Review for Dead Leaves
I’ve wanted to watch Dead Leaves ever since I first heard of it, and caught the odd trailer. Its anarchic, pop-art visual aesthetic really appealed to me, and put me in mind of the Liquid TV slot on BBC2, one-time home of Aeon Flux, and Beavis and Butthead. That was over ten years ago, and it never really exceeded an idle fascination, which probably explains why I didn’t partake of the UK release when it was dirt cheap. It’s no longer cheap, finding a new copy will empty your wallet, while second hand prices aren’t exactly a bargain either. Fortunately, Manga US keep their extant titles in print, and Dead Leaves is still a Manga US license. I managed to pick up a new US copy for less than half the second-hand prices the UK discs ask. But did I leave it too late?
A woman with a purple mark over one eye, and a man with a television for a head wake up naked in a desert beneath a shattered moon, outside of a city, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. What else is there but to go on a crime spree? Pretty soon, Pandy and Retro are raising hell, and massacring the police in the city. But all good things come to an end, and the pair wind up arrested, and sentenced to the Dead Leaves prison, a facility on that shattered moon. It’s a hellish, nightmare penitentiary, where the inmates are mere playthings for the guards, but it’s also where Pandy and Retro might just rediscover their pasts, if they can break out.
Dead Leaves gets a 1.85:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer on this disc, and even though it dates from 2004, it’s getting on pretty well. The image is clear and sharp, and the bold, eye-catching colour palette is presented with stunning impact. It’s a pop art video style, with the frame full of action and visual gags. It’s practically a moving surreal comic book, unlike any conventional anime you might have seen, and it’s certainly an avant-garde, experimental excursion for Studio IG. That said, there is the spectre of compression around the fast action scenes, and the only way that could ever be remedied would be a Blu-ray presentation.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 and DD 2.0 audio, both in English and Japanese, and with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. The dialogue is clear, and the surround does an effective job in getting the show’s anarchic sound design across, as well as the quirky music soundtrack. What I sampled of the dub is pretty good, despite its age, but I went with the original language track (Kappei Yamaguchi, Usopp in One Piece, plays Retro) and the only flaw would be a missing subtitle around the 41 minute mark.
You get one disc in an Amaray case, with a mini-poster folded inside. The disc boots to one of the most animated menus I have seen in a long time. The film might only be 52 minutes long, but the release makes up for it in extra features.
The director’s commentary is informative, although it isn’t clear who is speaking during proceedings. Naturally it’s in subtitled Japanese.
There are a whole lot of premiere events, where the director and cast get up on stage to answer questions, and introduce the film. Club Asia lasts 14:01, Film Premiere Q & A lasts 16:04, and the Film Festival Interview is 4:48 in length.
There’s a bit of goofing around with the cast and crew in True or Doubt, a drinking game that takes up 26:15 of the disc.
You get taken behind the scenes of the Japanese ADR process in Recording Session, which lasts 11:40.
The Dead Leaves trailer is the Japanese trailer and lasts 1:43.
Finally there is Manga US propaganda, a 17:35 promotional reel of Manga US titles, some weblinks to sites which are no doubt long since defunct, and a look through the Manga US catalogue, two pages of links that bring up cover art for titles, and a little bit of blurb for each.
I left it too late. If I was still a teenager watching Liquid TV, and they’d somehow shown this obscene, ultraviolent, disgusting cartoon on early evening television, I would have absolutely loved it. Even twelve years ago, when this first came out on DVD, I still had enough of an anarchic inner teen to appreciate its zany style and eyebleed inducing colours. In the extra features, the director advises to watch Dead Leaves as if you were still a young teenager, and that some light alcoholic lubrication would enhance the viewing experience. I’m long past the age now where I want to do that, especially the alcohol, and accessing my inner teen is something that I really only do now for the sake of nostalgia. It’s not so easy to do for something I’ve never experienced.
So you get the grumpy old man review of Dead Leaves. What a heap of pretentious twaddle! It’s a show with stylish, anarchic and relatively unique visuals. It looks like a comic book brought to life, and the sheer energy and passion drawn in every single frame infuses the show from beginning to end. You can see how Dead Leaves is a labour of love. And it’s all wasted on comic book violence, daft sex, and toilet humour. It uses its great visuals and cool music soundtrack to cause offence, but it’s not the kind of offence that provokes thought, this is childish schoolyard offence, anatomical silliness and shock value.
The sad thing is that the animators’ passion really is evident in Dead Leaves, and even by watching it once, and then sampling it again for the dub and the commentary, I could see things that I missed the first time around. This show is definitely one that will reward repeat viewings. I doubt that I’ll be giving it any repeat viewings though. If you think that a cyborg with a drill for penis (which gets used more than once in this show, although not as a drill) is the height of hilarity, then by all means give Dead Leaves a try; it’s still cheaply available on import from the US. If you’ve lost touch with your inner fourteen year old on the other hand, you might want to give this one a miss.