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The use of lighting in Akira contributes to its genius

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A neon palette saturates the film

Akira is one of the best-known and influential anime films ever put to the big screen, and because of the attention to detail from its filmmakers, it’s been analyzed countless times by critics. In a new video essay, Evan Puschak (aka NerdWriter), takes a new look at the film and outlines how its creators used light to convey some of the film’s larger themes to viewers.

We’ve enjoyed some of Evan Puschak’s work in the past, essays that take a look at some of the more granular elements of film. This new video takes an interesting look at how animated light differs from what you see in live-action films, and how its use aids the viewer. From the start, he points out, light is important to Akira, because its filmmakers considered Tokyo to be a character in and of itself.

Lights are used in a variety of ways. The film opens with a flickering light that helps set the tone for the movie, while the film’s neon palette saturates the film and helps to support the techno-corporate world that it portrays. In other places, light helps illuminate other key points: the city’s rebellious youth, as well as the power of the authorities.

Toyko’s neon lights have become a sort of short-hand for the consumerism and futurism that the city embodied. It’s a theme which has been represented in numerous cyberpunk stories, such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and it’s put to use here in Akira as well. “Light is layered into the story,” Pushak points out. Light is one element of a complicated and beautiful movie, but it’s an excellent example of how animators can utilize background elements of a film to support and reinforce its underlying tone.