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DEAD LEAVES -- Retro Review

Brash, bravura and ballistic. Not for the lame of heart.

Previous Retro Reviews...

Few toons are as uniquely exhilarating as those produced by artists with the explicit goal of blowing off steam in between their major projects. For example, the infamously-nonsensical FLCL - - a farce banged out by Gainax animators after they’d been working on that too serious, too intense and too lucid EVANGELION for too long.

DEAD LEAVES feels like something conceived under similar auspices by Production I.G. staffers during their coffee breaks. Or maybe during their Red Bull refills, actually - - descriptors like “manic” and “frenetic” feel inadequate for this anime that never, ever lets up for a single frame. If direct-to-video OVA’s like this are intended to provide experiences even more specialized than those that get “normal” anime labeled as niche, then this joint offers possibly the single most hyperactive experience of any animated feature. Ever.

Listen, that statement isn’t hyperbolic. I’m somebody who actively seeks out this sort of entertainment - - a connoisseur (if I might say so) who’d schedule it on a Liquid Television programming block or on a double feature with FREAKED, and then file it next to trigger-happy surrealistic comics like TANK GIRL and SCUD THE DISPOSABLE ASSASSIN on the shelf. Thus, there’s some weight to me saying that, even with its art style directly evoking 90’s graffiti commix, DEAD LEAVES stands rather proudly on its own in this whole sub-genre of two-fisted fever dream fantasies.

The story flies out breathlessly, as if it’s being spun by a Fruit Loops-amped toddler who’s required to spin a complete narrative before he’s allowed to run to the potty. It’s about Pandy and Retro, two naked and nonsensically-named amnesiacs who go from waking up in a junkyard to a furious criminal rampage and then to inexplicable incarceration in the Dead Leaves lunar prison in literally a matter of six minutes.

One’s a cute panda punk chick, the other’s a dude with a TV for a head, and their mutual imprisonment takes an extremely cracked “boy meets girl” turn when they conceive a rapidly-aging mutant child who actually winds up popping out Pandy’s birth canal with Uzis in hand. The freakishly-fractured family then teams up against Dead Leaves’ hysterical, nursery rhyme-obsessed warden and her duo of monstrous prison guards, the aptly-named 666 and 777, before an appropriately-Apocalyptic finale with a colossal, Apocalyptic caterpillar.

This is the part where your stuffy reviewer’s supposed to blow out the usual hot air, qualifying any praise by saying “It’s great to look at, but never mind the story” or “It’s great eye candy, but there’s not much character development.” Such observations will incite anybody with any sense of fun to roll their eyes and tell said reviewers to pull their heads out of their cornholes.

Look at these screenshots. Look at 'em. If this movie ever slowed down enough to give Pandy and Retro’s romance realistic emotional nuance, or took time aside to explain the complex backstory of the Dead Leaves facility… then, frankly, it would suck.

The furious gunplay and non-stop velocity is obviously rad, but it’s the flippancy about every available detail of plotting that’s the real charm of DEAD LEAVES. If you’ve ever been bored out of your skull by self-serious anime about amnesiac child assassins like GUNSLINGER GIRL and PHANTOM: REQUIEM FOR THE PHANTOM, you’ll feel a thrilling sense of vindication in how this show basically ridicules anybody taking the “mystery” of Pandy and Retro’s past lives even remotely seriously.

Believe it or not, there’s a method to this madness and a craft to its craziness - - it actually does take talent and skill to re-create the rush of an adolescent fever dream on screen. This has all the ingredients of the sort of relentless sensory overload that could get really numbing and really irritating, real fast... but it’s got this elusive X-Factor that makes it work.

I suspect that X-Factor may be the fact that parties involved obviously could make something strict and sober, but they're choosing to make something unceasingly fun here and, thus, know exactly what they're doing. That's vastly preferable to madcap antics produced by people who're only capable of producing madcap antics - - and it's key to note the difference. As I mentioned earlier, there's something uniquely enthralling about watching artists blow off steam between big projects.

Watch DEAD LEAVES for yourself down below and make your own conclusions about it. Just don't think too hard about what you're watching...

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of HYBRID BASTARDS! & UNIMAGINABLE. Order them on Amazon here & here. Follow him on Twitter: @tompinchuk

Killer_of_trollson June 15, 2012 at 3:44 p.m.

personal opinion: it's slow paced, boring, tries too hard but fails, and so not funny. who ever made this probably thought he was making art with that open ending, give me a break.

Destinyheroknighton June 15, 2012 at 4:24 p.m.

This is madness

zaldaron June 15, 2012 at 4:39 p.m.

yup as someone who thought FLCL is amazingly overrated and loves EVA basicly because it is "too serious, too intense and too lucid" since honestly we should all approach life more that way (to many of us especially in America and Europe are hedonists) I don't think this is for me.

sickVisionz moderator on June 15, 2012 at 5:16 p.m.

I've always heard about this anime and been interested. The screenshots here have a style that looks absolutely nothing like the cover art, which makes me way more interested in checking it out. Hearing that the story is bat shit insane and ridiculous is a major turn on. All of the summaries I've read made it sound like some super dark prison story like Rainbow... yet another example where I find official anime descriptions to be completely worthless when it comes to giving you an idea of what the series will be like tonally.

Anyways, nice write up. This seems right up my alley.

MrXDon June 15, 2012 at 5:29 p.m.

Funny how I actually watch the ending part of this movie on Garry's Mod. XD

cynically_happyon June 15, 2012 at 6:35 p.m.

Well, that was a weird way to blow like an hour. It was fun though, I liked the hyper-kinetic, not-giving-a-shit attitude it had, overall I'd say it was worth a watch

CapeBarneson June 15, 2012 at 11:29 p.m.

I love this oav. I believe this was also directed by the same guy who did Gurren Lagann

Esp. when you think about the guy with the drill. "The director likes drills" said a Gainax staffer at FanimeCon one year during a panel XD

Lurkeroon June 16, 2012 at 8:16 a.m.

I remember watching this movie, and I remember a lot of car chases. I however, do not remember anything else. I think that's what it's going for, but to aim for your work to be mostly forgettable doesn't seem like a noble goal.

It felt like a mix of Gurren Lagann and FLCL, except I actually remember things that were placed in Gurren Lagann's ridiculousness. Dead Leaves wasn't nearly as entertaining.

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A sci-fi film by Hiroyuki Imaishi.

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