For all intents and purposes, this film should not exist. That’s not to say that I don’t love the fact that Redline does exist, but that it was somehow made in the cesspit that is the contemporary Japanese animation industry is a miracle unto itself. With an emphasis on catering to the subhuman otaku masses, dwindling budgets and a contracting industry, that Madhouse would spend seven years working on a meticulously animated, exceedingly creative and exciting original science-fiction film is almost incomprehensible.
In the back of our minds we all know Redline won’t be a hit, it probably won’t even make its money back. The producers must know this, too. But for whatever fantastic reason, Redline does exist, and everyone who reads this website needs to see it.
Redline is a bizarre amalgamation of Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Racers crossed with a European comics sense of style and an attention to detail that we all assumed the Japanese animation industry forgot sometime in the early 2000s. The animation, the characters and the design work are all worthy of unrestrained praise, but perhaps the most important aspect of the film is the way it makes you feel.
The first 15 minutes of Akira, the first time you saw huge, glorious animated breasts, the first extra-gory decapitation you saw in a cartoon; Redline works on this level not because it’s overtly sexual or hyper-violent, but because it will excite you in the same way Japanese animation probably hasn’t excited you in the last 10 years. It triggers your reptilian response to awesome shit, and reminds you of the kind of cartoons you gave up on ever seeing made again.
That’s not to say that Redline is an inherently old-school production. It doesn’t grovel at the feet of older fans like Macross Frontier and it doesn’t act as an apology to a forgotten fan base like Gundam Unicorn. Instead, it will make you feel like you’re 15 again, you’ve just cracked open the door to this unfathomable world of Japanese cartoons and you’re pretty sure this is the coolest shit ever.
The age of the sweeping science-fiction animated film is over, buried in a pile of maids, adorable younger sisters and bullshit purple robots, and we all assumed there would never be another movie like Venus Wars, Patlabor, or Do You Remember Love?. But Redline in its own way is just like Ninja Scroll, which kicked you square in your pimply teenage face and showed you that beyond the boring, lame Saturday morning American cartoons you grew up with was this world of hyper-detailed robot battles, chicks with huge breasts and blood, blood in goddamn cartoons!
In this extended metaphor, the current Japtoon industry is the American cartoons of your youth, the Haruhis and the K-Ons are the 25-minute commercial shitshows you woke up every Saturday at 6 am to watch because you didn’t know any better. Then, suddenly, you see something that makes you aware that things could be so much better. Redline is the movie that will slap you back to your senses and remind you that cartoons about elementary school kids or pathetic shut-ins are garbage and you want to see cartoons about people kicking ass and looking cool in new and exciting ways.
The truth is that in Japan, movies like Redline will tank and people will spend their money on the Haruhi movies and the 48th One Piece film instead. And maybe that’s OK, because Redline isn’t made for otaku. The losers who line up every year for Comiket or religiously follow Naruto every week can’t handle something this different–it would kick them on their ass hard enough that they’d run back to their hugpillows and pastel color schemes. So fuck those guys, and fuck that Bleach fanboy you know who will refuse to see it because it doesn’t look “Japanese” enough.
Show it to your friends who gave up on anime when they realized everything after Cowboy Bebop was “gay.” Redline looks like the bastard spacechild of a ridiculous pop orgy involving No More Heroes, Heavy Metal, and the Tatooine cantina scene from Star Wars. It’s devoid of all the embarrassing anime-isms that keep you from showing these Japtoons to your friends who aren’t anime fans and it has enough appeal to entertain the snobs who refuse to watch that “Japanimation” stuff.
Contrary to what the trailers show, there’s more here than just racing. Epic space opera this is not, but a combination of creative world building, an endearing cast of characters and a frenetic pace insures you will never, ever, be bored during the 100-minute running time. There is no expository dialog and no talking heads to cover up shoddy plotting and uncreative scriptwriting. Instead, things just keep happening, and rarely do you know what the hell is going on, but you love it because it is gorgeous and wonderful and you’re enjoying the crap out of this movie.
Think about the first time you watched Star Wars; before you saw the sequels/prequels and before you realized that hundreds of nerds spent their professional and amateur lives devoted to fleshing out the franchise’s universe. Before all that bullshit, Star Wars succeeded in showing you a small sliver of a galaxy filled with bizarre aliens and places, without explicitly telling you everything about it. It played off your imagination, creating a fantastic piece of science-fiction with your help. Redline does the exact same thing, and it manages to please that obsessive science-fiction nerd part of you without becoming boring or dry.
It’s the cinematic equivalent of being way too drunk and riding in your friend’s car. You take off the seatbelt, you stick your head out the window and you feel like you’re going a billion miles an hour and you have no idea what the hell’s going on or where you are, but the lights look beautiful and regardless of how you might feel the next morning, you’re having fun.
If Manga Entertainment knows what the hell they’re doing, they’ll push Redline into every arthouse cinema that they can. It may be the last remaining example of the extinct breed of high-budget science-fiction cartoons, and it deserves being seen in theaters. If you’re in the Bay Area, go to the Viz Theater in San Francisco and see it this week. If it opens at a local theater near you or plays at a convention you’re attending, make it a priority. If nothing else, pre-order it the second it goes up for sale on your favorite online retailer, because if you read Colony Drop, and you like quality Japanese cartoons, you will like Redline.