Previous Retro Reviews...
- MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO *** KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE *** PRINCESS MONONOKE
- HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE *** NAUSICAA *** CASTLE IN THE SKY *** PORCO ROSSO
- AKIRA Vol. 1 *** Vol. 2 *** Vol. 3 *** Vol. 4 *** Vol. 5 *** Vol. 6 *** TRIGUN Vol. 1
- LITTLE NORSE PRINCE VALIANT *** DRAGONBALL Vol. 1 *** GHOST IN THE SHELL
- MACROSS II *** LUPIN III: THE SECRET OF MAMO *** SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA
- BAKUMAN Vol. 1 *** MONSTER Vol. 1
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...