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There was a moment in the late 80s during Japan's economic boom when the animation, or anime as it is referred, that it created ranked among some of the most creative and artistic animation ever created. Animators made stories that went direct to video or laserdisc that were often too violent or racy to get played on TV but too avant-garde to be released in theaters. These series were called original video animation, or OVAs, allowed for experimentation that the medium had never seen before. As the 90s progressed and Japan's economy shrunk, the market for OVAs dwindled as well. It became a wasteland of cheesecake and out-and-out porn as only the most rabid fans stayed with the medium.
The market for OVAs remains basically the same today, expect for the occasion when an intrepid animator takes things on by himself. Takeshi Koike's Redline is just such a film.
Redline is set in the far-flung future where a major spectator sport is point-to-point racing. Imagine a mixture of Death Race 2000 and Speed Racer set in space. In this universe, every four years a race is held called Redline where racers have to compete to enter. The race is held on a planet that is kept secret until just before the event. Racers are allowed to do anything to get to the finish like including crash other racers off the road and shoot them with missiles.
JP, the main character, is a racer with a stylized, yellow Pontiac Trans Am. His car is sabotaged during a Redline qualifying race but is allowed in by spectator demand. His is the only car that does not carry weapons. It is quite small, but one of the fastest in racing.
The race organizers chose Roboworld as the host of Redline, but Roboworld is very opposed. It is a militarized planet that is hiding a variety of illegal weapons. The Roboworld army intends on fighting the Redline racers as they cross the planet.
Redline is a handcrafted film. Over seven years, Koike hand animated over 100,000 cels. He also created the film's storyboards, worked as animation director and directed the overall film. It is his feature film directorial debut. He previously directed the the short World Record for the Animatrix and the pilots for the anime Afro Samurai and Iron Man.
Despite falling into the category of anime, it lacks the mediums usual, visual tropes like big eyes or super deformed characters. Visually, the film appears far more European or like the American, non-Disney animated films of the 70s, than Japanese. The characters and vehicle designs are mostly angular with heavy black shadows.
As with any film there are flaws to Redline. About an hour of the film's one hour and 42 minute run time is racing action, but there are moments in the film's other 42 minutes when it drags. There are also too many times when music overwhelms the sound of the cars. It is not that the music is bad, but it is fairly typical electronica. However, the sound for the cars is cribbed from Formula 1 and sports cars and is fantastically synched to the animation. I wish the cars got to speak for themselves more often.
The other problem is the dubbing. At least on the American version that I have, the voice cast is way too loud and over the top compared to the original, Japanese cast. If you happen to see the movie, just stick with the subtitles.
If you are a car and film enthusiast, Redline is worth seeking out at least as a rental. The animation quality, especially on the Blu-Ray, is like nothing else, and it is great to see an anime that harkens back to one of the medium's better periods.
Redline is available now in the US, UK and in Europe on Blu-Ray and DVD. The European version has Polish, German, French and Italian subtitles, while the US and UK versions have just English subtitles.
The film's trailer and some clips are posted below.