The more people told her she had to see it, the less she wanted to.

Decades after its release, 1988’s Akira is still widely considered to be one of the greatest anime films ever made.

And that’s exactly why our Japanese-language reporter, Ayaka Idate, had never seen it.

It’s not like Ayaka has anything against otaku entertainment media (as her huge collection of Touken Ranbu merchandise proves). But every time one of her friends said “What? You’ve never seen Akira?!? You HAVE to watch it!” Ayaka’s contrary tendencies kicked in and she dug in her heels. “People just like it because the art is nice, right?” she figured. The closest she got was buying a copy of Akira on Blu-ray, which then sat on her shelf, unopened and gathering dust, since she never seemed to really feel like sitting down and watching it.

Then, last year, there was a special IMAX revival screening for Akira, and when one of Ayaka’s friends said this was a rare, short-term opportunity to see creator and director Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal work on the very big screen, Ayaka finally said “OK, I’ll go see it.”

▼ As to why we’re only telling this story now, we’ll get to that a little later on in the article.

So what did she think? Well, first off, she felt partially vindicated on her assumption that people like Akira because of how it looks, but even then, the visuals were on a level beyond what she’d imagined from the few clips she’d seen prior to watching the movie in its entirety. “The backgrounds are packed with amazing details. The mechanical designs and music are incredibly cool, and even the way the characters’ mouths move as they speak are incredibly fluid and lifelike,” Ayaka gushes. “There are just sooo many frames of animation for everything. When they need to, the characters’ movements have a cartoony, comical feel, but even then, the motions are so smooth that it feels like you’re watching live-action actors.”

But as for Ayaka’s pre-conception that people like the movie just for its visuals, she turned out to be dead wrong. “The characters just feel so real, emotionally,” she says. “Especially watching the two main characters, Kaneda and Tetsuo, I kept thinking ‘Yep, there are totally people like them’ and ‘Yeah, there are people who act that way.’”

Ayaka was also blown away by the contrast, and connection, between the movie’s conflicts. “There’s this crisis in Neo Tokyo with people with superhuman powers, and it affects the composition of the entire world and even space itself. It’s huge. But underneath all that, you have these two friends, Kaneda and Tetsuo, whose friendship also has this animosity and power imbalance to it. I think that’s something viewers who are teenagers, like Kaneda and Tetsuo, and understand, and that a lot of people experience even at younger ages in elementary or junior high school.”

“So what you end up with is a science fiction anime with a grand scale to its story, but that story plays out because of subtle, realistic options and interpersonal dynamics. It manages to be both massive and personally relatable,” Ayaka concludes. “Even after it was done, I couldn’t help thinking about it over and over again.”

So it’s pretty safe to say Ayaka has completely come around on Akira. “Really, my only disappointment is that since I waited so long to watch it, I didn’t get to walk around the real Tokyo in 2019, when the movie takes place, feeling like I was actually living in the Akira world.”

But wait, we said there’s a reason why Ayaka is only talking to us about her Akira impressions now, even though the IMAX screening was a year ago, right? Remember her unopened Akira Bu-ray? Well, it’s not unopened anymore, As a matter of fact, in the roughly year and a half since seeing Akira in the theater, Ayaka has now watched it over 100 times at home, sometimes getting into stretches where she watches it once a day.

As a matter of fact, Ayaka has become such a fan that she’s now bought the first volume of the Akira manga, since the movie is only a partial adaptation of the comic.

She hasn’t started reading it yet, though, because she still wants to let her imagination run wild through a few more repeat viewings of the anime.

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[ Read in Japanese ]