The unknown, the exotic and the maybe-even-dangerous have been so largely removed from the moviegoing experience - - when marketing saturates total “pre-awareness” before a single foot steps into the theater - - that the notion of a proper midnight movie seems positively alien in its mystique. It’s real hard to imagine going into a late-nite flick with no expectations other than the shapeless ones built up by just a far-out poster and friends' enthusiastic promise of something unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Maybe it seems far more romantic in my head than it was, in actuality, but REDLINE still offered an exhilarating sense that I’d at last found the proper midnight movie experience - - that I’d gotten secret access to something so cool it was light-years ahead of most people's curve. As odd as it sounds, I'm grateful that my only knowledge of this prior to my viewing was limited to just a brief clip I saw a couple years ago at a comics shop and some enthusiastic word-of-mouth afterward. I'd hate for any of this to have been diluted.
It’s unavoidable to use automotive analogies to describe this racing flick, because it damn sure felt like a shot of nitro in an engine that’d been running on fumes. This is a lucid, visceral reminder of how intrinsically cool anime can be. If your friends, family or co-workers don’t get it, it’s not because of chibi or fan service or anything embarrassing like that - - it’s because they’re boring.
That’s a provocative quality here, equating anime with rock, that I haven’t encountered in too lengthy a time; really since the era when import OAVs promised me how “these aren’t your Dad’s cartoons” during overnight infomercials. The titles from those days seem a lot schlockier, right now, but REDLINE offers a vision of what those dangerous tapes, with their “18+ ONLY” stickers, would be like if they were actually good. No, not good. Phenomenal. Exhilarating. Mind-blowing.
REDLINE plays out something like Speed Racer’s delinquent cousin competing in an iteration of Death Race 2000 that’s been brought to its third or fourth power. It sees a chronically under-performing greaser, “Sweet” JP, stepping up from the smalltime Yellowline race to the be-all, end-all, top-tier Redline with a little help from the mob ties of his alien mechanic/manager/pal, Frisbee. The plan is to fix the race’s off-track betting payout by having this longshot punker intentionally start out slow, come up to the lead from behind and then choke right before he crosses the finish line. JP’s gotten fed up with not playing to his true potential, of course, and - - deadly reprisals be damned - - he won't take a dive this time.
JP races against a mad menagerie of jack rabbits, supervillains, gorillas and even a couple of very human, and very lascivious, “cosplay fiends” who’ve all seemingly been summoned from the wildest depths of graphic mags like 2000 A.D. and HEAVY METAL. As if the race conditions weren’t absurdly dangerous enough, already, this Redline is also being staged on the outlaw planet of Roboworld without the authorization its cyborg overlords.
Such a presumptuous move would be a grave offense, on its own, but the man/machine rulers are doubly incensed for how Redline’s characteristically all-seeing media coverage is surely going to show Roboworld’s secret (and treaty-violating) biological weapons to the rest of the galaxy. Of greatest concern is “Funky Boy,” a gold protoplasmic giant with an absolutely inexhaustible reserve of massive, devastating death rays.
As you might sense, an infectiously anarchic sense of humor colors all this insanity. Here’s a flick that’ll get you chortling with jaunty jibes, absurd ultra-violence and rapturous visual fireworks with equal aplomb. Much like GURREN LAGANN’s preposterous galaxy-sized mecha suits, REDLINE puts JP through ludicrously-inventive rounds of escalation before the race’s breathless finish. His car runs on such hyperbolic power that even its explosion's liable to still offer some helpful forward propulsion.
If we're to touch on some negatives, perhaps you'll ask if we ever get to delve that deep into JP’s psyche? Nope, we don't. Does his accelerated romance with his long-time rival, Sonoshee, adequately convey the nuances of real, human relationships? Nah, not really… but why is that a problem? I elect to take a third option in this appraisal, instead of abiding by what typically seems like a binary choice between dumb and shallow spectacles “you just need to turn your brain off for” and self-serious character dramas made by wet blankets with damp allergies to entertainment.
This is a movie better experienced instinctively than evaluated cerebrally, sure, and the pulsing big beat soundtrack's cranked up high enough to steal Rob Overseer's thunder at a club... but it's definitely not loud, dumb fun. The character development, if you're looking for it, is satisfied right within what it's setting out to do.
If it wasn’t already conceptual enough, the earlier discussion of this being a perfect midnight movie ought to be compounded by saying it also feels like a rare passion project that’s actually came to fruition. This is the first feature directed by Madhouse’s Takeshi Koike, who previously directed the dashing “World Record” short from THE ANIMATRIX, and he notably tasked the studio to develop it for seven years and draw 100,000 of its cels by hand. There are no visible shortcuts taken in this exhaustively-rendered labor of love, and to say enthusiasm exudes out of every cell is to undersell its energy. This was made by animators (and, indeed, dubbed by voice actors) who were unmistakably having an unmediated riot of a time, and it'll guaranteed to blow away anybody who jump into the party.
Check out one of the clips below and get an all-too-fleeting taste of the mayhem...