The Other Side of Animation 31: Japanese Animation Month: REDLINE Review

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WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: There is some female nudity and crude language. Viewer’s discretion is advised.

Here we go! It’s the beginning of Japanese Animation Month! Say what you will about the huge amount of schlocky anime that you see come out of the land of the rising sun, but when they put their creative foot down on the pedal, they will speed by you with some of the best animated experiences to come out from there. Seriously, think about it. How many iconic animated films have come out from Japan? You have films like Akira, Ninja Scroll, Robot Carnival, Memories, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso, Ghost in the Shell, Wolf Children, The Garden of Words, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika, Short Peace, Whisper of the Heart, and you get the idea. When they are allowed to make something diverse, interesting, and not held down by anime tripe, they can make some pretty awe-inspiring work. For the first title in Japanese Animation Month, I wanted to go with a more recent film that shows us what the 2008 Speed Racer film could have been if the Wachowskis knew at all what they were doing. REDLINE is a 2D animated film released in 2009 by Takeshi Koike, who has also worked on projects like the World Record segment from The Animatrix, the original pilot for Afro Samurai, a pilot for the Iron Man anime, and the OVA of Trava: Fist Planet. Yeah, you have quite the individual on your hands. REDLINE was originally supposed to appear alongside Summer Wars and Mai Mai Miracle at the 2009 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, but was pushed back, and missed the festival altogether. So, how good is REDLINE? Is it one of the best racing films of all time? Or should you slow down so the tripe police don’t give you a ticket for speeding? Let’s find out.

REDLINE stars our male lead, JP, voiced by Patrick Seitz. JP is a well-known human racer that for most of his career goes through races with a rigged machine to fail, and make loads of money for the mafia to work off loans and such. Luckily for him, after a few racers drop out of a special event, JP joins the roster of racers in the REDLINE, a special race that only offers the best of the best in terms of challengers. Unfortunately for them, they will also have to deal with the planet the race takes place on’s military and government, as it’s up to JP and a colorful cast of characters to make it through the race and try to win first place!

Let’s get into the driver seat and I’ll tell you my favorite elements of this animated film. The animation and character designs are just fantastic. The whole movie looks like a bright colorful comic book put into motion, and not as one of those stupid motion comics. It’s smooth, the designs are whimsical, and the characters all look like something from the F-Zero. All the characters look great, and are all very expressive. I think my favorite design comes from the main character, JP. Sure, he kind of has similarities with the typical male characters of current anime, but there is just something about him that stands out to me, compared to what you usually get in a male anime lead. Heck, I love him as a main character. He is confident, energetic, prone to crashes, and loves the feeling of racing at top speed. He’s a likable main character. The cars that everyone race in are definitely another design element that I love about the film. I think the cyborg racer is one of my favorites, since he becomes a part of his racing vehicle and his head looks like someone read The Mask comics and shoved an engine into the guy’s head. It reminds me of stuff like the already mentioned F-Zero, Star War Episode 1: Racer, Wacky Racers, and Fast Racing Neo. I also get a feeling like George Miller would make this, since it’s so over-the-top and entertaining.

For the racing itself, it’s stylish, fast, well-animated, and satisfying. It’s like if Fury Road’s chase sequences were animated, and had a huge dose of anime shoved into its veins. I mean, on top of colorful racers, they also have to deal with an over-the-top Power Rangers-style villain world trying to take them down. Who wouldn’t love something like this? Luckily, when you aren’t watching the eccentric animation, bounty hunters, hot ladies, and big cars, there are some small calm moments. There aren’t many of them, and they are simple, but when they pop up, it’s a welcome change of pace. In the end though, this film knows what it wants to be, unlike some recent big budget flicks that have recently been released.

Despite having some amazing qualities, there are some downsides to REDLINE as well. First off, don’t expect a deep story. It’s simple, and while that is great since this film knows what it wants to do with itself, this might not be the movie for you if you want deep storytelling and philosophically intriguing characters. I also didn’t care for the female characters in this film. They aren’t truly interesting, and are just hype- sexualized. It fits with the mood, and to be fair, not a lot of the side characters get a huge amount of development, but it’s something to bring up. Another thing to bring up is this little area in the film that is basically exposition and information dumping.  It introduces the other racers who you won’t really care about, and are basically there to show off even more flash and personality. It drags the pace down a bit, but you probably won’t care too much about it, since you will be distracted by goofy characters and slick, stylized animation. I also hate how a lot of Japanese animated films do this, but the ending is very abrupt. What is it with Japanese animation and not having a good ending? Granted, I guess the ending we got was enough, but it’s distracting when I have seen so many films do this.

