On December 6, 1982 (1992 in the English release), an apparent nuclear explosion destroys Tokyo and starts World War III. By 2019 (2030 in the English release), a new city called Neo-Tokyo has been built on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay. Although Neo-Tokyo is set to host the XXXII Olympic Games, the city is gripped by anti-government terrorism and gang violence. While exploring the ruins of old Tokyo, Tetsuo Shima, a member of the bōsōzoku gang led by Shōtarō Kaneda, is accidentally injured when his bike crashes after Takashi — a child Esper with wizened features — blocks his path. This incident awakens psychic powers in Tetsuo, attracting the attention of a secret government project directed by JSDF Colonel Shikishima. These increasing powers unhinge Tetsuo's mind, exacerbating his inferiority complex about Kaneda and leading him to assume leadership of the rival Clown gang through violence.
Meanwhile, Kaneda becomes involved with Kei, a member of the terrorist organization which stages attacks against the government. The terrorists, led by Ryu and opposition parliament leader Nezu, get wind of the Colonel's project and a mysterious figure connected with it known as "Akira". They hope to use this leaked information, and try to restrict Kaneda's movements after he becomes too involved with their activities. However, when Tetsuo and the Clowns begin a violent citywide turf war, Kaneda instigates a counter-attack that unites all of Neo-Tokyo's biker gangs against Tetsuo. The Clowns are easily defeated, but Tetsuo is nearly invincible because of his powers. Tetsuo kills Yamagata, Kaneda's second-in-command, and astonishingly survives after being shot by Kaneda. The Colonel arrives with the powerful drugs needed to suppress Tetsuo's violent headaches, extending Tetsuo an offer to join the project.
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