Japan, 1988, 124 min. Director: Katsuhiro Otomo. Voices: Jimmy Flanders, Drew Thomas, Lewis Lemay.
Here's one which will show you that animation ain't all Elton John tunes and cute feline critters. Akira has been called "an animated Blade Runner for the 21st century"; and while that's overstating it a bit—it's not the landmark film Blade Runner was, and the plot's not nearly as interesting as most of Philip K. Dick's—it's still impressive.
The animation in Akira is obviously the end-product of much time, effort and yen. There's a smoothness and realism here that's lacking in a lot of modern animation, which makes the 21st century post-apocalypse Neo-Tokyo of Akira as convincing as any special-effects creation. Couple this with some startlingly original images, especially in the final scenes, and a good soundtrack, and you have almost everything required to make it an animated classic.
Where Akira falls down is in its plot. It's an adaptation of a popular Japanese graphic novel, and what probably works fine over many issues of a comic is far too disjointed and sketchy for the screen. Disappointingly, the effective action sequences of the opening scenes aren't succeeded by anything as exciting; Akira lapses into supernaturalism (without the plausible justifications present in a graphic novel classic like Watchmen) and odd speeches about the destiny of humanity which really answer none of the viewer's questions.
This, however, is offered as an observation rather than as a warning. Akira isn't perfect, but it is visually splendid and worth watching if you're at all interested in animation, comics, Japan, science fiction, films, or (like me) all of the above.