Back in 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark manga Akira was made into an anime feature film and released in Japan. The film was an instant success and American fans who read the translated manga couldn’t wait to see the film. More than a year later, Streamline Pictures and a team of producers and writers who helped translate and rewrite other Japanese anime for the American audience handled the job of creating a dubbed version. In early 1990, the English dub of Akira premiered in arthouses and college area theaters. It did surprisingly well and spread by word of mouth as the years went on.
The first time I saw the English dub of Akira was a bootleg VHS version someone recorded by sneaking a camera into the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA during one of it’s early matinee airings back in 1990. My brother and I watched the hell out of that tape (I still have it). Eventually, I bought a proper VHS version of it later on. Before you knew it anime fans everywhere were fake screaming “Tetsuo!” and “Kaneda!” all over the place while quoting lines from it. It became the cool in-joke with groups of friends...until you ran across someone that hadn’t seen it. That was easily fixed with another screening of Akira for the new person in the group, though.
It became especially popular among teenagers and college students during the early 90’s once it was finally released and made available for rental on VHS. Soon it was making fans of people that never even cared for anime before. Before long it was regarded as the definitive anime film of all time...haven’t y’all ever seen the Absolut Vodka ad? If they said it is then it has to be true. After all, who knows more about anime than a liquor company (or the ad agency they hired)?
This blog actually isn’t so much about the film Akira so much as it is what happened to this great piece of anime after it became popular. In 1998, the DVD format began making serious headway and DVD players began flying off of shelves all over the country. One of the biggest phenomenons associated with the growing popularity of the DVD format was that audiences were clamoring for martial arts films and anime releases. The new format was tailor made for these genres. Back catalogues of icons like Jackie Chan and Jet Li began flooding the market, as did several anime films like Fist Of The North Star, Ghost In A Shell, Ninja Scroll, The Dagger Of Kamui, Beast City and several other popular titles. There was no DVD release for Akira forthcoming, though. Eventually, Streamline Pictures folded and the VHS edition of Akira went out of print.
Thanks to the widespread popularity of the internet and new advances in technology that problem was overcome in a pretty simple manner. Some Asian companies simply recorded the English dub digitally and made them into VCD’s then they made them available for sale online. Others simply bought the region free Japanese version of Akira direct from Japan online and settled for reading bright yellow subtitles. Either way, we were getting Akira on DVD one way or another dammit!
Here’s where shit gets weird. Pioneer decided that their going to release a special double disc edition of Akira and in July 2001 they finally release a remastered version of Akira on DVD. Everything about the film was improved except for one aspect that split Akira fans right down the middle...a new English dub was recorded. Some fans didn’t care, they were just so happy that the film Akira was finally officially available on DVD. Others were so pissed off with the new dubbed version that it kept them from buying that DVD version altogether. It has gotten to the point where Akira fans have several versions of the DVD and just recently there was an international version of the Akira DVD released with the remastered film but with the original 1990 dubbed dialogue on it.
For those of you that have never seen Akira or have only seen the second dub of it, I implore you to find or borrow the original dub of the film and you’ll see why it’s such a big deal. For one, the original version is so much more quotable than the new one. The voices fit the characters better (as does the dialogue..even though some of it never made sense. “This chapter’s finished?” What?) and the voice acting was a lot better in key situations of the film. For anyone who saw the original dub first, the new version absolutely horrible.
To make shit worse, the new dub is the one that gets shown nonstop on the Cinemax movie channels on digital cable and is available from time to time On Demand on Comcast digital cable. It’s fucked up to know that some kid that doesn’t know better is watching what he thinks is Akira for the first time right now and seeing an inferior version of it because of the wack ass dub.
For those of you that still haven’t seen Akira yet, I suggest you get the Japanese version and just watch it with subtitles. If you’re insisting on seeing the wack dubbed version (pictured below), then see if you can find someone who has the original dub. Watch both and you’ll see what I mean.