It's funny. I first saw Akira on VHS about 9 months after it came out. At the time it struck us as deeply derivative of lots that had come before (Blade Runner, Firestarter, Aliens, Poltergeist) while not adding much to the archetypal Japanese "monsters come world explodes" storyline we'd seen in every Godzilla movie ever.
But you're right. It was the first real anime that Americans saw. The next year the local arthouse cinema ran Totoro. Then the next week, incongruously, they ran Urutsukidoji. Which we went to see not knowing what the hell to expect, this being the year before Eternal September. I remember a couple with a baby in the theater. Cartoons are for kids, right?
The Matrix is a ripoff of everything Cyberpunk without any of the ethos but yeah - it steals heavily from Akira. I guess it kind of is Patient Zero for people who didn't watch anything earlier.
And shit. I've already got it at 1080P. Awright. Akira's got my vote.