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screenplay by Sadayuki Murai and Katsuhiro Otomo
directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
by Walter Chaw Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira is both the best and the worst thing ever to happen to anime in the United States. For the believer, its Blade Runner cyberpunk ultra-cool was an eye-opener, but to hold the film up as the standard for the medium means that a lot of people looking to it as their introduction believe that anime is a little excitement cordoned off by long stretches of confused, gravid exposition. It tries to condense hundreds of pages of metaphysical text into scientist characters delivering what seem like endless exchanges in high-minded gobbledygook. Akira's popularity obscures the finest examples of the medium, films that manage to balance serious metaphysical musing with actual forward momentum (the two Ghost in the Shell films, for instance); to tell adult tales in affecting ways (Grave of the Fireflies); to redefine genre thriller (Perfect Blue), action (Ninja Scroll), and fantasy (Princess Mononoke); and to present children's fables as artifacts that are as useful for adults as they are for kids (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro). Akira isn't the greatest anime film, just the most well-known, and it's worth speculating how its notoriety may have retarded the maturation of American animation.