Akira makes its Blu-ray debut with a 1080p AVC encoded image in its theatrically correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
Having owned several home format incarnations of the film, I am pleased to note that this is by far the best depiction. Firstly, colours have a boldness to them that has for some time been missing from releases of the title. Don't mistake a rich colour-scape for a simplified one, as although animations of the period had (and to some degree will always have) a finite amount of shades presentable, here there are distinct differences between those of the same colour. Previously, the reds tended to merge into one single muddy hue that left Kaneda's bike not too dissimilar from his clothing - not here. Clothing, bike and blood all have a subtlety to them that makes them unique, particularly the latter which has a depth and darkness to it that proves all the more shocking. Light rails have a level of delicacy to them now that makes them all the more entrancing in their transparency. Likewise, neon signs that dominate the frontage of buildings are now grand not only in scale but also vivacity - searing themselves onto the viewer's retina with bright pastel shades of pink and orange.
The remastering process has clearly been kind to Akira as the print looks in remarkable condition. It still shows some imperfections, but these are very much in the minority. For the most part the result is clean and crisp in its depiction of the on screen science fiction action. Gone also are the jagged edges of previous DVDs, as the lines which are drawn with such precision by numerous artists are recreated with stunning clarity and smoothness. Contrast is also strong, with the scenes depicting the darkness of the titular figure's underground resting place being particularly note worthy, showing excellent detail in the gloom. Some moments may seem a little soft, but this is very much a part of the animation, rather than the disc's reproduction of the original material.
The only area which perhaps should have been addressed is that of framing. The original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 has clearly been adhered to, but we are still presented with a small border that outlines the image on all four sides. It is minor, but it does detract slightly when viewing via a fixed projector. Still, it pales in comparison to the cornucopia of delights the visuals have to offer.
If there was a degree of nitpicking to my appraisal of the visuals, the same cannot be said for the audio side of things. Straight away you can see that the 50gb disc space has been utilised when reading the options available to the listener. A total of four options are open to those watching the film; Japanese Dolby TrueHD, Japanese Dolby Digital, Japanese Linear PCM and finally English Dolby TrueHD. Personally I've never been a great fan of the English dub, but it certainly has its admirers amongst the faithful, thus it should please those with an aversion to subtitles.
For the sake of review though, I focussed mainly on the Japanese Dolby TrueHD track. Right from the outset, it was clear that I was in for a treat. The music of Geinoh Yamshiro Gumi has never sounded so rich. The opening motorbike chase and two wheeled fight between Kaneda's gang and The Clowns is simply the first among many high points. The breathing that accompanies the introduction of Joker - deep and wheezing - rushes into the room. The gentle tapping of drums in the background comes alive and floods towards the listener from all directions. Once the tempo rises, the ensuing sounds remain perfectly tight and distinct, yet come together in a beautifully cohesive manner. Plucked strings stir and have a crispness to them that begs to be heard. I have long considered this to be a fine soundtrack, but this is the first time I have actually thought it would be a crime not to own it separately as a piece of music.
Explosions and impacts are replete with a multitude of lesser rumbles as the myriad of debris falls upon Neo Tokyo. The rears are used to great emphasis throughout, not only being utilised when the bullets fly and bikes roar, but also in the moments of metaphysical silence and the light high frequency sounds that accompany such scenes. Dialogue is always crystal, yet incorporates into the mix and is succinctly balanced within. Such is the equilibrium, it can be deceptively loud - by this I mean that it is the type of mix that one yearns to keep turning up, but because no one feature of the sound-field pushes beyond the others and breaks this cohesion, it can lull one into a false sense of volume. However, once the bass truly hits and buildings fall, the LFE introduces itself with a punch. It hits hard, with a great tautness to it, that frankly I'm not used to with animated offerings.
I honestly cannot find a fault with the audio of this disc, it is quite simply impeccable.
Teaser #1 - 1080p - 0:32
Teaser #2 - 1080p - 0:31
TV Commercial - 1080p - 0:16
Trailer #1 - 1080p - 2:17
Trailer #2 - 1080p - 1:01
These can be assessed together, as there is little difference between them. Essentially just clips from the film and a few shots of the title with a Japanese voiceover. I like old trailers and the like but these don't reflect the period the film was released in, so can't be valued as either a time capsule or an example of foreign marketing.
Here we get to see the actual storyboards penned by Katsuhiro Otomo himself and used during the production of the film. There are 369 in total, split into 36 separate sections. It is a little disappointing that the pages couldn't be divided further, perhaps with one single page shot and a blow by blow thereof for each individual frame. As it is, the wide shot of two pages at a time makes the images far too small for all but those with truly large screens or sitting uncomfortably close. Still, it is a pleasant surprise and I'll never sniff at the chance to see more of the creator's artwork.
Truthfully, a meagre amount of extras, that isn't helped by the fact that the only one of true interest is marred somewhat by the manner in which it is represented.
Akira comes crashing through to the high def home format party. It appears a title that has found a home, being tailor-made for the extra detail and rich colours Blu-ray has to offer it. The film itself was, and still is, a classic. It may not be to everyone's tastes, but the science fiction genre has long split many a film fan's opinion. By its very nature it is far fetched and ponderous, but to dismiss such work because of these criteria is to lose sight of some of the true marvels of cinematic story-telling. Whilst it may seem absurd to some to liken this animated outing to such luminary visions, if the viewer can suspend their disbelief a little further and allow themselves to be won over by this moving work of art, a new door will be opened to the world of well thought out modern animation on Blu-ray such as Tekkinkonkreet, Paprika and even more art house offerings such as the wonderful Persepolis.
If the film has to be argued in order to prove its greatness, the same cannot be said of its presentation. Both visually and sonically, this is an extremely strong disc, with the audio offerings proving where the space on this BD50 has been utilised. When it comes to sound, this is quite simply stunning. Extras are a touch miserly, but I'd far rather have the space available used to cram this disc with the English and Japanese dubs in lossless formats rather than countless features that may have questionable worth.
A film that deserves to be watched by all, brought into the home by a disc that is strong in all the departments that really matter.
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