Redline Review: a feast for the eyes but not much else?
Redline is a 102 minute car-racing movie produced by studio Madhouse. It initially premiered in 2009 but had its full Japan release in late 2010. Takeshi Koike starts his directorial debut here, he had in the past worked as a key animator for titles like the Animatrix (2003), Card Captor Sakura (1998) and Patlabor 3 (2002). He also worked as a character designer and animation director. The film tells the story of an intergalactic race, Redline, which takes place every 5 years, and the endeavors of young man JP and girl Sonoshee to win it at any cost. While it seems identical to the US car film of the same name, Redline was in production long before its US counterpart, so it is nothing more than an amusing coincidence.
Redline has received the majority of its praise for its exuberant, explosive animation. One can’t deny that Redline is impressive amongst digitally animated movies. The catch is it was cell drawn, which throws Loony Tunes and classic Disney into perspective. It was in production for 7 years, and it is easy to see why. Imagine Pod Racing from Star Wars Episode 1, but animated – it mixes all things nerdy and cool. The character designs by Katsuhito Ishii border on uncomfortably realistic, but retain their cartoon factor with sharp lines, a bright, fluro color pallet, and a heavy focus on black shadows. It may not appeal to everyone but one must give it credit for being unique.
The non stop movement and detail in the facial expressions are beautiful and the consistent fluidity in every single shot is close to unmatched. While a few of the earlier scenes shine (restaurant flooding scene, JP in the wilderness), the real payoff is the Redline race, which is the last quarter of the film. It’s like the producers all sat down at a table and said “We want to make something that looks awesome – how many cool things can we cram into this one movie?”. It seems to be self aware of its aesthetics, combining the biggest variety of locations, machines, weapons and monsters in the movie as possible. Redline proves that viewers can be entertained by visuals alone. It is difficult to look away once the movie starts. However, this is Redline’s biggest trap. Once I had recognized this in my head, I wondered “What would Redline be like if its animation wasn’t this good?” – not bad but just good. It is doubtful that it would be gaining as much praise as it is now.
The screenplay was a collaborative work between talents such as: film director Katsuhito Ishii, Yoji Enokido (screenwriter for Revolutionary Girl Utena & Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Yoshiki Sakurai (screenwriter for Ghost in a Shell: Stand Alone Complex & Evangelion Rebuilds). Even though these screenwriters have produced extraordinary work, their styles are quite distinct. I wonder if there was any disagreement in the writing process, as this seems to be the weakest of their work. The introduction of the story and characters for Act 1 takes about an hour and its short moments of character development don”t save it. The actual Redline race (and yes, it is awesome) takes up the last half an hour of the film. While 90 minutes is considered a minimum length for feature film, the script for Redline is flawed and could have been cut down in places. A few characters we are introduced to have minimal role, and the story is simplified to the point where the majority of it is spoiled in this review. Perhaps if the characters were given more attention, I would care more about the first hour dedicated to race preparations.
James Shimoji produced the soundtrack, and it is very reminiscent of the techno beat tracks used for Mecha fights in Eureka Seven. It fits the science fiction setting of the anime well, and works in the racing scenes. However, the earlier ‘talking heads’ or emotional scenes could have been enchanted greatly by a different soundtrack style. The English dub by Manga Entertainment is flat. Patrick Seitz as JP isn’t bad, but doesn’t sound as energetic as he could. Sonoshee by Michelle Ruff is a little more convincing. Her acting sounds natural and believable. The weakest part of the dub are the side characters. A lot of the voices for the monsters have a lot of growling or grumbling, which is painful to listen to. It’s as though they put so much effort trying to sound inhuman that the acting suffered. The Japanese dub is the obvious winner here.
While it pains me to give Redline less than a 4 star review and not wallow it in praise (I have a fort ready for when chairs get thrown at me). It seems like the kind of film that we will forget in a number of years, for the sheer fact that titles will match or surpass its animation, but have story and characters we actually care about to match. If you are looking for something pretty, this is it, but Redline does not shine in the writing.
What do you think? Leave a comment.