Saw the disc at Best Buy for $30 at the Mall of New Hampshire, with 3 copies left (all first press). It took a lot of time to decide on this one, but in the end I brought it home. Watched about 20 minutes, particularly the bike chase at the start of the film, and the scenes with Kaneda and Kei in the sewers on their way to rescue Tetsuo.
If what I've watched is representative of the disc as a whole, the transfer is sometimes fairly sharp, other times very soft, but the film never looks as sharp as I would assume a film costing $10 million some 20 years ago would look. I could be wrong, and maybe Akira has always been soft, but even if that's the case this transfer doesn't quite look 'natural', for lack of a better way to describe it. The level of detail changes several times in the same scene (sometimes with the second half of the same
cut of animation!) which makes me think that Bandai have literally tweaked each and every shot separately, applying noise reduction at heavier settings when they felt the shot itself needed it. Every now and again there's a healthy layer of grain, but a few seconds later the whole film may look comparatively blurred.
Watching the level of grain change, sometimes dramatically, from shot to shot was kind of jarring. It's certainly no Sleeping Beauty, where every shot is free of anything resembling noise, but it's certainly inconsistent. The fact that several shots that are optically printed effects exhibit very little grain shows that, even if the negative is just as inconsistent, some of this softness is due to digital restoration tools being over-used. Optical effects should have more
grain, not less, and occasionally the Akira Blu-ray proves it by leaving a dissolve as-is, grain and all.
I was thrilled to see the original Japanese surround mix included, along with the (apparently punchy) remix. Sadly, I don't even have non-TV speakers hooked up at the moment, so a lot of good it does me...
I took a peek at the special features. The trailers were all in HD, and were degrained far
more than the film itself (they were likely far grainer to start with). The theatrical trailers look downright static! Nothing in the main feature so far has looked remotely that filtered, thankfully. I can't help but wonder if not including the Production Report and other "vintage" NTSC extras were - in part, at least - an effort to keep the Blu-ray 100% HD?
It's not an awful HD transfer, it's just not a spectacular one either. It's a lot better than the Pioneer DVD and prior HD cable broadcast (though topping either of those couldn't have been hard). I paid as much for Akira as I did The Dark Knight, and feel about the same way: the transfer has issues, and that frustrates me, but I bought it to enjoy the film in the best home release possible. No, it isn't ideal, and yes, I wish there was something better, but the odds of Akira getting a third HD remaster in the next several years are slim to none, especially with most of the people watching the disc being perfectly content with it.
I stand by more or less everything I've said up to this point. I'm somewhat disappointed, but odds are this is as good as Akira will ever get on Blu-ray. So I'll stop complaining let you all enjoy your anime.