Review for Redline
Could an anime title be any more hyped than Redline? For the last eighteen months and more, it's a movie that has toured the festival circuits, been previewed, reviewed and raved about in all corners of anime fandom, and it's a title that comes so preloaded with hype, that I may as well not review it. Of course now that the disc is here, I feel my compulsion to opine take over, and the fingers start typing regardless of how futile an exercise my intellect knows it to be. You're going to buy Redline regardless of my opinion, simply because it's an audio-visual supernova of imagination and brilliance that needs to be experienced by all fans of animation in general. And you'll be right to do so. Director Takeshi Koike (The Animatrix) has created an adrenaline rush of a movie, pop art collides with 2000AD and Aeon Flux, a cross between Wacky Races and Death Race 2000, the dark side of Star Wars Pod Racing in a distant future where the Redline is the ultimate in race formulae.
It's the distant future, where antigravity engines are the latest thing, and everyone flies around in aircars, which let's face it is supremely dull. Have you ever seen those Red Bull air races? Fortunately, there are still fools out there who like their racing close to the ground, that still believe in archaic technologies like internal combustion engines, in wheels, and in beating the other guys at any cost. For them, Redline is the ultimate race, where the best, the bravest, the craziest drivers compete to be the best in the universe. And that is where 'Sweet' JP wants to be, racing his modified and converted classic Trans-am against the wildest and weirdest machines that the galaxy can throw up. Unfortunately, he and his team are deep in the pockets of the mob, meaning his races usually consist of wild surges to the front of the pack, and once betting has swung the appropriate way a sudden, and not always voluntary explosive exit.
That's how he finished the Yellowline race, and how he expected his career to end. But when two of the racers pull out of the prestigious Redline, he gets a wild card entry. This time he'll win, this time he won't be throwing in the towel, this time he will make his dreams come true. But then again there is that reason why people aren't so keen on racing in the Redline. The venues for the Redline are picked at random, usually without the consent of the local governments. This time the Redline will be held on Roboworld, and the government of Roboworld has declared war on the Redline. This time, it won't just be his opponents' missiles he'll be dodging.
Redline gets a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer on this Blu-ray disc. Actually the film's logos get the 1.85:1 ratio, the actual film has thin black bars left and right, which give it a very slight windowboxed look. It doesn't matter, as what's in the windowbox is downright gorgeous. The image is clear and sharp throughout; the colour palette is amazing electric pop art vivid, the animation is brilliantly presented, fluid, clear and energising. Redline has to be one of the most astounding animated feature films I have seen in a long time. The character designs are fantastic, imaginative and stunningly realised, the world and prop designs equally so. The various vehicles all have their own style and personality to match their drivers, while the plethora of alien characters and worlds grab the attention and just don't let go. If ever there were an argument for visual excess in entertainment, Redline would win hands down.
The Blu-ray presents the film with the option of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and Japanese surround tracks, as well as lossy DD 2.0 English and Japanese for those who aren't yet HD audio capable. You also get the option of translated subtitles and a signs only track to accompany the English audio. I went with the original Japanese audio, and while the levels were a little low, once I punched the volume up, I found an audio track to put a big grin on my face, as it certainly has the chops to make you feel the various action sequences in the pit of your stomach, as well as rattling your eardrums. It's an action movie, and it gets the full-throated action movie soundtrack it deserves. Not only that, but Redline's music soundtrack drives the bass-thumping action to perfection, and it will have you seeking out the movie's soundtrack CD as soon as the end credits have finished rolling. I gave the English dub a test drive, and found it to be up to the standards of the Japanese track, and if you don't want to be distracted by subtitles during a certain scene with Sonoshee in, you'll definitely appreciate its presence. As for those subtitles, they are legible, and timed well.
Redline is released on the same day in DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray/DVD combi pack. The limited edition combi pack also contains an exclusive booklet with some enticing print extras for the film. I am just reviewing the Blu-ray here.
The disc gets animated menus, and the film concludes with a silent white text on black English language credit scroll.
