February 22, 2012

Bento Bako Lite: Redline

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Written by: Drew
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[Editor’s Note: I haven’t seen Redline, but frequent Bento Bako guest reviewer and kids’ comics connoisseur Drew McCabe has, and he readily agreed to review it for me. So please welcome back Drew and get ready for his word on one of the most visually stunning animated films ever made.]

Upon its release last month, for a solid week you could throw a rock and hit an anime or comic book-related site covering the film Redline. So now that the dust is settled and the typical wave cycle is done (wave one – praise, wave two – counter arguments, wave three – counter arguments to counter arguments), let’s tell you what we here thought.

I’ve watched Redline three times. The first was the day it came out. The second was three days after the first viewing to see what I missed and if I felt different after a rewatch. The third was just before this review, a few weeks after my first viewings, just to make sure I wasn’t riding a wave that was made up of hype and hope.

Each and every time I have come to the same conclusion: Redline is a modern anime masterpiece.

Redline tells the tale of the greatest race in the universe, the Redline. In it, creatures from across the planet race across dangerous grounds to prove themselves the greatest racer in the universe, and win the prestigious title and cash prize. Racer Sweet JP is racing in Yellowline and could very well win it if he wants to, however, at the last minute his tire blows up, putting him in the hospital and losing the race. The reason? JP and his mechanic Frisbee cut deals with the mafia where for a chunk of cash they purposely lose races so the gambling brackets can make a killing. Fate, though, plays a different part, and JP awakens in the hospital to discover he’s gotten into the great Redline race on a stroke of luck, after still losing his previous race, when two other racers drop out. Why did these racers drop out? Because this year’s race will be held on Roboworld, a dangerous planet led by a crazed robotic ruler who has vowed to dispatch his armies against the racers and kill them if they attempt to race on his planet. The odds of death and survival are astronomical, making it not only the most dangerous game to play, but also the number one gambling and televised event in the entire universe.

JP sneaks onto Roboworld, and while prepping for the race meets the beautiful Sonoshee, the winner of the Yellowline race, and the rest of the alien and odd-ball racers. Seeing his competition and testing out his car, JP starts to wonder if he can really win the Redline, and talks to his main mechanic Frisbee to see if maybe they shouldn’t throw the race (which they have their differences of opinion on). Before we know it, though, it’s race time, and off JP goes with a bomb strapped underneath his car as the racers take off shooting at each other and the Roboworld army. And that army throws everything at them from suped-up racers of their own to huge solar space lasers, giant monster bio-weapons, and finally the entire army itself.

Redline is a ton of fun. Yes, that plot may not sound like it has the philosophical depth of Ghost In The Shell or the relationships of Kiki’s Delivery Service, but that’s the point, it’s not trying to. The film wants to be a wild joy ride of fun, filled with beautifully drawn hand drawn animation with kinetic editing and an everything but the kitchen sink story line, and it does (and does it extremely well). If you’re a fan of anime/manga that give you those long dialogues with detailed discussion of the world it’s building, filled with all those light novelesque discussions of why the military uses this specific bio-weapon because of this and that, you’re not going to get that here. Director Takeshi Koike doesn’t want that. He wants to throw you into the world, and the story he wants to tell is the race itself; everything else is cool, tricked out bling to create a sensation of hip eye candy for your brain to process. Koike has had his hand in directing before, but just shorter fair, previously helming the “World Record” segment for The Animatrix and the pilot of Afro Samurai. Redline is his first full length film, taking over seven years to animate by hand, and with the recent loss of such great anime directors this past year as Satoshi Kon and Osamu Dezaki, it is both a relief and a surge of excitement to see a fine new talent emerge.

For the sub versus dub, both have a set of great voice actors and I didn’t have a preference of one over the other. There are a handful of lines in the English dub which are rewritten for the English market and our fan-base here, with mentions of cosplay and such, but these throw away lines I didn’t find a problem with, and in fact think they add to the odd humor of the film.

Should it come as any surprise the Japanese have given us this race film with an Aeon Flux vibe? I don’t think so. The first thing most western anime fans never think of is some of our animation is popular there, too, and for some reason Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races was incredibly popular in Japan and had a huge impact on them over there (right next to Tom and Jerry and Disney musicals and Pixar films in fact). Some fans may write this off as a space aged Speed Racer, but they’d be wrong. This is another anime actually influenced by the non-stop craziness of Wacky Races. Next is that it is Madhouse who made this, and since Twilight of the Cockroaches, Madhouse is known to take a gamble and experiment more with a lot of its anime when they can, where other studios keep it fairly commercial these days in Japan unless it’s a short film.

Remember those magical moments when every anime you came across seemed like it was groundbreaking? That’s it, right here again for your viewing pleasure. I would embrace it, because honestly there is nothing like it these days. American anime viewers and manga readers were spoiled for a long time with great thing after great thing, but we don’t really ask why. In reality, when the splash came we literally had access to all these amazing things from the 1970s into the mid-2000s, we had over 30 years of material to pick through and get the best of the best. Today, aside from the American anime/manga market trying to recover from a big crash, we are caught up with Japan finally, so we don’t have 30 years to pick from anymore; new and unusual hits will pop up here and there only every so often now. This is one of those times where we finally have a new milestone pop up. Don’t waste it, embrace it, because it is a damn good film. Redline is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

Drew McCabe


One Comment

  1. Kristin

    I have to say that I’ve been very impressed by the visuals I’ve seen. But the story doesn’t remotely interest me, so I haven’t bothered to watch it myself. I might one of these days, just for the visual feast.

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