Stranger Things and AKIRA Retrospective
by Bryan Mero
Stranger Things is currently on Netflix. If your a fan of movies in the 80's, please, please, leave this review now and go watch it...but please come back, let's chat about this.
Ok, I'm assuming you've seen the show now. I've watched it twice thus far and I'm resisting a 3rd go around. This will be a spoiled filled review, so again, don't read this until you've watched the series. It's only 8 episodes and every one has it's own unique feel and style.
There are tons of reviews for Stranger Things all over the internet. I've only seen a few negative reviews stating that it's overly retro or stealing from films of the 80's. Nonsense...that is what makes this series so fun to watch and wanting to go back for more! Movies just aren't made this way anymore, unless your J.J. Abrams and your watching "Super 8." Other reviewers have gone off on how many tributes there are to this film: Goonies, E.T., Alien, Poltergeist, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc...this list goes on and on.
There was one film, an animated film, that came out in 1988 that changed the way we looked at the anime genre. AKIRA (1988) is based on the Manga of the same name, that tells the story of a biker gang in dystopian Tokyo. It coincides with Tesuo, who is part of an experiment building psychic abilities to the point that it goes out of control. Tetsuo is in a facility, in a hospital gown as he decides to leave. The power he has at his disposal is immense and he wields it like a sword.
In Stranger Things, 011 (El) also leaves the facility after wielding the same such powers and is able to control it in order to save our young heroes. So, in light of all the other nods to 80's genre...I would have to expect that this is a deliberate homage to AKIRA. As seen in the examples to the right, Tetsuo uses his mind to clear the hallway of people. 011 uses her power in the same way but to protect her new friends and in a earlier episode out of anger as she kills two guards that throw her into a room. Hard not to get any closer than that when it comes to using character traits/powers/motivation from past films.
Is Stranger Things stealing the story from Akira or the character Tetsuo? Some might say yes, but in a way, we are all borrowing stories, characters, situations, locations, from all the other films we've seen in our lifetime. We can't help be influenced by them or we wouldn't be fans of film. This comparison struck a chord with me ever since seeing Akira back in the 80's. I thought I would never see such a thing on film or an online series for that matter.
Here it is in all its retro goodness, Tetsuo, although now as a female 011, using psychic ability to kill on command and with that power comes a price. Just as Tetsuo lost control and his sanity, 011 hurts herself with every use of her power until her final act causes an disentagration of both herself and the monster. Were 011 and the monster both one and the same? Did 011 only open the gate to let the monster out of that dimension? Those are the questions you are left to chew on after the show is over. There is no sure and exact answer and I like that. Let the individual audience member make up there own mind. There's no need to wrap everything up in bow. As far as Kaneda and his biker game...this is a stretch, but instead of futuristic motorcycles, Stranger Things uses a bunch of kids and thier bicycles with Michael in charge. The difference here is instead of fighting each other, Michael and El help and care for each other. So no matter how many similarities, there are enough differences to make this story stand on its own.
Is this series really AKIRA in disquise. No, but it does borrow many themes that made AKIRA stand out from the rest. Along with so many other movie moments, themes and tone that is so obvious that the creators must have loved. This series lays out the homage like a blanket and wraps you up and tells you to hang on. I would love to see another Stranger Things on Netflix...I'm not saying that it should continue the story with Michael, 011, the monster...what it felt like was an 8 episode Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. As long as they put in all the same effort, even if it's a completely different story, I'm in!