While I admire the style and creativity of the art form, I can't really say I'm much of an anime fan. Sure, I enjoy a title here and there, but for the most part, I find the majority of the genre's plotlines to be disjointed and undercooked. Though often filled with cool, high concepts, at their worst some anime stories can become a jumbled mess of vague ideas and muddled plot points that emphasize style over coherent substance. This brings us to 'Redline,' a 2009 sci-fi anime from Takeshi Koike that happens to be everything I just described. It also happens to kick ass. Lots of ass. A nonstop thrill-ride packed with insane visuals and eye-catching hand drawn animation, the film is pure entertainment. Dumb, loud, and just plain cool, it embraces its own insanity wholeheartedly, giving audiences a visceral experience of pure adrenaline. My brain wants to criticize it, but my eyes and ears are too busy being bombarded by pure awesomeness.
The crazy plot focuses on a dangerous, intergalactic racing tournament. We follow racer JP (Takuya Kimura) as he prepares for the final leg of the competition that's being held on a planet called Roboworld. The Roboworld government isn't too keen on the race, however, and plots to thwart the event with military action. As the race approaches, JP starts to develop feelings for his toughest competition, a determined female driver named Sonoshee (Yu Aoi). If that wasn't enough, JP's mechanic, an alien named Frisbee (Tadanobu Asano), tries to pressure him into throwing the match for money. When the competition finally starts, JP must not only compete against the other contestants, but the entire Roboworld army with his very life on the line.
The script is over-bloated, nonsensical, and at times downright incomprehensible, but somehow it doesn't seem to matter. The real emphasis is on action, personality, and pure fun, and on that front the movie delivers in spades. The characters are all given distinct, charismatic identities, and each racer gets their own elaborate back story that's briefly addressed through newsreel footage interspersed throughout. Though many of the contestants are glossed over, they all get at least one brief moment to shine and leave an impression, exemplifying their eccentric charm. Some flashbacks are also thrown in for good measure, fleshing out JP's motivations and desires. An extremely bizarre and goofy sense of humor floods the work, making it clear that the filmmakers are aware of all the inherent madness on display.
Just when you think the writers have taken the concept to the limits of lunacy, they push things one step further, and suddenly you have a vehicle turning into a big chested robot, a magical princess casting spells, a bad guy who gets stronger the more he cries, and giant bio weapons that run amok. Despite all this glorious insanity, there are some surprisingly effective quiet moments too. JP's growing internal dilemmas actually work pretty well, fueling the drama. His romance with Sonoshee is particularly successful and the pair's relationship lends a legitimately sweet air to the proceedings, finding some genuine heart in the chaos.
The animation style is fluid and fast paced, with lots of action packed sequences that absolutely wow with visual delights. The racing scene that opens the film perfectly sets the stage for what follows with a hyper-kinetic jolt to the senses. Character designs are exaggerated and stylized without sacrificing emotion, and vehicles and backgrounds feature lots of cool, intricate details. The various alien characters are all quite memorable as well, and truly feel otherworldly, and extremely weird. The entire climax is essentially a beautifully orchestrated exercise in controlled mayhem, and again, while certain plot details come across as muddled and undercooked, the sheer fun of the race more than makes up for any shortcomings in the script.
In many ways 'Redline' baffles me. On the one hand it exemplifies everything I dislike about many anime films, and on the other… it's just plain awesome. In the included special features the filmmakers describe the movie as "unabashedly dumb" and that's exactly what it is, but it works. It works wonderfully. Its plot might be overstuffed and occasionally unintelligible, but the creativity of the animation and heart of its characters end up elevating the material. Make no mistake, this is pure, mindless spectacle, but it's still pretty damn cool and a whole lot of fun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Redline' is brought to Blu-ray by Anchor Bay on a single BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase. After some logos and warnings the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A compatible.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. With that said, for whatever reason, the image is slightly letterboxed and pillarboxed, with small black bars on the top, bottom, left, and right of the screen. The movie is essentially a nonstop visual assault of creative, high energy visuals, and thankfully this transfer does not disappoint, translating the unique animation style almost perfectly.
The source is clean and pristine showing off all of the painstaking hand drawn animation cels with excellent clarity. The style itself features a nice mixture of simple and complex designs, and there are a few key instances that show off tiny, intricate details (most notably with the characters' various vehicles and large crowd scenes that feature thousands of pieces of falling confetti). Colors are bold and vibrant, practically bursting from the screen. Contrast is high with bright whites and deep, inky blacks. When the racers take to the track and the script's insane plot really kicks into high gear, the movie literally becomes a feast for the eyes and a true high definition spectacle. The only real flaw with the picture involves some faint banding that pops up every now and then, but thankfully this isn't much of a distraction.
Though not quite perfect, 'Redline' is a dizzying visual delight. The colorful, rich, high intensity animation is sometimes breathtaking and the sheer, unbridled vigor and insane imagination on display is often mesmerizing.
The movie is presented with Japanese and English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. Subtitle options include English and English SDH. Much like the video, the audio explodes with energy, creating an immersive, thrilling experience that will leave your ear drums trembling with glee.
Dialogue is clear and crisp with a nice full-bodied quality. The soundscape is wide and enveloping, circling the listener with a barrage of strange, wonderful effects. Engine roars, laser blasts, blazing bullets, rocket thrusters, screaming crowds, explosions, lots of grunting (what would an anime be without grunting?) and all sorts of crazy sci-fi sounds blast from all corners of the room with sharp fidelity and precise directionality. The way the vehicles swoosh from one side of the soundstage to the other is fantastic, with seamless imaging that sounds natural and clean. Even the film's quieter moments feature effective ambiance, with all sorts of subtle auditory ticks that give characters and locations personality and distinction. Dynamic range is wide and distortion free and bass is powerful, delivering deep, shaking low end to all of the auditory madness (especially the movie's thumping score). Balance between all of the effects, music, and speech is great. It should be noted that I primarily listened to the original Japanese language version, but I did sample portions of the 5.1 English dub and found it to be technically comparable.
Immersive, creative, head thumping, and downright cool, the mix really puts the audience right in the thick of the movie's hyper-real excitement. While the track could have easily tipped the scales into overkill, the filmmakers always retain a level of auditory cohesion in all the craziness. Basically, this is an exceptional mix that should put a smile on any audiophile's face.
Anchor Bay has put together a decent set of supplements that cover the making of the film. All of the extras are presented in 1080i with Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and English subtitles.
'Redline' is a hyperactive adrenaline thrill-ride that features some truly fantastic hand drawn animation. It might be dumb and occasionally incomprehensible, but it's always fun and infinitely entertaining. The video transfer is fantastic, showing off all the insane action with bold, vivid colors and the room shaking audio mix will leave your ear drums quivering. Supplements are a bit slim and uneven, but the included doc features some cool insights into the production. This is a great disc for a kick ass movie that even anime detractors might want to check out. Recommended.