Funimation released a 3-disc Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of Akira on Dec. 22, 2020. The combo packages a 4k Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and bonus Blu-ray Disc with 95 minutes of special features including the extra “AKIRA Sound Making 2019.” Here’s a review of this latest edition that presents Akira like it has never been seen before.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira was the most expensive Japanese anime film at the time it was made (approx. $5.5M) and made an estimated $25M at the box office. The 1988 film is based on the manga of the same name written and illustrated by Otomo, and falls into the post-apocalyptic cyberpunk genre of films (although actor Mitsuo Iwata says the film is in a genre of its own). Set in futuristic Neo-Tokyo in 2019 (about 30 years after the Esper Akira destroys the city in what looked like a nuclear explosion), the movie follows Shōtarō Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang whose friend Tetsuo acquires telekinetic powers similar to Akira that threaten to destroy the city again.
Akira “アキラ” is pretty much a masterpiece of animation. The movie has incredible hand-drawn elements in every frame that boggle the mind. Not sure what we mean? Try pausing the film or watching it in slow motion and you might see how much detail went into making it. There are so many subtleties that pass by the casual viewer like lighting effects, movement, and characters in the background that are not the main focus of the shot.
Otomo also challenged his artists with complicated shots such as Kaneda on his motorcycle in a 3/4 down angle (see image above), which is very difficult to do and made even more complex with splashes from running water. There are scenes with large crowds of people, each person moving to their own sequencing, which must have consumed a lot of production time.
And, lighting, reflections and spotlights that take a real long time to do in animation are prevalent throughout the film. You can even see some of the smaller animation effects like shadows on pebbles in the road that get kicked up when bikes go by. These are elements that are easier to see on a bigger screen, but have also been enhanced in this 4k presentation.
There were over 60 key animators and approximately 100 inbetweeners (the artists who draw frames in between the key frames), not to mention the massive staff that produced Akira. It’s a film that can be watched over and over because you might pick up something new every time.
If you thought the 25th Anniversary Edition of Akira on Blu-ray (in SteelBook packaging) released in 2017 looked good, you’ll be even more impressed with this 4k Blu-ray upgrade. The video is presented in 2160p at 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio with HDR10 High Dynamic Range. [Update: According to Funimation this run of Akira on 4k Blu-ray does not include the HDR10 spec. We reviewed on a Samsung 6 Series assuming it did. Check with Funimation to see how you can get a new or replacement disc in 4k HDR10.] [Update 2: HDR disc received and reviewed. Comparison shot below. See more here.]
Akira on 4k Blu-ray is definitely the best it has ever looked. The colors are vibrant, contrast is striking, and sharpness about as good as a 30 year old film can get. It’s amazing how rich the black levels can be in some scenes given the fact this is hand-drawn and not computer-generated animation.
There are a lot of parallax background effects happening in Akira, some maybe a little over done, but the new 4k presentation really enhances all the color and contrast of the beautifully painted BGs that create the dystopian set of Neo-Tokyo.
The movement animation as Shōtarō Kaneda and other bikers race through the city is one of the highlights of Akira. A standard shot used in the movie is the profile of a biker with backdrop panning behind. In animation it can be a simple way of creating movement, but the animation team added so many levels of movement in the hair, clothing, and background elements that really give the viewer a sense of speed.
Some of the “pops” that were more evident in older Blu-ray and DVD editions were hard to come by in this edition (that’s when there is an animation goof that might last a frame), but it’s also worth noting that not all mistakes were removed. Take, for example, the scene where a clown biker gang member crashes into a restaurant at the beginning of the film (see image above). There is a frame where the table cloths are just missing, something that could have been easily fixed in the digital intermediate, but left as is for this 4k edition.
The amount of detail is really what’s striking on 4k Blu-ray. Much of the graffiti in the background images, elements like broken glass, texture in the brick walls, sidewalks and streets, are all more visible in 2160p.
Japanese audio is the way to listen to Akira, with a 24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that Sound Director Susumu Aketagawa says was remixed to take advantage of the higher quality format. English audio comes close with a 16-bit TrueHD 5.1 track (mixed in 2001), but is not as dynamic as the new TrueHD track. Listening to Akira in Japanese also just seems so much more authentic than with English dubs. If you don’t speak Japanese we suggest viewing subtitles to follow the film (at least to get a taste of the higher-definition Japanese mix).
We reviewed Akira with a soundbar and subwoofer (the Samsung HW-K850) and the soundtrack really impressed. The motorcycles sounded great, dialogue is clear, and effects like crashes, laser beams, and nicely mixed for impact. The battle scenes with Tetsuo shook the house on the low end while maintaining clarity in the higher frequencies.
What really puts Akira over the top in terms of audio is the music composition by Shōji Yamashiro that was influenced by traditional Indonesian gamelan as well as Japanese noh music. It’s one of those soundtracks you can listen to without the visuals, but even more powerful when synched with the dramatic animation style of Akira.
This 3-disc edition of Akira packages a separate BD-50 with bonus material (some previously released) that includes AKIRA Sound Making 2019, AKIRA Sound Clip by Geinoh Yamashirogumi, End Credits (From The Original 1988 Theatrical Release), Theatrical Preview — Trailer Collection (with English Subtitles), and Storyboard Collection. The insert to this edition also indicates a Funimation Digital Copy, but there was no Digital Code included to redeem. We’ll be following up on this issue.
The packaging for this 4k Blu-ray edition of Akira was put together rather nicely, with a hard cardboard slipcase that holds the plastic 3-disc Blu-ray case and booklet. The Blu-ray case insert is printed with a red background on both the front and back of the paper. Not many would notice this, but the double sided printing gives the insert a higher quality look. And, the artwork on the front of the slipcover case is different than the Blu-ray case, something you don’t always see with standard Blu-ray releases.