There comes a time when it feels as if the things you liked have up and passed you by, or encompassed nowhere near the appeal that they once embraced, allowing you to be pulled in with insurmountable force. It could either be that a) one has outgrown these things, or b) trends & concepts have steered into territory that lack the attraction as previously mentioned. The thrill is gone, the experimentation, excitement, piss & vinegar, watered down into something non-resembling anything appealing. The end result is a feeling of scraping the ashen, desolate dregs of the former landscape for just about any remaining flints, or gobs of fuel capable of instilling the old, once-tangible high. Anything for that flame to begin again, no matter how brief.
Enter Takeshi Koike’s long-awaited REDLINE….
In Media Res, we are launched face-first into the final stretch of the Yellow Line, a legendary, yet horrifically dangerous all-terrain road race hosting a bevy of speed freaks from numerous planets. It is here that we are introduced to several racers, including humanoids, the amphibious Crab-driving Sonoshee McClaren & killer pompadour wearing Trans-Am longshot, JP, often known to the fans as “Sweet JP”. As wagers fly, coverage of the race spanning multiple networks, and nervous gangsters look on, it is looking like JP’s penchant for spectacularly rigged flameouts is about to be broken by an unexpected victory. It is mere seconds before this is rendered moot, however, as JP’s Trans-Am is partially detonated at the home stretch, leaving its driver in the hospital, and McClaren the winner, and lead qualifier for the most infamous of races, the REDLINE. A race so secret, even racers aren’t notified well into the last microsecond. A mild humiliation, and perhaps a quiet dream of actually winning legitimately, JP’s role seems to be over – that is until he is slotted by default to be a replacement racer after several qualifiers suddenly drop out. Turns out that the location selected for this hallowed carnivale of speedy carnage is none other than the soverign rock known as Roboworld; a dangerous planet of metal titans, determined to quash any , and all entities looking to race within their atmo..But alas, the race is on..
Years of waiting, this has been the MADHOUSE production that I had been following on and off since peeps began floating around that Takeshi Koike, and Katsuhito Ishii(also responsible for Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl) would be collaborating on a wholly original animated feature with something of a hefty budget. And in the years that followed, and the revelations that anime studios were beginning to shut down, and the essential climate for anything other than trope-heavy pep was to be something of a dying breed, my hopes had been beginning to fade that this, along with other projects, would never see the light of a projector, let alone the glow of an HD screen. And as the very concept of the full-length anime feature was beginning to look like a forgotten relic outside of Ghibli, and the Ghibli-inspired, tiny sparks of light began to appear in those neglected places. And it finally seemed like REDLINE was to actually become a completed work. Flash forward to May 2010, when Twitter buddy, and science fiction author, Tim Maughan shared his thoughts on the completed film after catching it across the Atlantic. And it all immediately came to mind that if anime was in need of anything vital, it is a wholly original, all-encompassing piece of work that could possibly speak within form, rather than through means most safe to the already initiated.
After a year-plus, I can say with utmost sincerity that REDLINE can very well be that film.
A boundary-ripping exercise in form, Koike’s movie is a ride for the ages that is pure sensory bliss from start to finish. Much more a testing ground for cinematic world-building than story, the tale of JP and his adventures toward reaching for the dream is more excuse to take us through the colorfully kinetic world & ecosystems that inhabit the piece. Part studio 4c-style experimental film, and part Heavy Metal comic gone berzerk, just about every corner of the frame is packed with business that is equally as fun and fascinating as what is happening in the foreground. From the diversity of alien, and machine species, to their mannerisms, as well as fashion and decorum do wonders to populate what is eaily one of the most insanely fun anime films to scope deep into since AKIRA. Even as the story grants us enough charm in the form of likeable loser (with an iffy past-of course..) JP, who longs to not only go the distance, but perhaps break free from shackles no doubt assisted by loyal-yet ultimately sold-out mechanic, Frisbee, the film find its way to keep matters fun without bogging the film down with stock cliches (something I can’t help but feel helped sink TEKKONKINKREET- studio 4c film that fell victim to this to a certain extent). There is even an attempt to infuse a little drama in between the main characters that doesn’t amount to a great deal. But as mentioned before, if a story is light in places, it helps to compensate in other areas. And this film is stocked to the gills with more than enough to help it glide past.
Oh sure there are dozens of fun characters to witness here that warrant mention. One of the film’s more standout elements is how well it identifies each of the event’s main racers, along with their vehicles, and temperaments. Living up to the original teaser SuperBoin are especially ridiculous in their loyalty to their diminutive princess. There is also the frightening duo of bounty hunters who look like they ran off the set of yet another speedball-injected shonen series, and smack into matters. And another duo that look like a parody of every other comedy duo featured on weekly Nihon TV. There is a satirical edge to much of the TV spots featured in the film that feel lifted from Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop. A more than welcome piece of humor, and exposition that only raises the stakes as Day Zero for REDLINE approaches. (Wait, is that a Koroshiya Ichi gag? And wait, is that Zigorow??)
Even as the film occasionally diverts away from the core narrative to grant us looks into how the rogue’s gallery racers is preparing for the big event, as well as how the erm-citizens of Roboworld are taking all of this, there is a certain fluidity to matters that them feel more matter of course, rather than outright digressions. Koike and Ishii (along with contributions by anime surrealism scribe, Yoji Enokido) seem to have found a brilliant sandbox to work within, and all that extra time toward completing the production pays off by allowing the film room to breathe within the mad organics of the world, giving us just enough to laugh and gaze in wonder. There are slight flashes of atypical anime-ess, but one of REDLINE’s greatest strengths is that it is unlike any anime previously created in long form. Just as Koike’s previous works in the Wachowskis’ ANIMATRIX project (World Record), and in the quirky OVA, Trava: Fist Planet, we are looking into worlds beyond the safe and familiar, and personally speaking, this is truly exciting territory to explore. When it is made clear that Roboworld’s bio-engineered weapons are near-poised to be used on our unsuspecting racers and spectators, the film becomes a free-for-all that threatens to almost derail the film completely. And yet, despite all this, again, Koike’s direction, with an astounding amount of animation work, and artistry that is the medium’s equivalent to an extended FANTASIA sequence infused by a hard pounding techno soundtrack, and a penchant for the purely hallucinogenic, it’s all functionally alive in ways anime simply hasn’t been in years.
And we won’t go too much into what is perhaps the most obvious element of this near out-of-control interstellar racing opus, the racing. But this is truly where the film completely goes for broke with astonishing design, jaw-dropping choreography, and some seriously mind-boggling frame rates. If the wild universe Koike and staff have unleashed upon the world haven’t impressed enough already, the opener and closer for the film certainly will for years to come.
It has been a long, truly winding road to find anime that is capable of inspiring not only animators, and anime fans, but anyone truly appreciative of the power of cinema. There is something primal and exciting about works that not only offer fun and surprises, but brings with them a battery of passion & energy that can only be shared through experience. After years of merely adequate features that skirted familiar territory, it’s so refreshing to see such a classic metaphor interpreted with so much energy. This is a film that demands repeat viewings, and is as exciting to listen to as to watch. It is a thrilling gateway drug experience, as well as a bountiful sensory feast for lovers of wild cinema. Was well worth the wait, and essential to any connisseuer’s collection. But if it comes to your town for a theatrical run, get ready to bust down some doors. Ladies & gentlemen, welcome to pure anime.