Pedal to the Extra-Terrestrial Metal
Love. Betrayal. Redemption. Intergalactic war. Magic princesses. Gearheads. You’ll get to experience all of this and more in Redline, a 2010 animated film from director Takeshi Koike (The Animatrix: World Record) and animation studio Madhouse (Trigun, X, Ninja Scroll). The film follows the racing exploits of “Sweet JP” as he tries to win the interstellar racing competition Redline, the culmination of five years’ worth of qualifying events. It’s a wild ride with cool cars, some great characters, slick animation, and the catchiest end-credits tune I’ve heard in a while.
(Speed Racer + Outlaw Star) * F-Zero
The film opens the way any good racing flick should: In medias res during the Yellowline qualifying event, with the first few minutes focusing on a group of fans hanging out at one of the courses requisite checkpoints hoping to catch a glimpse of the racers as they speed by. It does a really good job of establishing the universe we’re in – multiple alien species, bets being placed on the race, fans talking about their favorite drivers – while simultaneously drawing the viewer into the anticipation of finally getting to see the cars. When they finally speed by for half a second, leaving sonic booms and cheering fans in their wake, the payoff is worth it.
From that point on, the story follows JP pretty consistently. He heads to the planet where all of the Redline participants are getting prepped, coming into contact with several of them; one racer in particular – “Cherry-Boy Hunter” Sonoshee – catches his eye as the days tick by. But he’s also got to focus on getting his car ready with the help of his childhood best friend and mechanic, Frisbee. He’s raced hard to get to this point, but events from his past and Frisbee’s ties to the mob just might cost him the race, his reputation, and his relationship with Sonoshee.
The other driving force (intended) of the plot is that the Redline race commission has decided to hold the event on Robo-World, the capitol planet of a militaristic empire who wants less-than-nothing to do with the event. As such, the commission has to enlist the help of racing fans – and even some of the racers – to plan and execute a means of having the race on this extraordinarily hostile, armed-to-the-teeth world. It’s a cool idea that helps expand a bit of our understanding of this universe, and pays off with some excellent action sequences.
Interspersed throughout the film are glimpses into the lives of the other drivers, but these never total more info than you’d find in the “bio” descriptions of each contestant in any given combat-racing or fighting video game manual. The end result is that none of them every feel as complete as I would have liked. There is one standout side-character in the form of JP’s aging four-armed “scrounger” – scrapheap and junkyard specialists who help racers and mechanics find parts for their rides.
In Red, White and Blue Flash Paint
The animation on display here ranges from fantastic to frustrating, and anyone familiar with any of Madhouse’s other work will probably immediately recognize some of my points on both sides. The overall quality is top-notch, from character designs to backgrounds to the little details on the vehicles. There are very few anime clichés on display here, and it’s obvious a lot of imagination went into this film. The characters – whether they be humans, four-armed aliens or lumbering robo-men – all move realistically; little touches like the minor limp Frisbee has add to the experience in a pleasingly subtle way.
My only complaint is that some of the action-heavy sequences get, what’s the word… frenetically muddled. The car and military ship designs are great, but they become almost unrecognizable when in motion; there were several moments when I wasn’t sure whether to be cheer or groan because I simply didn’t know who had just done what to who and how. If that sentence gave you a headache, it succeeded in getting my point across.
I watched it in hi-def, and that would be my suggested method of viewing if you can manage; unfortunately, I was only using 2-channel audio, so I can speak to surround-sound quality, but there are definitely places where it could be put to great use.
If you like any of the three titles I compared it to in my first heading, you’ll dig Redline. It’s not an overly complicated film; hell, it’s not as complicated a film as I made it out to be at the start of this review. A dude with anime Elvis hair drives an awesome car at impossible speeds against a bunch of other cool cars while a military superpower tries to kill them. If that sounds like your cup of nitrous, then climb in and buckle up, because we’re getting to that finish line.
NERD RATING – 8.5 / 10
[amazon_link id=”B005WMQ5R8″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Redline Blu-ray Edition[/amazon_link]