5 ways Akira is the best cyberpunk anime movie (& 5 it’s Ghost in the Shell)

In the sacred rooms of Japanese anime stand two films that remain perpetual icons of the genre: Akira and Ghost in the shell. It is difficult to imagine two pillars having more influence and stature than these.

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Both films are representative of the futuristic cyberpunk themes that have become so well known in sci-fi pop culture, and incorporate common elements such as difficult futures, cities in distress, and a dystopian breakdown of society as a whole. Which title best represents cyberpunk as a whole, however, is a bit more complex argument.

ten Akira is a better manga adaptation

Tetsuo in agony under the gaze of his friends

Both Akira and Ghost in the shell were film adaptations of traditional print manga, but the former was arguably more faithful to the source than the latter. Akira largely glued to the material in volumes 1, 2, 3 and 6, and adapted it into a standard feature film. It made him a little difficult to follow, at least in the first quarter, but he was largely successful in hitting his goal.

On the other hand, Ghost in the shell lost a lot of cutesy humor in favor of a much more mature and adult scenario, heavy with philosophy and symbolism. You could argue that the changes were for the better, but manga purists must have been a little shocked at the direction the film has taken.

9 Ghost In The Shell is easier to follow

Batou pulls out his gun in pursuit of a suspect in a market

While both films are heavy on the cyberpunk theme, Ghost in the shell is a bit more faithful to the genre as a whole. After all, the whole premise is about the intricacies of identifying as human in an age of hyper-cyberization and technological paradigm shifts. As such, it is much closer to the cyberpunk myth.

Everything from “ghost hacks” to cyberbodies to the transcendence of AI consciousness to a higher plane of existence is featured, and it’s a fascinating mix, even on repeat viewings. It’s also a bit more grounded in reality, offering a possible glimpse into a future world dominated by technology.

8 Akira is more complex

Kaneda and Kei talk about what Akira is

Those who watch Akira for the first, second, or third time, no doubt be left in awe of the puzzlement of the story. After all, it was relatively unexplored narrative territory for the period. Whether by the depth of the material or by the way it has been presented, Akira was a tough nut to crack.

It wasn’t until a couple of times that fans really caught on to what it was about. While the basic crux of the tale was a young man driven mad by chaotic telekinetic powers, there was much more going on behind the scenes, including government cover-ups, terrorist programs, and a complicated spiritual philosophy.

7 Ghost In The Shell was tech-driven

A comatose interpreter and her cyber brain

Akira’s the future may have been a representation of cyberpunk culture, but Ghost in the shell summarized it better. The focus of the film was Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg from Section 9 whose memories may or may not be his. Throughout the film, she questions the meaning of her own existence and her limits as a living and thinking being.

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It’s ironic, given that most of its body is a mechanical cyborg “shell” made up of nuts, bolts, servos, and actuators. His human brain is the only intact fleshy organ in his body, and the question of whether that is enough to make someone human in an age when people are replacing body parts with cybernetic alternatives is often asked.

6 Akira was focused on biology

Tetsuo discovers Akira's genetic samples

Cybernetics and the vastness of the connected network are two common cyberpunk themes, but Akira only flirt with these aspects a little. Rather, film technology is used in the pursuit of biological and paranormal research, specifically related to the powers contained in living cells.

The movie alludes to this when Kei and Kaneda discuss what Akira is and how Tetsuo manifests his incredible powers. It’s purposely cryptic, leading to fascinating speculation about what the government was involved in pursuing that power.

5 Ghost In The Shell Has Cooler Battles

An armored tank clashes with Major Kusanagi

Both films have a lot to offer in the action realm, as well as in the philosophical realm, but Ghost in the shell has a slight advantage over its competitor. Part of the cool factor of the film is the well-researched and implemented action scenes, which were crafted with great attention to detail.

For example, the animators studied the impact of bullets and projectiles on different materials in order to accurately represent them on screen. This, combined with camouflaged martial arts battles, gigantic tank battles, and brutal sniper fire, creates captivating, dynamic and thrilling action scenes that stand the test of time.

4 Akira has a better villain

Tetsuo sinks into madness

It can be difficult to categorize Tetsuo as a villain, considering he’s a psychologically damaged young gang member driven mad by powers beyond his comprehension, but he’s still a better antagonist than that of Ghost in the shell. In fact, you could argue that none of the bad guys are really bad.

In Tetsuo’s case, his own anger and rage comes to the surface, amplified by his nascent powers. He still has a soul and he still suffers, but his pain drives him to prey on everyone he loves. The amount of damage he causes is incomprehensible, all in the pursuit of a confrontation with a mysterious “Akira”.

3 Ghost In The Shell Has A Better Ending

Major Kusanagi says goodbye to his friend Batou

Neither film ends on a happy or positive note, but rather confusing and symbolic. In the case of Akira, disaster repeats itself, leaving the audience with an ambiguous ending and a confusing proclamation. With Ghost in the shell, there is no real catastrophe imminent, but a personal battle between two like-minded people.

Ghost ends with Major Motoko Kusanagi merging his own consciousness with that of the villainous Puppet Master to create an entirely new being. It’s a calm, dark ending that hints at bigger things to come. An overview of this was seen in Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, but the public can only guess at the Major’s final reveal.

2 Akira had better visuals

Kaneda on his red motorbike

Both of these films are amazing and groundbreaking cinematic achievements, especially when it comes to the anime. however, Akira manages to rise above Ghost in several key areas specifically related to visuals. There is so much to see and so much detail in every picture that it becomes impossible to ignore them.

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The imaginations of countless talented people are put into cel format to create breathtaking, powerful and awe-inspiring scenes one after another. The cinematic art style is not only unique, but it is also done with a subtle technique in mind. For example, Akira uses several different frame rates in the same movie to create an increased sense of awareness of key scenes. Much of it is lost on audiences, but it’s part of what makes the film so memorable.

1 Ghost In The Shell has better designs

Major Kusanagi's cyborg body being assembled

Strictly in terms of cyberpunk, Ghost in the shell the visuals are there. The opening sequence of “birth” is the first real highlight of the film: a credits juxtaposed with the creation of a cyborg body, to the haunting tune of “Utai I: Making of Cyborg” by composer Kenji Kawai.

From there it’s all a visual cyberpunk tour de force. The credibility of the real-world environments is what sells the story as more than just a teenage fever dream. It’s a practical trick, a glimpse into a possible future where humanity merges with the machine, and begins to wonder where the line ends and begins.

NEXT: Ghost In The Shell: 5 Future Tech We Want In Real Life (& 5 We Don’t)

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