Akira is a film by which virtually all science-fiction anime (and, for that matter, any anime) is judged. It's certainly a beautiful movie, and arguably one of the most entertaining. However, you've probably never heard of Ai City. That's a shame, too, because people who like the psionic elements of Akira will be truly impressed by it, especially considering that Ai City was released two years before that epic. Those who like Akira merely for the art, however, will be disappointed.
Ai City follows the story of K, a psionic man who's escaped from an evil conglomerate called Fraud. The company's been kidnapping people and doing biogenetic experiments on them. K was one of their victims, but he was ultimately rejected because he couldn't achieve beyond a basic level of psi. He was able to escape, and when he did, he took Ai with him. Ai's a young girl who may be the trigger to ultimate psionic power, and so everyone wants her for their own. K and Ai get caught in continuous battles trying to escape from the clutches of Fraud, and so do a drunken private eye and a more-than-meets-the-eye fatcat.
Sounds less than exciting, right? Well, it's a surprisingly good show, despite some of its flaws. You can tell the psychics right away, as they have numbers printed on their foreheads, and the numbers tally with their power level. It sounds silly, but it works in the battle sequences, and it looks like the numbers we see on the heads of the children in Akira. The battles are well-done, and the plot does actually work pretty well. There are multiple bad guys (and they don't all work for the same team), and they add a bit of flair to the show. The artwork is a bit of a sticking point--it is rather rudimentary at times, and the style itself is not particularly attractive. Although somewhat typical of the day, it doesn't win too many points. (The VHS copy that has been released by The Right Stuf International has a nice format with subtitles under a letterboxed screen, but the image is awfully soft. Maybe I've been watching too many DVDs.)
Some plot points and events may seem reminiscent of Akira, but since that came out two years later, I think Ai City has a good overall feel. It also doesn't involve too many characters, so its 90 minute length seems about right. It's simple in a way, but still entertaining. Those who like psychic stories or engaging science-fiction who can get past the artistic style should enjoy it.
Ai City -- brief nudity, violence (some graphic) -- B+