If you have watched an amount of anime you would describe as anywhere between “any” and “I used to pass around bootleg fansubs of Revolutionary Girl Utena” but you have never seen Akira, raise your hands. Really? That many? It used to be that Akira was the first anime (well, the first ~real~ anime) (well, the first non-sexually-explicit ~real~ anime) most Western audiences saw. It comes from a time when the medium was synonymous with genre. Western audiences didn’t have access to super-robo or shōnen or slice of life series, and a lot of the myriad sub-genres anime occupies now either didn’t exist or were just being born. Akira — violent, shocking, technically adept — was a surprise in both content and quality; it used twice as many frames of animation as most of its contemporaries, and its art and lighting are breathtaking. The voice actors were pre-recorded, so animators could sync to their performances rather than vice versa. But beyond being highly recommended and highly watchable, it was available. No need to prowl dusty, challenging comic book stores and hobby shops to find what you wanted. Your local video store had a copy, and back then you had a local video store.
That said, “important to see but difficult to watch” is a terminal diagnosis for a work of art. Luckily, even though it’s over 30 years old, Akira is still one of the best and most watchable science fiction movies of all time. Remember a couple years ago when people were passing around memes with “this is the day they go forward to in Back to the Future 2”? 2019 is the year of Akira. We might not have the rad motorcycles and curious fashion choices, but at least Tokyo is still not Neo; things could be worse. Tetsuo and his best friend Kaneda have not yet drifted their bikes into the motorcade of the psychic Takashi. Akira tells its story almost entirely through stunning visual and adept world-building; it’s not much for exposition. Understandable, considering its source material was six volumes and eight years of manga. So it’s the kind of movie that rewards repeat watching, to fully absorb the story. Unfortunately REWIND is only showing it once, but that’s okay. You’ve probably seen it before.