Among the extras, you'll find the Redline "2006 Trailer", which is less a trailer than it is a proof of concept short movie, with five minutes of racing action, featuring characters akin to, but not exactly the same as those in the final feature. It's a nice short movie that encapsulates all that Redline is about, but it's a shame that it's in letterbox format.
The Perfect Guide to Redline is a Blu-ray exclusive featurette, running to 67 minutes, and is a fairly comprehensive making of, with interviews with writer Katsuhito Ishii and director Takeshi Koike the glue binding the documentary together. You'll also see a lot of behind the scenes footage, storyboards, interviews with the voice cast and the rest of the animators, and stuff like the world premiere and festival showings.
The Quick Guide To Redline is as you would guess, shorter at 24 minutes, and offers another angle of the making of. There are interviews and a lot more final film footage, and while some of the same ground is covered, the actual material is different from the larger featurette. This featurette concludes with the actual Redline trailer.
All of the extras are presented in interlaced HD format.
There are two types of great anime movie out there. First, there are the Sky Crawlers, the Ghost in the Shells, the Akiras of the world, movies that amaze you with their visual imagination, astound you with their stories, and have your mind whirling and cogitating trying to comprehend it all. These are the weighty tomes, the philosophical treatise of an anime movie, the sort of film that you want to own because of its place in anime history, but will really only get played once every few years, as your brain has to clear out its diary a few weeks ahead, in order to make room for some heavy duty thinking. Then there is Redline, which bypasses the brain and aims straight for the gut. This a visual feast of an anime, a rollercoaster thrill ride, a quick hit of supersonic adrenaline that you partake of at an intestinal level. It's also a movie that you can watch whenever the mood takes you. It's a movie that will get far more play than those cerebral titles. It's a film that you watch with a daft grin on your face, enveloped in its Technicolor Surround Sound neon mayhem, and you'll want to experience it again and again.
What you won't get here is any sort of depth, or originality when it comes to the story. It's a pretty simple tale, that of an unconventional racer wanting to be champion. He's got a shady background, been in trouble with the mob, and spent some time behind bars for fixing the results of a race. JP wants to make a clean break from that past and win the Redline, but his best friend and mechanic Frisbee is still in tight with the mafia, which makes their friendship a little strained. Then there is the love story that develops with fellow racer Sonoshee McLaren, who in her own way is just as determined to be champion, and it's that determination which at an early age rubbed off on JP, as well as capturing his heart. At the Redline, they begin to get close, but then Sonoshee learns about JP's nefarious past. Who will win the Redline, will true love triumph over all? It's not exactly the most challenging of tales.
That said, Redline does tell its story exceptionally well. It's got racing, it's got action, it's got comedy, and its visuals are a relentless hit of fizzy eye-popping eye candy, but it can also slow things down to get the quieter, character moments right, and it also has enough space to suitably develop the characters of JP, Frisbee and Sonoshee to the point where the audience can empathise and root for them. It doesn't matter that the rest of the cast are reduced to mere caricatures, and single note clichés. The central trio that carry the story are done right, and that's all that matters.
The rest of it is pure nuttiness. It's non-stop, high-octane action, with larger than life characters, a delicious and dark sense of humour, and a determination to keep pushing the limit of what can be accomplished in terms of the animation. The speeds get higher, the visuals distort more and more, the explosions get more and more massive, the characters chew the scenery with ever greater relish, the vehicles get faster, more absurd, and you're left with your jaw gaping wide open with each new development. In any lesser film, there is a point where your suspension of disbelief snaps and throws you out of the film. With Redline, you just want it to go further and further and further. The actual race itself is won in the most ridiculous and far-fetched manner possible, and as soon as you see it, you realise that no other conclusion would have been half as suitable.
I could go on and on about the other racers, the little sidebars of originality, the nutty government of Roboworld waging war on the racers, this film hits you again and again with its visual excess, but I'd like to end this review some time this decade. All I can say is that you have to see this for yourself. Redline is not deep, it's not smart and it doesn't matter. It's anime bubblegum. It tastes great, and it's fun blowing and popping the bubbles, but it doesn't fulfil you worth a damn. It's not the best anime movie ever made, but you will watch Redline twenty times more often than the best anime movie ever made.