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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
When I was a teenager in the 90s, the sheer number of totally outrageous, highly entertaining feature-length anime movies seemed almost intimidating. There existed, after all, some twenty odd years of material to comb through and obsess over. As the years passed by, however, the numbers began to dwindle and dwindle as I caught up with everything, and the cool stuff seemed to come less and less often. While there were filmmakers like Satoshi Kon releasing great movies every few years, the overall output seemed to almost completely disappear. This was, of course, not completely true – it was just my limited perception. But nevertheless, anime increasingly seemed like it wasn’t for me anymore, so much so that despite the occasional Kon or Mamoru Hosoda outliers, I grew incredibly disillusioned with the medium.
Though a more recent trend in the medium has given me some pretty great television entertainment over the better part of the last year, the feature length films targeted towards older anime fans are sadly still in short supply. In 2010, however, the hand-drawn Takeshi Koike-directed Redline, from Madhouse animation studio, was released to incredibly wide acclaim, from both fans and critics alike. I was, at this time, super hyped for Redline. Judging by the initial trailer, it looked absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, it would be another year and a half or so before the film was made widely commercially available to a mass audience in the states. By the time of its release onto DVD and Blu Ray disc from Manga Entertainment in early 2012, I had kind of moved on (in hindsight this was an enormous mistake).
Over the past few months, my interest in the anime medium has come back quite a bit. I had occasionally glanced over at the Redline Blu Ray on the tiny shelf labeled “Anime” at Best Buy (remember when this used to be an entire aisle?). I noticed recently it was priced at a very tempting $14.99, but still I always passed it by with little more than a second glance. Then one day I noticed it had been re-priced to $9.99, and I snatched it up immediately. After watching it, I realized that I should have paid double that. If anything, I probably should have paid triple – Redline is just that damn good. I feel like a total fool for skipping over it the past few years, especially when everyone was saying to watch it. But again, in fairness to me, Redline wasn’t easily available for purchase until nearly two years after its theatrical run. Still – I feel really dumb that I hadn’t seen it until just this summer.
Redline is not a film that is terribly concerned with plot or script. The story is incredibly simple. The titular Redline is an ultimate drag race between a small number of bad-ass competitors who must out-maneuver and out-race each other in order to win the universe’s ultimate bragging rights. Redline is the culmination of an entire season’s worth of intergalactic racing and also perhaps the most dangerous activity in the galaxy to participate in. Our hero, Sweet JP, wins a popularity poll as a last minute addition to the Redline lineup. Along with his partner in crime Frisbee, Sweet JP is in too deep with the mob. The two have been fixing races for quite some time in order to pay back the mob and continually upgrade JP’s Trans Am for future races. JP begins to grow unfulfilled and conflicted, however, due to the influence of Old Man Mole, the wise mechanic he employs, and Sonoshee McClaren, a childhood acquaintance, fellow racer, and eventual love interest.
JP isn’t the only sweet character in Redline – the film is packed to the gills with great character design. Each racer/racing team is wildly distinctive. Sonoshee and JP are the most “human” of the racers. Machinehead is a cyborg competitor who is literally a part of his automobile. Boiboi and Bosbos (who make up racing team Super Boins) are sexy magical girls from the planet Supergrass. Trava and Shinkai are ex-soldiers, and Trava looks like an elf/cat/man hybrid while Shinkai kind of resembles Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama. Lynchman and Johnny Boya are almost an alternate world Batman and Robin. The list goes on and on. The other cool thing about the racers is that their rides are just as distinctive as their drivers. Sweet JP’s Trans Am 20,000 is really the only vehicle that resembles a modern car. Sonoshee’s ride is hover-based, and can glide across the water. The Super Boins’ car looks like a female giant robot, and even transforms into one at a certain point in the film.
A seven-year labor of love, Redline also looks fantastic on Blu Ray. It is drawn by hand, making it unique in
this day in age in anime. Throughout the film, animation is incredibly smooth and beautiful, particularly in the engaging and distinctive racing and action sequences. Director Takeshi Koike, who also served as the storyboard artist, clearly put a lot of time and effort into this film. Madhouse is known for doing top-tier work (they were also responsible for Summer Wars, which I’ve long touted as one of the best animated films of the past ten years) and Redline is no exception. Sound design is similarly excellent. James Shimoji is responsible for the music, and it gels quite well with the film. It’s a soundtrack I’d love to own, as some of the music in the film is absolutely pulse pounding. As noted earlier, the script is fairly generic, but it doesn’t have to be outstanding – this is a film that lives and dies by its spectacle and Redline is spectacular.
I feel really stupid that I didn’t check out Redline years ago. There really is nothing out there quite like it. It’s so damn charming, good looking, and imaginative. The film really only features two actual races, but manages to be incredibly compelling throughout. The characterization and world building are second to none throughout Redline. There’s just so much interesting stuff packed into this movie (I didn’t even get into the corrupt planet of Roboworld, where the Redline race takes place), and it still manages to move at a brisk pace (the film runs 102 minutes, which is the scientifically proven best length for a film to run). I can’t believe you can actually walk into a store and buy something as awesome as this (on Blu Ray no less) for the incredibly low price of $9.99, but I highly admit that everyone go out and buy it as soon as possible. This is what everyone has told me to do for the past 3 years and I didn’t listen – but I should have. Redline is amazing.