A cursory glance at the front page of popular anime streaming site Crunchyroll will give you a pretty good idea of what the anime industry looks like in 2010. The industry is fairly well dominated by by-the-numbers shonen, borderline creepy moe, the umpteenth version of "Gundam," and big-boobed softcore tease cartoons for shut-ins. If you look at what's hitting TV screens this fall in the world of anime, barring a few precious exceptions, you'll see an industry desperate to find new ways to cater to the same old audience. And then you have Takeshi Koike's debut feature film "Redline," a visually spectacular breath of fresh air that just saw a limited release in Japan and stateside.
Make no mistake: "Redline" is a triumph. The animation is stunning, the pace is spot-on, the music is fitting, and the film itself doesn't overstay its welcome. It is so infused with fresh action that it made me feel like I did back when I first discovered anime. It is an exercise in excess and style above all, with a story just thick enough to hang a number of fantastic action sequences on, but not so detailed that there's actually any real character development. There is a race, a conflict, a group of bad guys, a love story, and an exotic setting and weird cast of characters. That's it. That's all it needs.
"Redline" is an assault on your senses, but not in a negative way. Again -- it's about excess. Every frame and scene is packed with visual information to absorb. Its pores are clogged with things to take in. Characters exercise while chit-chatting, worms wiggle on a plate, characters drool beer, cigarette smoke fills the screen, and beads of sweat drip from immaculately animated bodies. When the race is on, clouds of dust and sparks from nitro provide even more food for your eyes, all tiny bits of animation that add a lot of flavor and style to the film.
You cannot passively watch "Redline." It demands your rapt attention. Looking away, even to wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes, means that you're going to miss gigabytes of visual information. "Redline" is distilled spectacle, so bent on entertaining you that every action scene is much, much bigger than the last. A brutal car crash is topped by a mid-air dogfight. The dogfight is topped by a breakneck chase over a dam. The dam sequence is topped by something entirely unexpected, which is then topped itself. The progression of action scenes is reminiscent of the "Can you top this?" antics of classic shonen manga, but played so melodramatically and over the top that it can't help but be a knowing wink at the audience. "You might have seen something like this before," says Redline, "but it was never quite like this, was it?"
"Redline" is a feast. There is a lot going on in every frame, and every scene is peppered with comedy. The racers, from the extravagantly sexy Superboins to the pompadoured JP in his Transam, are distinct and fascinatingly designed. The final scene manages to top every other scene in the movie, and still wrap things up in a bow. It's original, fresh, and you get so much bang for your ten bucks that it isn't even funny. The seven years of work and over one hundred thousand hand-drawn images truly pay off. This is the movie that "Speed Racer" was dying to be, and it's the perfect antidote if you're suffering under the weight of all the cute girls and long, drawn out fights that infest the current season of anime.
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