Reviewby Tim Maughan, May 19th 2010
JP's biggest dream is to win the Redline – the galaxy's deadliest illegal road race, only held every five years at a secret location not unveiled until practically the last minute. In order to get there he needs to qualify by finishing in a ranked position in the Yellowline race – something it looks like he'll have no problem doing, until his Trans-Am mysteriously malfunctions and flips out just short of the finishing line.
Waking up in hospital, with a bunch of his bones shattered along with his dreams, JP is shocked to find he's has in fact made the grade. It turns out the venue has been announced – and it's the fascistic, authoritarian military superpower state of Roboworld. As a result two racers have already dropped out – and not on ideological grounds either, more that they don't fancy being fired at while racing. It seems that the evil dictatorship that runs Roboworld are not too keen on hosting the event, and are already threatening to throw everything they have at stopping the racers before the starting flag even drops - including a couple of bizarrely terrifying peace-treaty defying weapon systems they've been keeping under wraps. Not, of course, that any of that is going to put JP off…
Redline was in development for over half a decade, finally being released several years later than originally planned. Given that it's the directorial debut feature of Takeshi Koike (key animator on The Animatrix, Dead Leaves and Samurai Champloo, and director of the short OVA Trava – Fist Planet) it seems slightly unusual that Madhouse allowed the production to drag on for so long, and presumably swallow up a hefty budget. All of which begs one obvious question – was it all worth it?
The simple answer is a resounding yes. Whatever you might think of Madhouse's creative and economic risk taking with Redline, there's no denying that for the film's entire 100-minute runtime you are watching something very special, very different, and insanely exhilarating.
For a start, Redline looks like nothing you've seen before. It's easy to see that Koike is a huge fan of western graphic art, and has been influenced as much by French comic artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud (possibly best known for his design work on The Fifth Element), the US animated film Heavy Metal, cult UK sci-fi comic 2000 AD, and even the Star Wars movies as much as he has by the likes of Katsuhiro Otomo, Hiroyuki Imaishi or Leiji Matsumoto. Not that Redline feels or looks like a mash-up of different styles – somewhere in the visual chaos it unrelentingly throws at its audience it becomes something that is far more than the mere sum of parts, a unique piece of animation that at times doesn't even feel like anime in the traditional sense.
Take the character designs for a start – the film feels like it is crammed with literally a cast of thousands of extras, all of different alien races and species. In fact it's only really JP and his love interest Sonoshee that appear to be baseline humans here, meaning that they are the only characters designed in a ‘traditional’ anime style, and are vastly outnumbered by the freakish and unusual looking. The same goes for the mechanical and set designs – there's little here that is reminiscent of a traditional anime production. Instead everything – buildings, vehicles, spacecraft, the Roboworld military's insane planet wrecking weapon systems – all seem warped out of scale, hideously impractical and with the apparent ability to be twisted and stretched out of shape despite how solid they might first appear.
It's amongst this onslaught of graphic insanity that Redline accomplishes something truly surprising. Somehow, without the audience realising it, Koike has managed to make all this chaos believable. Perhaps through the pure density of detail or just knowing when to pull in the reigns slightly, he makes everything from the busy alien crowd scenes to the full-throttle, explosive race sequences seem like events in a real, tangible world. Exactly how he manages to pull this off is impossible to work out after just one viewing, and may never be revealed fully, but it does seem to hint that Redline is the work of a genuine genius.
Not that everyone will love this film – it could be that some will be put off by its soundtrack, comprised almost purely of high-octane, scratch-mixed techno. It might not be to everyone's taste, but it fits the film's visuals beat-perfectly, and it's hard to imagine any other style of music doing the job as well. Some critics are going to look at the film's minimal plot and decry it as ‘style over content’, but to do so will be to reveal themselves as not even within driving distance of the point. Redline is animation not only at its best, but also largely animation for animation's sake – not a story that had to be made in anime form to due to budgetary restrictions, but a story that could only exist in this medium. It is experimental, challenging and most importantly exhilarating in its artistic style in ways that most works could not even dream of reaching through script writing or thematic devices.
There will probably also be some more conservative anime fans that just won't get Redline, that will look at it's unconventional character designs and over the top action sequences and see something they don't consider to be anime. And that's fine, because ironically what will be turning them off is exactly what gives Redline the potential to be a huge cross-over hit – its unique blend of art, music and groundbreaking animation sure to pick up fans from outside the scene, as well as making it potentially one of the most daring and important anime movies for a very, very long time.
Overall : A+
Story : B+
Animation : A+
Art : A+
Music : A
+ This is the most insanely exciting, visually exhilarating anime film you've seen in decades. Incredible fun.
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