The psychokinetically gorgeous animation of Akira

Illustration for article titled The psychokinetically gorgeous animation of Akira

Remember that awesome "Art of Akira" show that's now open in Pittsburgh? io9 caught up with its curator, Joe Peacock, who gave us the scoop on the exhibit's history and allowed us to showcase some of its best cels.

What's the story behind the "Art of Akira" exhibit?

I started collecting Akira stills since I was about 12 years old, when they were offering VHS and Laserdisc copies of Akira, and in order to sweeten the deal, if you preordered, you'd receive a free animation cel from [US distributor Streamline Pictures] from Akira. When I got my first cel, I was already a big fan of the manga and when the movie came out in America, everyone had a bootleg copy that they bought from various cons or that their buddy gave them. Streamline was having difficulty selling the concept of convincing everyone to actually buy the movie again, and this was a genius marketing strategy. As time went forward, I became more and more obsessed, and would buy and trade for people's collections.

Illustration for article titled The psychokinetically gorgeous animation of Akira

Here's something that's somewhat apocryphal, but was backed up by everyone I know who worked for Streamline back in the day. Basically, as Streamline ran out of money, they were sitting on all these original cels from Japan. Guys weren't getting paid, so they were literally lifting these boxes of cels from the warehouse and taking them home. Over the years, in order to make mortgage payments and whatnot, guys would sell these cels at comic conventions, and then when eBay came around, you'd see those cels there. I guess it's more of a grey market than a black market.

What would you say is the most coveted piece of Akira animation?

There's the iconic scene after the chicken game sequence between Joker and Kaneda, when Kaneda's skidding out and there's the skid marks, color, and electricity shooting out at you. I think that's the most coveted, the most expensive piece. I've never seen one up close — there's three or four cels in that sequence.

As far as other stuff that people go crazy for, on the collector forums I frequent, are for some reason images of the dog food commercial which airs when Takashi [the Esper] and the spy are running through the street in the beginning. That whole sequence of the actual dog food commercial, people just go nuts! I own the entire sequence, and when people found out I had it, they got real angry. They were like, "How much do you want that for?" It was ridiculous.

Illustration for article titled The psychokinetically gorgeous animation of Akira

What's the most expensive you've ever seen an Akira animation cel go for?

In the "Art of Akira" catalog there were a couple cels of Kaneda on the bike — really powerful scenes — that went for like five grand. At one show I was at, someone had a set of Tetsuo in the tunnel, that was going for six grand. I've seen around the $5000-$6000 mark — private sales can go up to $10000-12000.


What's the future of the Art of Akira show? Are you going on tour?

The exhibit runs until July 22 in Pittsburgh at Toonseum, and then we'll be doing a small exhibit at Gen Con in Indianapolis and then we're doing a full exhibit of about 80 pieces at Dragon*Con — it's the largest Akira exhibit we've done — in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. And from there we go to Scotland for the Scotland Art and Animation Festival. When we get back, we'll be in New Orleans for Spring 2011, and Seattle and San Francisco for Summer and Fall 2011. The purpose of the exhibit is basically to take a step back and look at how animation was done back in the day, and what's a better film to demonstrate this than Akira?


[All artwork courtesy of Joe Peacock.]

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Akira was not my first exposure to anime, nor even to violent and graphic anime. I had heard many great things about it though, and eventually got a hold of the film and was...underwhelmed? Yes the art and music were absolutely stunning for animation of it's day. But the story really threw me off..i got the main thread of it, but it seemed like a very thin thread. The characters and their motivations seemed hard to engage with or understand.

So i guess I'm asking, how does Akira deserve this vaunted space in the anime-pantheon? Is it there because of it's storytelling and character development? Because that's a hard case to make imo. (unless it becomes more appreciable with multiple, repeat viewings?) Or is it there because it was the first one of it's kind exposed to the US audience? I can support it's importance in that manner, as the granddaddy of serious adult animation, but i'm curious if fans of the film can tell me what really appeals to them about it, other than the art.