After the live-action Akira adaptation suffers another delay, is the story really impossible to film, as many have previously suggested? Originally released as an epic manga series by Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira picked up an international following after being adapted into an anime movie, also directed by Otomo. The story of two biker gang youngsters embroiled in a conspiracy that encompasses impending nuclear war, psychic children and government corruption caught the imaginations of budding filmmakers and anime enthusiasts across the globe upon its release in 1988 and talk of a live-action Hollywood version of Akira has been ongoing for the better part of two decades.
Eventually, in May 2019, Thor: Ragnarok's Taiki Waititi was announced as directing a live-action Akira movie, with a 2021 release date set. Alas, celebrations were short-lived, as the Akira movie was subject to an indefinite delay due to Waititi's involvement with Thor: Love & Thunder. As fears emerge over whether the live-action Akira will once again slip into development hell, it's also hard not to be reminded of one widespread assertion: the Akira story is impossible to shoot.
One of the foremost reasons Akira is thought to be such a challenge to translate to film is the density of the source material. Told over 6 chunky manga volumes, Akira is incredibly detailed and doesn't naturally lend itself to a 2 hour movie. Otomo's 1988 feature dealt with this issue by delivering a highly streamlined version of the story, stripping Akira to its bare essentials. In contrast, Taika Waititi, even before officially landing the job, expressed a desire to adapt Akira more faithfully, drawing directly from the original manga.
This is especially challenging as, unlike most long-running comic series, Akira isn't divided neatly into separate arcs or sagas, instead telling a single cohesive story from start to finish. There are countless sub-plots and side stories diverging from the central tale and although the 1988 film proved these could be cut away if necessary, a truly faithful adaptation, similar to the Akira Waititi seemingly has in mind, would be incomplete without them.
It's been heavily reported that one of the major factors in Akira's delay is indecision as to the film's live-action setting. Generally, Hollywood's major studios believe that Western fans aren't interested in a story set in Japan, but Neo-Tokyo is such an integral element to Akira, a creative impasse has been reached. By the time Waititi took the reigns, it sounded like Akira would retain its original Asian backdrop, but Warner Bros. have spent years trying to find a middle ground between West and East, with a Japanese-owned Manhattan reportedly once under consideration.
Visually, live-action Akira is also an incredibly demanding project to bring to life. At a basic level, Akira already requires a highly detailed futuristic setting, high-octane motorcycle chases and epic battles between military forces and powerful psychics. None of this material is new for Hollywood, but it does push the budget up considerably. More problematically, however, is how to visually represent some of Akira's more eccentric moments. In Akira's climax, the villainous Tetsuo begins to morph into a giant mutating mass, while another scene sees psychic test subjects use their powers to create a living nightmare. Both on page and screen, Otomo's artwork ensures these key scenes come across vividly, vibrantly and with a sense of genuine terror. In a live-action setup, however, it's harder to make these moments feel convincing and to avoid the trap of a CGI mess.
Due to its anime and manga origins, Akira already stands apart from the mainstream and represents a risky release for Warner Bros. However, this is exacerbated by the story's inherent mature themes. Akira isn't just dealing in excessive violence, gore or nudity, all of which can be toned down without changing the story, but actual core elements of the property. It's difficult to tell Akira without touching upon drug-addled youths, urban poverty and a general sense of impending doom. Akira, therefore, demands a blockbuster budget, but is very far from a tentpole summer release.
Akira is currently without a release date.