REDLINE might be stupid sci-fi cheese, but it’s that good kind of stupid sci-fi cheese. It’s enjoyable, likable, a spectacle to behold, and shows off what Japanese animation can be when it’s not held down by most of the bullocks that comes with anime these days. I’m not going to say REDLINE is one of my all-time favorite movies or one of the best animated films, but this is a film that you could watch many times just for the pure entertainment value of it. It’s a movie you pick up for simple enjoyment and visual flair. Luckily, the film is not hard to obtain, since the multi-format version is about $10 plus shipping on Amazon.com. If you wanted to watch it for free and not feel crummy about it, tubitv.com has it for free, which is how I watched it. I love films like this, since it shows off how creative you can be with animation. For example, you can be over-the-top fun like REDLINE, or funny and touching like next time’s film review of A Letter to Momo. Thanks for checking out this review, and see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation: Memories Review

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After 10 reviews of nothing but European and American animated films, I am finally talking about one of my favorite animated films, Memories, from the land of the rising sun, ramen, anime, and Godzilla. This series of short films is by famous animator Katushiro Otomo, the mind behind famous and popular animated films/manga like Akira, Neo Tokyo, Robot Carnival, Steamboy, and Short Peace. The three short films that we are going to review today are based on short stories that Otomo himself has written. Let’s dive in and check out these three individual short films.

The first film up is Magnetic Rose, directed by Koji Morimoto, who is also well known for his work on games like Catherine, and anime like First Squad, Mind Game, and one of the segments in The Animatrix. The screenplay was helmed by one of my favorite animation icons, the late and always great Satoshi Kon, who worked on Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue, and Paprika. The story revolves around a four-person team in a salvage freighter, as they are traveling around in space. Upon finishing one job, they get an SOS, and head to this graveyard of salvage, into what looks like a giant metal rose. Of course, as they go inside, the SOS might be more dangerous than they thought.

The second film is called Stink Bomb, which is directed by Tensai Okamura. He is mostly well known for doing storyboards for a lot of well-known anime like Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain, Soul Eater, and worked on films like Neo Tokyo, Ghost in the Shell, and Jin-Roh. Stink Bomb is a black comedy revolving around a young lab technician named Nobuo Tanaka. Including him and everyone in his town, a serious cold breakout has been doing a number on poor Nobuo. Instead of doing the sensible thing and going home, one of his coworkers suggests he try a new prototype pill in their boss’s office. After taking the pill and resting his eyes, Nobuo wakes up to find everyone dead. This alerts the Japanese Government and, unknowing to Nobuo, the “experimental pills” Nobuo took caused a gas to permeate from his body that kills anyone or anything within a certain distance.

The final short is called Cannon Fodder, which is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. The story is about an entire city that does nothing but prep cannons, and fire said cannons at an unknown enemy.

So, what is so great about these three short films? Well, each film has their own vibe, and are grand in scale in their own ways. Magnetic Rose is obviously everyone’s favorite due to how much of a complete story it is. At first it starts out as an atmospheric sci-fi tale, but then two of the crew members, Miguel and Heintz venture forth inside the location of the distress call. It then turns into a ghost story, with the giant metal rose-like location housing multiple European architectural pieces, holograms of the European countryside, and a large portrait of what is apparently the owner of said abandoned structure. I won’t spoil what happens in this short film, but it’s truly one of the best examples of not only animation, but anime.

Stink Bomb is just an epic black comedy with well executed animation and rather humorous sequences. Seeing so many soldiers and people run to the hills, because of one oblivious and uninformed idiot who took a pill that just happened to make him the symbol of death, is hilarious. It’s like the epic comedic scale you saw in the first Blues Brothers movie. The poor guy took an experimental pill that turned him into a walking cloud of death, and he is unaware of it all. Like I said, what makes this short film work is that it’s a huge epic black comedy. It is definitely a very humorous tale with some top-notch animation.

Unfortunately, the weakest, but most visually impressive short of the three is the one directed by the Otomo himself, Cannon Fodder. It’s an anti-war message, since the people in this city have been fighting for so long that they honestly don’t know what they are attacking. Granted, they do a lot to build up this short’s universe, and how everything works, and the many positions and jobs these people have. What it lacks in length and story, it makes up with personality. Some parts can be dramatic, like how the only person on the deck to fire the cannons is the one who pulls the trigger, and if your loading team messes up, they have to stand right by the cannon that could potentially blow up on them. It’s an interesting world, but there isn’t enough time spent in it to match the first two animated shorts.

Let’s get back on track with the positives! Like I said, the animation in all of these shorts is grade A quality. Even after 10 years, it holds up incredibly well. Even if Cannon Fodder is the weakest of the three shorts, it’s the most visually striking, with animation that looks like something out of the most talented artist’s sketchbook with its grungy, but at the same time, bright colors. The music in all three shorts is fitting, with ambient epic scores for Magnetic Rose, quirky off-beat music for Stink Bomb, and mechanical/military sounding music for Cannon Fodder.

Memories is a work of art, and one of the highest caliber pieces of animation to ever come out of Japan. Sure, you could argue that Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder are more like visual experiences, since their plots are not as in-depth as Magnetic Rose, but I feel like that is being unfair to the other two shorts. All three offer varying and uniquely different experiences, and they all work in their own right. My only real complaint is that we never got an English dub of the three, but in the long run, it probably doesn’t matter. I would love to see what company would grab this, and what English-speaking actors they would choose, but they would have to make sure they put in perfect performances to match what is happening on the screen. If you haven’t picked this film up yet, you should. It’s easily one of the best anthology films around, and easily worth your time. Well, how about we move onto another ambitious piece of animation for the time of its release, with Fritz the Cat? Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials