Sunday, 1 May 2011


I just got back from the Anime All-nighter at the Apollo cinema in Piccadilly. There were a bunch of films shown, but the only one I went for was Redline, Takeshi Koike's directorial debut. I'm late to the party, as I missed every other showing in the UK, but here's my thoughts in brief.

It was pretty awesome. The character designs are wacky as fuck, but apparently every good japanese animator ever worked on this at some point, so they generally move pretty confidently (though not quite at the level of Mok from Rock & Rule). The whole thing is covered in the thick black shadows that are Koike's signature (see also Trava: Fist Planet and The Animatrix: World Record), but it also achieves a great variety in atmosphere thanks to fantastic colour work. And the action is amazing.

Designs in these images not representative of most of those seen in the actual movie. These are just the ones that exist online.

However, if I had to fault it, I'd say that the pacing kind of falls apart in the second half. It's not that there's any problem with the story, which is wilfully silly and over-the-top, but it felt like things took too long to pick back up after the incredibly intense beginning. And once they did, it lacked focus due to lots of characters and an inability to keep them unified in purpose.

Here's a plot summary to aid further discussion: "Sweet" JP is a racer participating in the Yellowline race, a qualifier for the Redline, but he's prevented from winning by his dealings with the mafia. However, it turns out that this latest Redline is to be held on the planet Roboworld, whose government is so unhappy about it that they intend to use military force against the contestants. As a result, two of the qualifiers back out, allowing JP to enter after all based on popular vote. In the meantime, he has to get a new set of wheels since his last was trashed in the previous race, as well as contend with the Roboworld army's intense hostility.

The Yellowline sequence is utterly fantastic. The sheer energy injected into the animation is practically tangible, with an amazing climax when JP overloads his car on nitro, and we see his already ridiculous quiff distorted fish-eye style, along with the rest of his body and vehicle. This segment alone tops almost anything I've seen in animation for years. It is near literally mindblowing.

The middle is, naturally, slower: it's where the plot is developed, and we become more familiar with JP and the other main characters, as well as getting to see all the other zany faces who will be competing in the Redline. This break in the pacing is necessary and natural, as we need a rest after the opening, and the excitement needs to be gradually built up for the finale. However, it simply lasts too long: I eventually found myself wishing we could just get to the race.

That race, the Redline, takes up the latter section of the film, and should have been the most intense and focused part. However, I actually felt it didn't quite live up to the opening either in terms of sheer vitality, or skilled direction. With 8 participants (technically some of them are pairs, but they can be counted as one character each for practical purposes), all of whom are distinct characters who beg for screen-time, there's alot to deal with. However, the government element, trying to blow up all the racers, is given too great a share. It would've worked better as maybe a single character or even just a faceless plot device, but instead there are at least three separate people from the government faction who take away focus from the ones we really want to see. And there was even a frustrating period within the final segment where I wished we could get back to the race... because, as the army's interference reaches its peak, and a Tetsuo-esque foetus-shaped bioweapon runs rampant, the race is brought to a temporary halt.

This is actually a plot element that always really irks me in racing movies: actually stopping the race itself for all participants. A climax is most satisfying when it feels like every moment up to that point was vital to the outcome: that if the protagonist had been an inch slower, had faltered in his resolve for one microsecond more, his skin-of-the-teeth victory wouldn't have been possible. Bringing the entire thing to a halt feels like we're starting the whole thing over from a blank slate, effectively robbing everything that came before of any meaning or significance.

To give an overall picture, here's how the pacing felt to me
  and here's how I wanted it to feel.

I'm being harsh, of course. For all my criticism, it's still an amazing film. Koike is a genuinely visionary director and animator, and even if I felt the pace dragged sometimes, every drawing was clearly packed with raw love for the medium. I don't think anything quite like this will be made again for a long, long time, and there's a high chance I'll make it the first Blu-ray I ever buy. If nothing else, it's an incredibly intense sensory experience that anybody who likes animation should undergo. However, at the end of the day, there were ways I felt it could've been better.

Here's a crappy Flash doodle of JP, our hero. In days gone by I could've had hair like this, but alas, it is no longer to be.
It's redundant though because the official poster does the same distorted quiff thing, only better.


Now that I think of it, it's interesting that the same event also aired the summary movie for Eden of the East, as well as the first of the two sequel movies. I watched this series back when it aired, but it didn't occur to me at the time just how hollow it actually is. It's one of those apparently western-influenced Production I.G. works that "deals with" alot of "modern issues": it's chock full of NEETs, terrorists, frustrated women, post-war trauma, post-depression ennui, post-9/11 apathy, vague ideas about young people taking responsibility for the world, and other such platitudes. However, I don't believe for a moment that the director actually gives a shit about any of those things. If he does, he's a fucking terrible writer, because the whole thing is convoluted in a way that would make Tsugumi Ohba have an aneurysm. All the supposeldy meaningful themes are whitewashed over the dialogue and story in such an excessive and slapdash manner that it's impossible to say what the series is actually supposed to be "about". It also has one of the worst lead characters ever.

 Meanwhile, Redline is about cars going REALLY FUCKING FAST, but is so honest and unpretentious about it that even if you criticised it more than I did up there, you'd have to be a truly miserable person to actually dislike it for it.

EotE also constrasts nicely with Akira, which was the first film shown in the all-nighter, since Akira actually was about its themes, rather than using theme as a shallow excuse to be aired in the noitaminA block.



Joe Sparrow said...

I dont have the energy for a more coherent comment right now

Jonathan Harris said...

Now that I think about it I did get more of a kick out of "I guess I'll just walk around you then" than my graph suggests (it's the little bump during the middle).

Gaaaah I need to rewatch it to judge it properly! UK Blurays released on September 6th apparently, BRING IT ON.

Emily said...

Bought Eden of the East earlier this year... expecting it to be awesome and moving and cool and all sorts of stuff. End result- mostly baffled, quite disappointed. Not really sure what it was all about still and too many loose ends. Don't know if the movies which you reference here are the same stuff thats on the 11 "episode" dvd I have, but wouldn't be particularly keen to go seek it out if they weren't. Meh.
Redline looks pretty cool though, at least being in london you occasionally get to see these things on the big screen- unless Miyazaki directed it, you can bet your ass it won't make it to Milton Keynes. DVD for me, I guess.
Have you seen Summer Wars? That was pretty good, Mamoru Hosoda, might be filling the hole left in my heart by the demise of Satoshi Kon for "directors who like to mess with your brain"

Jonathan Harris said...

No, those 11 episodes just comprise the TV series. The two sequel movies are seperate. The first movie also doesn't really answer any questions and just introduces more bullshit. I'm going to have to find the second movie at some point to put some closure on it all but I wouldn't recommend you bother.

I have indeed seen Summer Wars. It's pretty good, though I think I like it slightly less now than I did when I first saw it as it does basically consist of all the standard ingredients for "summer blockbuster". Hosoda's a good director but I wouldn't put him on the level of Satoshi Kon.

Emily said...

yeah well- I only said 'might', I've only seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, but I enjoyed them both a lot... time will tell, eh?

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