, too, because "Akira" does offer unique, eye-catching visuals throughout. Conventional anime is not an aesthetic I naturally enjoy, but the unique framing and innovative images will win the cynical or uninitiated over.

In one memorable sequence, glass shatters and slowly rains over a large scene.

The seemingly thousands of pieces slowly twirl over the night over the heads of the characters. It captures a moment in time human and alien, possible and impossible. Even in its small moments, "Akira" is mighty big.

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