|The Best Movie-Long Chase Scene You'll Ever See|
Let me get this out of the way first: I LOVE Dead Leaves. It’s easily one of my favorite anime movies I’ve ever seen, but I cannot in good faith say that everyone should see it. Anyone looking for substance and meaningful relationships in their anime will throw up their breakfast after sitting through the entirety of Dead Leaves (or even the first 10 or 15 minutes). Dead Leaves has adrenaline pumping through every vein; it’ll definitely keep viewers interested or at least in awe of the over-the-top action that breathes in each moment. It’s an animated rush that puts the action genre into a stunningly presented and gorgeously weird light. Yes, it’s blatantly flawed, but what it does do, it does without any hesitation or restraint. That’s a damn good thing.
The story of Dead Leaves begins with protagonists Retro (a TV-headed hotshot with a penchant for destruction) and Pandy (a calm and collected superwoman with an identical thirst for rampage) discovering each other naked in a wasteland, both without a memory of who they are and how they got there. After getting clothes and causing a bit of chaos in the city, the duo are arrested and sent to a space prison on the moon. After adjusting to the living conditions and having sex, the two destroy their confinements and embark on a frantic demolition spree to escape the prison, with a crew of derelict clone criminals along for the ride. There is some sort of metaphor of a caterpillar eating leaves or something, but Dead Leaves never takes that particular idea to heart. A brief mention of Pandy’s past mixing in with some disturbing family issues are briefly, BRIEFLY noted, but the rest of the OVA is pure adrenaline rush. To be fair, there is a remarkably connective relationship between the two protagonists (and not just because of the sex) and the end result is actually a pretty well-versed one. In the 50-something minutes that the OVA runs, however, not much time is offered for the depth to bloom, resulting in what is essentially a massive chase sequence with sci-fi intrigue peppered on top.
Dead Leaves isn’t a show that goes down easy. In fact, even if you’re looking for an intense and action-packed feature, Dead Leaves will exceed your expectations, for better or for worse. Random occurrences are common, surprise battles will appear frequently. There isn’t any moment in Dead Leaves where the characters or even the designers stop to catch their breath. However, this all comes at a significant cost. Everything seems incredibly meaningless in Dead Leaves; random violence and bizarre situations are thrown about like rag dolls, and the entire question of “why” is nearly ignored. Note that it “seems” incredibly meaningless, because the ending does take some time to reflect on the characters as a whole, but Dead Leaves still feels more like an energy drink than a calming cup of warm milk. Still, there is definitely a group who will love the hell out of Dead Leaves and a group who will hate its guts. It really depends on your thirst for violence and over-the-top battle scenes or your desire for significant substance in your anime. If you are the former, however, Dead Leaves is the top of its class. Its riotous pacing and inability to slow down makes it something beyond other action OVA’s released in the last ten years.
Dead Leaves’ alternative art design contains some of the most over-the-top and disorienting action sequences that you’ll ever see in any animated feature. It makes FLCL look like interpretive dance. Interestingly enough, Hiroyuki Imaishi, designer of other hyperactive, adrenaline-drenched anime like FLCL, Gurren Lagann, and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt created Dead Leaves, which puts all other animation styles to utter shame. Exploding onomatopoeia, insanely choreographed gunfights, and comic-book-esque bursts of color and texture make Dead Leaves an INSANE ride. It’s by far the most energized anime you’ll see. The dialogue is just as lewd and bizarre as the rest of the animation. Retro’s obsession with being a crime lord in a past life is contrasted with the fact that he is forced to defecate when in the prison (like I said, lewd). Pandy, who doesn’t get as much dialogue, is a collected badass girl who does have a lot of character (she’s a perfect match for keeping Retro in line). However, the only secondary character who feels pertinent to the story is an inmate with a giant…um…drill. Every other character feels just as expendable as they turn out to be. This makes the other characters pretty unremarkable, but since the entire story is focused on Retro and Pandy, it’s explainable to a degree.
Dead Leaves will not make friends with everyone. The meaning and purpose behind the characters’ actions are framed loosely, storyline is near ignored, and the chase scenes move for over 20 minutes at a time (and that’s putting it lightly). For those who do love action films, Dead Leaves will entice and reach out at that primal desire for over-the-top antics without any restraint. It’s the ultimate anime drug trip. Dead Leaves pioneers an engaging and “WTF”-inducing animation style that has yet to be duplicated (even in Imaishi’s later works). It’s significantly designed and difficult to turn away from. Dead Leaves is the most flawed masterpiece you’ll see on DVD or your local streaming service, but if you can overcome those flaws, you’ll return to Dead Leaves over and over and experience one of the best assault on your senses you’ll find in anime today.