Reviewby Justin Freeman, Oct 27th 2004
Dead Leaves is one long run-on sentence. That's the best way to describe it. It starts and ends, breathless, having never learned of restraint or structure, as eager to finish as it is to begin. If you think run-on sentences are cool, you will like it. If you don't, well, you might like it anyway, but the chances have just gone down considerably. It is like that excitable friend we all have—the one that calls you up late at night after he/she gets home from work and just starts talking and talking and talking, spilling everything about the day at hand, or what video game they are playing, or why they should be studying for that test tomorrow instead of talking to you, but they go on and on anyway just because they can, just because they might say something interesting, just because they aren't really sure what might come out, or why, and, hey, doing is the only way of finding out, right? It's like that. If you can appreciate people like that—admire their gusto, then chances are Dead Leaves will not anger you. If you are that person, then you might as well call up director Hiroyuki Imaishi. You'd get along great.
As long as you're not easily offended.
Dead Leaves is very crude, you see. It is senselessly violent. It dwells on bodily functions. One of its more important secondary characters has a drill for a penis, and uses it liberally. The two main characters, Retro and Pandy, have violent sex with one another on a complete whim. Skulls are crushed. About eight million bullets are fired. The first cop dies fifteen seconds in, and I'm still not really sure why. So lets back up.
Dead Leaves is about two people. One of them is Retro, a guy with a TV for a head, and a lot of energy of all types. The other is Pandy, an even-keel, chic death-maiden that might come off as a nihilist were you to sit her down over a cup of coffee. The show opens as these two wake up on the outskirts of a futuristic city, naked, with no memory. All we know is that they are comfortable with both each other and the situation, immediately acting as it nothing had happened. They decide it might be a good idea to find some clothes in one frame, and then are wearing said clothes in the next. They steal a car, kill the driver, and find themselves in a high-speed chase/gunfight with what seems to be the entire police force of the planet earth (if earth is even where they are). They are eventually captured, sentenced, and shipped off to a maximum-security prison on what's left of the moon. All of this happens in about three minutes, before we even see the title screen. Yes, this pace is held for the next fifty minutes. Buckle up.
Dead Leaves whirls through the time spent in the moon prison, attempting to chronicle a mass escape along the lines of so many Hollywood movies before it. We of course must also deal with the omnipresent questions of Who Are These People, why did they lose their memories, and how, exactly, did they manage to have sex through a pair of straightjackets? The difference between Dead Leaves and Hollywood is that Imaishi's creation does not particularly care for the answers. It is instead primarily concerned with providing a wonderful sense of destruction; the vast majority of the cast, both good and bad, is constructed with a palpable sense of insanity, determined to scream and explode and bleed with an awareness of our enjoyment. Retro and Pandy themselves are death merchants, if nothing else. The entire production is frantically paced to serve this end, almost to the point where we are asked to derive some meaning from the action, watching as the manic cast endlessly swirls it's way around the winding corridors of the prison complex on trains and motorcylces battling faceless cops or super crab robots or…well, just about anything. It's quite the ride.
The idea of a show this flimsy and schizophrenic is to rely on style and lavish visuals. Things must catch our eye, or we're going to stop paying attention Luckily, director Imaishi previously worked as animation director for FLCL--and it shows. The animation is smooth and frantic, stylistically jumping back and forth between what is appropriate for the moment, almost like an American cartoon. Action is over the top, much like what you'd find in the last two episodes of FLCL. Unlike FLCL's use of pastels and round-ish designs, however, Dead Leaves is dark and angular, with the occasional use of solid greens and blues lending immediacy to the action. The characters are all wildly expressive, mostly with either glee or terror. I found myself constantly reminded of MTV's old Liquid Television shorts (Aeon Flux and such), themselves often composed of equal parts vulgarity and imagination. Even the voice work done in the dub is reminiscent of what is typically found in American animation. Pandy's monotone voice manages to reveal personality in the few scenes where she genuinely feels some sort of emotion, while nearly everyone else sounds as if they've stumbled out of a mental ward. This lunacy flows well with the action on screen, and adds that final bit of edge to the production.
It's just, well--there's not that much else. Dead Leaves' edge isn't as avant garde as Liquid TV, nor is it a work of unadulterated genius like FLCL. Get past the visuals and the mood, and you won't be left with a whole lot. It tries, oh does it ever, with Pandy, to establish something interesting. It tries to smash some meaning into these fifty minutes. It knows how to do it. Imaishi is a man that understands pacing. He gets how to weave a small bit of plot into a work of this nature. How to worm it deep into the consciousness of the destruction and chaos, and let it feed on the outlying quality, and grow, like a seed, ready to burst forth at some exact moment in the form of an epiphany. He tries real hard. The mood is established immediately, and we observe these characters, learning as they learn, waiting for who they are to emerge. We can see it coming for forty minutes. At one point, after Pandy recites the one bit of prose she remembered upon awaking, after her child bursts forth from her, grows, dies (don't ask), and we are left to watch the writhing of her rival-cum-gigantic-butterfly, it almost works. We almost feel something twitch.
But we don't.
We don't, because there is nothing here. No meaning. No idea. The womb is sterile. Imaishi is talking and talking and talking, forever hoping to find that one interesting bit that never comes. And so we are left with the beautiful husk that is Dead Leaves, watching as that butterfly escapes, and dies, never to return.
Overall (dub) : C+
Story : D+
Animation : A
Art : A
+ Beautifully shot and paced. The mood and style mesh well with what it is trying to accomplish. Action scenes are great. Characters might be interesting.
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