Showcasing some of the best Japanese animation of the last few years, the Reel Anime Festival has managed to put together a fine selection of films this year. Indeed, Redline has not even been released in Japan yet, with only the Swiss Lorcano International Film Festival pipping Australia to the post on screening this first globally. Madhouse Studios are one of the rock star production companies on the anime scene in Japan, with their credits including Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Demon City Shinkjuku and the late Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress. The directoral debut of Takeshi Koike, who was a key animator on The Animatrix amongst other things, this is one of the most anticipated outings of 2010.
Redline is the biggest, most popular, illegal and most dangerous races in all of the galaxy. ‘Sweet’ JP has always wanted to be the winner of this event, but after being caught up with the wrong crowd for years, an accident at the qualifying Yellowline event lands him in hospital. However, when the secret location of the Redline event is revealed to be the incredibly hostile Roboworld, two of the qualifying racers pull out allowing JP to enter the race as a reserve. Together with partner Frisbee, JP tries to rebuild both his vehicle and his life with a newly impassioned soul sparked by the determination of his beautiful rival Sonoshi. With gangsters and the forces of Roboworld out to kill him, JP is going to win Redline or die trying.
Redline drops like a direct assault on the brain, latching onto the part that likes high-speed racing, breasts, sugar and bright colours. Overwhelming from the start, Redline is probably like nothing you have ever experienced. With the words ‘subtle’ and ‘quiet’ evidently not appearing in Koike’s dictionary, the film is a surprisingly tight one. While this is ostensibly an ‘underdog trying against the odds’ sporting film, little time is wasted on screen with unnecessary exposition or back-story, yet the film manages to draw you in an inch at a time to its fully realised world, all the time rocketing us towards the finish line for a knuckle-whitening conclusion.
Redline‘s world is one that is teeming with life. One wouldn’t be surprised if the creators had thought of a story for the hundreds (possibly thousands) of creatures that appear on screen. Despite being filled with dog-like creatures, aliens, humans with giant quiffs (a true Japanese hipster staple) and psychotic robotic beings, there is something incredibly grounded about the Redline universe. This allows the production design to plough straight through the rails and through to that happy place one goes filled with Skittles, pop music and talking puppies.
The unique animation definitely has its influences, in the same way that a mash-up can be said to be drawn from other people’s work. While there are definite artistic nods to French artist Moebius and Heavy Metal, with references to virtually any car race flick since at least Gone in 60 Seconds – and even video games such as Space Channel 5 – everything on screen (from racers to nipples) is so greatly exaggerated that one really has no option than to simply take the world at face value. In some ways, this has much in common with Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: it doesn’t give you time to stop and smell the references, and the plot rockets past you at a million miles an hour. However, unlike that film, it genuinely isn’t trying to be cool: it just is cool. Get used to it.
This will undoubtedly be a smash-hit when released in Japan next month, and if there is any justice it will get a wide release in the West as well. Koike has created one of the first genuinely original films to emerge from a studio that has been pushing boundaries for decades, and will leave most feeling like they have been slapped with a wet fish for 102 minutes. Fast, furious and full of fun, Redline is sure to have a dedicated fan base for years to come. If you are yet to experience the joys of Japanese animation, this is the perfect way to plunge in at the deep end. For anime fans, this is an absolute must see.
Overall rating: ★★★★★
Reel Anime runs from 2 to 15 September 2010. Other films playing at the Reel Anime Festival include Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance, King of Thorn and the excellent Summer Wars.