Akira, the 1988 classic Japanese anime film explores lasting post-apocalyptic dystopian themes and questions that can be seen as relevant today.
Akira’s plot unfolds in a decaying 2019 Neo-Tokyo following an unexplained cataclysmic explosion.
On a random night on the streets of the decaying post-apocalyptic dystopian city, 15-year-old Tetsuo Shima crashes his bike trying to avoid a Pedestrian who unknown to Tetsuo and the rest of his Biker gang is a Psychic/Medium in a Secret Japanese Government Programme.
The Biker Gang is led by the film’s protagonist Shotaro Kenada.
After the accident, Tetsuo unexpectedly gains supernatural abilities which threaten to reveal the secrets of the post-cataclysm Japanese Security Military Industrial Complex Esper Programme.
The Esper Programme is a covert operation to build Japanese Psychic defensive and perhaps offensive Military capability.
Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian Themes In Akira
Japan was the only country to experience nuclear devastation during World War 2 with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. As such, the memory of the nuclear bombings still lingers in Japan and is one of the themes explored in Akira.
Akira is replete with blast imagery portraying destruction and chaos in an atmosphere characterised by decline, social dislocation, rebellion, and State Authoritarianism.
For this reason, the characters in Akira are pushed towards rebellion and confrontation with the Neo-Tokyo Government which appears to be motivated by the need to suppress the collective memory of trauma and takes all steps it deems necessary to achieve this goal by preventing the occurrence of a similar cataclysm in future.
The unexplained Authoritarian measures adopted by Neo-Tokyo’s Government raise suspicion amongst the Citizens whose response is to rebel.
The rebellion theme in Akira is in response to the chaos created by the vacuum of information surrounding the cataclysm and this rebellion theme is expressed on multiple levels.
There is the unfocused angst of the youth symbolised by the youth Biker Gangs of Neo-Tokyo in Testuo and Kenada, as well as an organised resistance that reaches all the way into the Government.
In Akira, these forms of resistance intersect after Kenada is unwittingly recruited by the organised resistance to infiltrate an Esper Black Site when the resistance discovers that Tetsuo is the latest in a series of Espers now being kept at the site after his accident with the mysterious Pedestrian who had escaped from the Esper Programme site.
Except for Colonel Shikishima, Neo-Tokyo’s authorities are depicted as bureaucratic, ineffectual and callous.
There is no empathy towards the Citizens of Neo-Tokyo especially the youth who have essentially been abandoned and left to make their own way.
Nevertheless, Colonel Shikishima is a paradox because his concept of duty results in an Authoritarian military coup which he considers necessary to prevent a cataclysm caused by Tetsuo’s misuse of his newly acquired Psychic Powers as a result of the Esper programme.
In its raw display of the effects of the cataclysm on Neo-Tokyo and in how Testuo uses his newfound powers, the misuse of technology is another post-apocalyptic dystopian theme explored in Akira.
Religion and Spirituality are post-apocalyptic dystopian themes that feature prominently in Akira.
When Tetsuo develops mystic powers, he makes the choice to use these powers for himself which leads to self-destruction.
In addition, in the midst of the vacuum created by the cataclysm, the Citizens of Neo-Tokyo turn Tetsuo into a Messianic figure hoping he will use his powers to overthrow the oppressive Neo-Tokyo Government when he is in reality a lost 15-year-old boy caught in the web of a government conspiracy that he cannot comprehend.
The post-apocalyptic dystopian world of Neo-Tokyo has made the people desperate for a Saviour.
In this way, Akira expresses the post-apocalyptic theme of Human beings creating Saviours to redeem them from unbearable circumstances.
Conclusion: Akira’s Relevance Today
Due to Akira’s unconventional style and post-apocalyptic dystopian themes, Akira is widely considered a postmodern work.
Akira is also highly regarded as one the best films ever made, especially in Sci-Fi, animation and the Cyberpunk genre.
The quality of production as well as the maturity of Akira’s post-apocalyptic dystopian themes and questions also helped usher the wider acceptance of adult animation as a genre.
Ultimately, Akira’s post-apocalyptic dystopian themes are also relevant today in an uncertain post-Coronavirus world threatened by instability due to War and Economic Crisis.