Wednesday, 17 August 2011


After what seems like an endless stream of hype and an even longer period of time in production (which began pretty much before I was even what you'd term a "proper" anime fan), Redline is finally here in physical form - well, for Japan at least, us UK types have to wait until November and the US even longer to see what all of the fuss is about.

Pretty much everything you need to know about the core concept of Redline is neatly summed up in its opening twelve minutes, as we're treated to its a "warm-up" race for the film's titular event - the Yellowline is a race to the finish (and quite possibly to the death) that is best described as Wacky Races meets Cannonball Run; a dangerous, colourful and high octane no holds barred road race that eschews the hover cars widely used in this futuristic, space-age setting in deference to good old fashioned wheels and engines.  More specifically, we join the race following a young man with a rather dashing haircut named JP as he carves his way through the field towards the lead of the race.  As the contest turns into a straight two horse race between JP and the gorgeous Sonoshee McLaren, so we see a twist in the tail - JP's duty is to throw the race, and his mechanic Frisbee is in on the deal and more than happy to "help" him fulfil this duty; something that he duly does as the race reaches its break-neck finish.

Despite having his race sabotaged, JP's luck is in as he still finds himself drafted into the Redline as others drop out for a reason that soon becomes clear - this year's event is held on the planet of Roboworld, who aren't exactly too keen on having a bunch of rebellious racers trailing across their stockpile of military secrets while half the world watches on via television.  Before that however, Frisbee has a Redline-winning car to build, while JP contents himself with taking more than a passing interest in Sonoshee - an interest which takes us all the way back into his past.

All of this leads on to the main event - the Redline itself, and nigh-on forty minutes of ridiculously overblown racing action complete with vehicles, missiles, guns, land mines, an out-of-control bio-weapon and the collision of these various elements with one another as the Redline racers take on both themselves and anybody who stands in their way while Roboworld's military proves to be increasingly incompetent in doing anything about the invasion of their turf.  Oh, and there's a love story in there too.

While I realise that this is going to sound like a cop-out, Redline is hard to write about - not because of the complexities of its plot (there aren't any) or due to its deep, over-arching moral fabric (it has none), but simply because this isn't an anime movie made to be de-constructed; it's made to be experienced.  The first dozen minutes of the film make this perfectly clear - almost every scene is a blaze of colour and expressive movement, best summed up by the nuanced facial expressions that convey the discomfort, pain and adrenaline pumping excitement of the race even before the super-elongated shots to convey the insane sense of speed required by such scenes.  While it's tempting to coo over the vehicles (and they really are things of beauty), it's really the human element that makes Redline's action scenes what they are - even in its ridiculously over-the-top world of racing, it perfectly captures that moment of a perfect gear chance; the feeling as your foot punches down on the accelerator; the instinctive skill of braking into a corner before giving the car some welly as you hit its apex.

Redline is a movie book-ended by two segments that you really could watch over and over again without ever becoming bored of them, that being the Yellowline at the start of the film and the Redline itself at the end - however, just some random racing does not a decent anime make and Redline knows this.  Sure, the middle segment of the movie could be cut out entirely and you might not miss it explicitly, but it still serves up some entertainment of its own - aside from filling in JP, Frisbee and Sonoshee's stories and some other points of note, it also has a rich vein of comedy blowing through it as it gleefully introduces the Redline's other racers in a faux TV style that markedly funny and a sign of the humour that runs through a film which doesn't take itself too seriously as a whole.

Ultimately though, it's the film's visceral package to which we return again and again - the thick lines and pitch black shadows used throughout proves to be the perfect accompaniment to the film's mood and style in animation terms, and as I've already discussed the expressive depiction of human emotion via facial expressions and body language is key to investing you in a movie that isn't exactly going to win you over via character depth.  This is, however, only one part of that package - as if setting fire to your eyeballs via the products of a crazed, supercharged imagination isn't enough, Redline also assaults your ears with a soundtrack that only ever serves to accentuate what's going on perfectly, but never encroaching on the roar of engines or medley of explosions that accompany the action.

There are lots of ways in which anime can be beautiful or otherwise jaw-dropping to watch, and Redline is perhaps the most striking example of this we've seen it some time.  Thankfully it's backed up by a concept befitting that spectacle - it isn't highbrow or thought-provoking, but as an experience rather than a piece of social commentary or philosophy it works perfectly.  Hell, in its own unique way it almost is perfect to all intents and purposes.

The visual flair and "wow" factor of Redline has understandably seen some credit this movie as the potential crest of a wave that will ensnare a new generation of anime fans in its clutches, just as certain high-profile films gobbled up my generation of fandom - this is, perhaps, the only place where I find myself disagreeing with the more outspoken lovers of the film.  While Akira and Ghost in the Shell are the perfect start to a close, long-term relationship with anime, Redline feels more like a one-night stand - hot, heart-pounding, raw, frantic and exciting, so much so that you want to get right back to experiencing it all again straight away.  However, the lustre of a one-night stand soon wears off without anything more to sustain it, and I fear that without the depth of those aforementioned films, Redline may prove to be little more than a quick but satisfying fumble in the back seat of a Trans-Am.

For now though, let's forget those who may be blind to the wonders of anime and what it can offer and say this - watching Redline is a jaw-droppingly stunning experience that you've probably never seen the likes of before, and may never see the likes of again.

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