Today’s anime is a feature film called Redline.  Redline is a sci-fi adrenaline shot of high-octane racing on other worlds.  Technically a spinoff of a show called Trava, but I hadn’t even heard of the original source until I was looking up facts for the film, so my ability to review and compare to the source is rather limited.  For those of you who saw the original, sorry I can’t critique the tie in, but for everyone else, let’s get ready for some speed.

First off, the film’s art style might be familiar to you, that’s because one of the character designers ( Takeshi Koike) happened to also work on a few, lesser known projects such as Afro Samurai, Blood: The Last Vampire, Dead Leaves, Lupin the IIIrd, and the Animatrix.  Interesting enough, this is also his film debut as a director.

Production wise, this film is by Madhouse, who does some very spectacular work, with secondary production handled by Gainax, another company whose reputation is immense.  Originally, it was set to release at the same time as three other Madhouse presentations at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, production delays pushed it back several months until the  Locarno International Film Festival, and a Japanese launch of 2010.

The film starts off oddly calm.  About the only calm we’ll see the whole movie as several extras talk about what’s going on, and who they think is going to win.  There’s a few cute moments among he alien people as well before the racing starts in earnest.  After that though?  Well, once the music actually starts, the adrenaline really doesn’t stop.  We’re introduced to some of the actual characters as they work on the final stretch on the Yellow Line finals.

I’ll be honest from here, the plot itself is pretty thin through most of it.  If you suspend your knowledge of the main character, there’s a lot of suspense in the race itself, and I spent a lot of time going “well how are they going to get out of THAT pickle”, but it is pretty simple in the end.  But that’s just fine.  This isn’t a film meant to be deep, if anything, it is about a strap as you might expect if you were to strap a rocket to your butt and see how fast you can go.  It’s almost an art film in how it really is about the experience of being a racer, going hundreds of miles an hour in a tube of metal you can’t even understand, and there, I find it doing a great job.  It’s almost like if F-Zero had a mutant baby with Dead Leaves.  It’s crazy, thrilling and packed full of high-octane mindlessness, but it’s a ton of fun.

In addition, despite there being such a light plot, there is a depth to things that is astounding.  If you look close enough at the non-racing elements, you’ll notice that they actually put a lot of thought into the universe this is set in.  There are galactic treaties, unique races, and so on.  The way that everything works makes me think that someone actually took a lot of time to think out how a treaty would work between the Magical Women of planet Supergrass and the cybernetic people of Roboworld, both having their list of superweapons (Supergrass having inherent magical powers, while Roboworld having bio-weapons of Akira scale).  There’s a lot of implications too, between the treaty, the talk about a DMZ existing across Roboworld’s moon and it teeming with “refugees” (who are obviously not from Roboworld, no less), and so on.  For being a debut film, Takeshi bit off a lot with the backdrop for what is essentially an animated Need for Speed In Space.

Now, for the bad though: the plot really is pretty transparent and shallow.  On top of that, some plot points have absolutely zero build up.  In a way, it feels almost like this was going to be a pilot pitch for something like IGPX and Oban Star Racer, rather than a stand alone feature film.  Maybe some of this is cleared up in Trova, but from the synopsis, I’m not sure there is a tie-in outside of three of the racers.

The biggest hit for this has to be in the obligatory love interest plot.  We’re shown that JP has the hots for Sonoshee, but Sonoshee says early on that she’s not looking for love at all, and even less so in JP.  We see a lot of JP being wistful about the two being together, but if anything we watch Sonoshee become even more disgusted with JP when she learns about his past, not start to like him better, and yet by the end, she looks awfully comfortable with the hero of the story.

Also, another, related bone I have to pick with this film is the completely random scene during the middle exposition train.  The exposition on the characters is done in an interesting note of a new reel while Sonoshee watches, giving comments of her own.  But what gets me about this scene that really tears me is that, for no explained reason, she decides to do this while topless, adding some pretty solid and completely gratuitous and senseless nudity to the film, when it really didn’t need it.  It was kinda like the completely random sex scene at the end of Mezzo Forte, which otherwise would have just been like the anime series that became Mezzo Forte.  It’s just there to pander to an audience, and while it is well drawn at least, it serves no real point.  Hell, it isn’t even really that stimulating, just “ooh, nipples”, so why Takeshi felt the need to add it is beyond me.

I was going to point out how many of these voice actors ended up in Atlas works too, but in doing the research, while a lot of them do have roles in the Persona series or Catherine, the American dub actors pulls out a lot of big name dub actors in general, with names such as Michelle Ruff, Patrick Seitz, and Tony Oliver, to name a few.  so it is less “these guys ended up in Atlas” and more “here’s some big names in the Anime voice acting community” anyway.  Usually, I’m much bigger on watching subs than dubs, but I’ll be honest, the acting in Redline was pretty good, capturing the inhuman lack of emotion from Colonel  Void Do and Machinehead, the youthful badass of JP, and the sexy cool of Sonoshee, and so on.  Unlike some other works where you clearly question the connection between voice and creatures on-screen, Redline pulls it off pretty well, I think.

All in all, I’d give Redline a 7 out of 10.  It isn’t the best film ever, and the plot has its shares of weak points and holes, but at the same time, it’s really more of an art film than a hard plot film, and while it won’t blow you away with the storyline, it will still blow you away with the sheer pulse-pounding action once they hit the track.  The visuals are A+, the acting itself is great and the soundtrack is pitch perfect to the situation.  If you haven’t seen this Madhouse production, what are you waiting for?  Go check it out, I highly doubt that you’ll be disappointed.

Ja ne!

The Ranting Loon

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