Anchor Bay // 2009 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // January 22nd, 2012
This race has only one rule: Whoever crosses the finish line first wins!
Strap yourself in for a high-octane, pulse-pounding anime ride. Anchor Bay brings the Japanese theatrical cartoon Redline to North American audiences with a beautiful DVD presentation that thrills the senses. It almost doesn't matter that the storyline is as thin as hybrid engine vapor.
The opening titles succinctly establish the movie's premise: In the far distant future, when cars are giving up their wheels in the changeover to air-cars, there still exist fools who carry on a vanishing spirit of racing. Teams from across the galaxy compete in these illegal (but wildly popular) racing series. The only limitation is that their vehicles must be powered by retro-tech internal combustion engines. Other modifications, such as mounting heat-seeking missiles, are acceptable. The field of competitors is narrowed until the best racers gun it in the Redline contest held every five years.
"Sweet" JP is a racer whose driving skills are matched by his massive pompadour. Relying on skills and speed, JP refuses to outfit his ride with weapons. Though they were recently freed from jail, after getting caught fixing races, his mechanic and manager, Frisbee, is still making deals with gangsters. When the next Redline race is announced to be on the militaristic planet Roboworld, two top-ranked drivers drop out and JP qualifies for a spot to race. While his nitro-boosted Trans-Am is refitted for the race, JP romances another driver. Sonoshee doesn't remember but she and JP met briefly when they were younger. Sonoshee's determination to win inspired JP to be a racer. Meanwhile, the rulers of Roboworld prepare to take lethal action against the Redline racers with their armies and a secret weapon at the ready.
The plot is straightforward without any surprises but there are enough layers of complexity to make Redline feel like a deeper world. There is a typically cool, tough guys relationship between JP and Frisbee. Even if they're a little distrustful of each other, there remains the feeling that their histories are intertwined. The supporting characters get very little time to establish themselves so they're designed with visual shorthand in mind. Machine Head is a hulking presence whose character and vehicle is drawn big. The Boin twins, a team of celebrity idols, drive a vehicle that could be described as svelte. Even a quick cut-away to a racer's support team, glimpsing the kind of people that would come from the same world, fills in details of a peripheral character. Watching this movie, I assumed this must be a feature-length version of a longer series because of the layers of backstory that are suggested. However, my brief internet research turns up negative and it appears this movie exists on its own. Nevertheless, I feel I know enough about this world and these characters based only on the time that they're featured in the movie and that's an impressive display of filmmaking elegance when the script is moving at breakneck speed.
Redline is a dazzling animated feature in terms of its visuals, sound design and breathless pacing. The art direction is gorgeous, owing largely to the decision to use hand-drawn animation -- no small feat for director Takeshi Koike, helming his first feature-length movie. The production took seven years to complete at Japanese studio Madhouse and used over 100,000 drawn cells. The animation is really top-notch quality for anime. Character designs are detailed and attention is given to facial expressions. The backgrounds of the various worlds are beautifully expansive. CGI-aided special effects are used throughout to give a sparkling finish to the artwork. The editing during the races is frenetic but the action is very well plotted. Even when the cuts are rapid fire, the action is entirely understandable. Think of the speed of the pod race from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace merged with the stylized explosions and warped camera tricks of any sci-fi anime and you might just start to imagine the level of eye-gasm that this movie offers.
Katsuhito Ishii conceived the original story and is credited as one of the movie's sound directors. This DVD is a treat for the ears. Engaging techno-flavored music by James Shimoji, clear and nicely balanced dialogue, and the rich variety of sound effects all contribute to the excellent sound design. The range of the audio mix switches suddenly between closed environs where conversations are held at near-whisper to the heart of the racing action where all manner of noise thunders. The low-end sound effects are present but never overemphasized so Redline delivers a great overall sound mix.
The technical presentation on the disc is excellent. The picture is clean and colors are strong. I saw no digital artifact or compression problems. The image is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic but the actual movie is framed slightly smaller within a black frame that runs along all four sides of the screen. The four audio options are 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo in either original Japanese or English. After several minutes of sampling the different audio tracks, I settled on the 5.1 English version. The sound design is exciting and immersive, as I described earlier. The English language dub is very good with fine voice acting and a slightly modified script that sounds more natural to English audiences. The optional English subtitles translate the Japanese audio track only.
"Quick Guide to Redline" is a featurette on the production of the movie that runs 24 minutes. The director, producers, and others talk about the creation of the film with emphasis on their choice for hand drawn animation. There is a brief mention of the computer special effects applied to the drawings. I would have liked a more extensive focus on the technical aspects of the production as well as what background stories were trimmed in editing. The 2006 trailer, promising the movie in 2007 (its release would be pushed back further to 2010), includes some footage not used in the final movie.
When a movie moves this fast, perhaps there's no time for a complex story. You won't notice the light script when the visual and aural overload melts those senses. Redline is a compact and supercharged anime joyride that animation fans should rush to buy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated