While watching Promare’s spectacular animation, I was reminded quite a bit of Redline, and then when writing my Promare review, I realized I’d never actually reviewed Redline. So I’m here to remedy that.
Redline is a 2009 anime that follows the gloriously pompadoured Sweet JP as he and his Trans Am compete to win the titular race. Trouble is, he’s racing against a horde of drivers with wildly tricked-out vehicles that frequently include missiles and other ridiculousness as standard gear. And they’re all racing against the government of Roboworld, which doesn’t want them on its planet and won’t hesitate to unleash its full arsenal to stop them.
For viewer purposes, though, the plot is “VROOM VROOM DRIVE FAST” because this isn’t a movie you watch for plot. This is a movie you watch for its achievement – a completely hand-drawn animated feature film by a first time director who, through it, has already made his masterpiece. Redline took seven years to complete, and every second of it shows.
These days, with our glut of committee-produced CG animation franchises, it’s easy to forget that animation is indeed an art form capable of depicting motion and emotion in ways live action or even photorealistic CG can’t even approach. It’s hard not to look at the work of, say, Richard Williams, once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, and say “GOD. An actual human hand-drew all the pictures necessary to create that.” In Japan, Masaaki Yuasa’s work attains the same level of sheer detailed, exuberant weirdness, and Redline’s Takeshi Koike is also in that boat.
Redline’s basic design is a joy to behold. It’s bursting with so many unusual characters, cars, and background details that I find new things to stare at every time I watch, and they’re all delightfully nuts. The racers themselves are clearly the product of animators who were told to design whatever they wanted and not only ran with it, but jumped in a car and punched the Nos (or, in Redline’s world, steamlight) before they even landed in the seat.
But as delightful as they are to look at while static, they are simply amazing to watch in motion. While literally every scene is bursting with clever art direction and brilliant color, the racing scenes are (of course) where it’s at. The animation is so fluid that one might be tempted to think it’s CG, until you realize that the squash and stretch distortions necessary to create that kind of on-screen motion are just barely possible with today’s CG, and certainly weren’t in 2009. And then there are the moments when the film foregoes “realistic” motion altogether, as when JP uses his steamlight booster, where it stretches the character to impossible but no less energetic dimensions. That’s the word to describe Redline’s animation – energetic, and often downright exhilarating. The animators give attention to even the smallest details of their characters’ racing – the flapping of steamlight tubes, the incessant shaking of the car (and different parts of the car) as they barrel toward the finish line (or away from enemy bombs, lasers, biological weapons, what have you). Even individual missile shots have their own unique animations. It’s undeniably gratuitous, but it’s also essential to the heart-poundingly bonkers fun of the whole thing.
On that note, James Shimoji’s soundtrack also deserves a mention; it’s as quirky and energetic as the movie that it scores, even if many of its tracks are too short to be fully enjoyed independently of their role in the movie. (Most of the tracks on the album end just as they feel like they’re getting started.) However, the opening score in particular – “Yellow Line” – is a lengthy, thumping track that’ll have you wanting to hop in your own car and just speed everywhere. “Redline” is a fun medley of that and the main themes of the final racers, and “Kare No Shift Wa BunBunBun” is worth a listen just to hear the SuperBoins try to say “We are sexy girls” in English (as if you somehow missed that they are The Sexy Girls of the movie).
Admittedly, Redline isn’t a movie for everyone. Non-anime fans may find themselves distracted by its sheer, unbridled craziness, and the plot and characterization is so meager that it feels like it’s literally only there to be the vehicle by which the characters’ cars race. As much as I fangirl over this movie, I have to admit that it took me two or three watches to really get into it, so if you’re unimpressed by spectacle, Redline will never be your thing.
But if you have even the slightest appreciation for the art of animation and the energy of well-done anime, you’ll find a real treasure in this movie.
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