Akira: Special Edition (1987)

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Released 14-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Anime Main Menu Audio & Animation
Trailer-9
Featurette-Production Report (47:52)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1987
Running Time 120:16 (Case: 124)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (45:40) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Katsuhiro Otomo
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring None Given
Case DV-4
RPI ? Music Shoji Yamashiro


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Akira is an important part of anime history. It was a large project, and cost a considerable sum to make. In a way, it marks the end of an era; I doubt that anyone will ever make a full-length anime feature using hand-drawn and coloured cels again. In another way, it was a beginning - no anime prior to this one had used as many colours, or had gone to such extremes in matching animated mouth movements to voice acting, for example. They even filmed it on 70mm film to capture as much detail as possible.

    Akira was first released in 1988 in Japan. It was later released in English, but the dub soundtrack was not very good - the translation was rather inaccurate, and the voice acting was inferior (you can judge this for yourself, by the way). Over a year ago, Pioneer (who release quite a bit of anime in English) chose to put the money and effort into producing a DVD of Akira that would live up to the quality of the original. They spent over a million US dollars on the project, which included recording a complete new English translation (5.1, no less). The results were released as a two disc set in a limited edition tin box (all sold now, I believe), and, more prosaically, in a normal 2-disc plastic case. I had my order in well before the release date, and I have to say that I was impressed with the results when they finally arrived.

    A little while back, Madman Entertainment invited us to hear about their plans for the Region 4 release of Akira. They estimated, and I think rightly, that the Region 4 market would not sustain sufficient demand for an over-the-top two disc release, so they decided to pick and choose through the supplementary material and produce a single disc version. They chose to add one feature that was not included in the Region 1 release - they included the original English language dub. This is interesting from the point of view of history, although I'd suggest you will never to more than sample it - the new 5.1 dub is vastly superior.

    The story of Akira is one that you will enjoy best if you discover it as you watch the film. Suffice it to say that it is a science fiction story set in 2019, in NeoTokyo, a huge city that grew up after the destruction of Tokyo in World War III (you'll learn all of this in the first few minutes, so I'm not giving anything away). There are several central characters, but the ones we meet first are Tetsuo and Kaneda, who are teenage members of a bike gang - if you are into motorcycles, then you may really enjoy this sequence. Their bike gang has a showdown with a rival gang called the Clowns; there are some impressive images in this. Then other threads of the story start to appear...

    In some ways, this is not the kind of animation you might think of when you consider anime - it is completely devoid of cute girls with rainbow-coloured hair and big eyes in powered combat suits (not that there's anything wrong with that kind of anime...). This is a much more realistic style - more realistic hair and eyes, especially, but also some rather realistic bullet wounds.

    One last comment - the film's Australian rating is M, while its US rating is R. This is indicative of the difference between the rating systems, rather than any difference in the film. It earns that rating mostly by way of graphic violence, including some serious police brutality and a heavy emphasis on excessive firearms. This is not a cartoon for kiddies, unless you want them to wake up with nightmares.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The picture is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. This is an enjoyable rarity - widescreen anime. I believe the original aspect ratio to be 1.85:1, so this is acceptably close.

    The image is quite sharp; I might have preferred a softer image if it had reduced the aliasing. I contend that animation does not have shadow detail, but comparing the Region 1 disc with this one almost makes me reconsider my opinion - the Region 1 disc shows more detail in the darkest colour ranges, where the Region 4 disappears into black. Only one scene displays anything like low level noise, and I think it is really a touch of light grain.

    Colour is very good, but not quite up to the standard of the Region 1 disc. Colours are well-saturated, and the light scenes are fine, but the darker scenes have a tendency toward slightly less-defined colour.

    There are few film artefacts, and I did not find them troubling - part of the Pioneer restoration work involved repairing as many of the film artefacts as possible. The artefact problem is aliasing. Animation of this type is prone to aliasing problems, due to the plethora of fine black lines, and this disc does exhibit pretty much constant aliasing, especially on any panning shots. This problem is rather less evident on the Region 1 disc.

    The only subtitles are in English. They match the 5.1 English soundtrack quite accurately - the mismatch with the original 2.0 English soundtrack is quite entertaining - I suggest you compare them to realise how different the two English language dubs are. The subtitles are easy to read.

    The disc is single-sided, dual layer, in RSDL format, and crammed full. The layer change is placed at 45:40, placed inside a fade-to-black. It is well-placed, and pretty much invisible.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three soundtracks. I listened to the 5.1 English and Japanese soundtracks and sampled the 2.0 original English.

    The dialogue is easy to understand. This film is extraordinary because of the level of sync between the voices and the animated mouth movements - it was a particular focus of the director.

    The score is marvellous. Much of it is beaten out on large bamboo xylophones (I don't know the real name of the instrument in question). It is a soft percussive sound, and part of the Akira experience - I found that I remembered the music, even though I hadn't seen the film in years.

    The new 5.1 dub uses the surround speakers and subwoofer well. I can really recommend this English dub, if you are not a fanatic. The fanatic will insist on watching this film with the Japanese soundtrack and subtitles. The Japanese track is surround-encoded, but does not display as detailed surround effects.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menus are animated with sound. They are unusual, in that every menu uses "one-touch" navigation. Most of the menus have four points, chosen by pressing one of the 4 movement keys. When you press that button, the choice is activated. It took me a while to work out how to move backwards through the menus - you just press Enter.

    There is one element of the menu audio I feel obliged to mention. The opening transition to the menu uses the subwoofer to excess, and it is used every time you return to the main menu. You can get tired of this quite easily. I'd have been happier if this transition only appeared when you first entered the menu in a session.

Japanese Promotion

    This includes four trailers, labelled:

    The first one is unique, but each of the others includes pretty much all of its predecessor, so I suggest you watch them in the order listed above.

English Trailer (1:15)

    This looks to be the original trailer; the pieces of the film we see use the original dub.

Madman Propaganda

    Four more trailers, for:

Documentary: Production Report (47:52)

    This documentary was produced at the time of the release of the original film. It is in Japanese with American voice-overs - the American voices get a bit "gee-whiz" in places. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The feature list for the Region 1 two disc package is long. The extra features that are not included on the Region 4 disc are:

    The capsule option is interesting, and it was the most discussed option before release of the R1. It is cute (a capsule appears on the screen and you press a button to view more information), but it's not a huge feature to miss.

    The only feature on the Region 4 disc which does not appear on the Region 1 is the original English dub - it is quite a nice thing to have.

    I'd be happy to recommend the Region 4 disc, due to its much lower price, even without the vast range of extras. The problem is that the video quality of the Region 1 disc is substantially better - better colour fidelity, and lower aliasing. If you want the best available quality of video, get the R1. If you want as many extras as possible, get the R1. If you want the movie, in reasonable video quality, with only the most important extras, then the R4 is for you.

Summary

    Akira is a landmark in anime, presented adequately on DVD.

    The video quality is adequate.

    The audio quality is excellent.

    The extras are good, including the most important (the Production Report).

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Thursday, November 22, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDArcam DV88, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left and Right: Krix Euphonix, Centre: Krix KDX-C Rears: Krix KDX-M, Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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Comments (Add)
Stupid comment about ratings. - grug (there is no bio.)
R1 DTS edition - Stimpy (da, what's a bio Ren?)
Steamboy - Stimpy (da, what's a bio Ren?)
"aliasing" - Neil