Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Minireview - Akira **

This autumn looks like it's shaping up to be a bumper season for animation. In only a couple of short months, we have the long-awaited Wallace & Gromit movie, Curse Of The Were-Rabbit; Tim Burton's follow-up to his acclaimed Nightmare Before Christmas, a claymation musical with the morbid title Corpse Bride; and the new animé from Hayao Miyazaki, the Oscar-winning director of Spirited Away.

To get in the mood, I have been selectively expanding my collection of Japanese animations with films such as Perfect Blue and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. But of all the films in the genre, Akira is supposed to be the definitive Manga animé - described by Empire magazine's reviewers as "no Akira, no Matrix" - so I had high hopes, which were rather rudely dashed by a messy, incoherent plot and unexpectedly sub-standard animation. Indeed, the biggest debt The Matrix appears to owe to Akira is in the persistent use of impenetrable quasi-religious mysticism, along with highly stylised, gratuitous violence.

It's a great shame, because there are some nice flourishes. But one of the reasons I got into animé films in the first place, via the works of Miyazaki, was that all the preconceptions I'd had about Japanese animation - violence, poor drawings, killer robots who shoot lasers from their eyes (nicely sent up in an episode of The Simpsons) - were completely wrong. The likes of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke were beautiful and thought-provoking; Grave Of The Fireflies proved that the medium could also be serious and moving. Akira, conversely, managed to fall exactly into my prejudices about Manga animé - the violence, shaky animation, teenage anti-heroes with big mouths and fixed fierce expressions.

I readily admit that, for much of the time, I wasn't quite sure what was going on. But, after two hours of trying to figure it out, I no longer really cared.