I’ve never been interested in anything car-related, besides my car starting and stopping when I need it to. Similarly, racing in all its forms has never really been an interesting experience to witness. And because I can barely drive to work without nearly dying about three times, I choose to stay my distance from speeds over 120 KM/H.
So a movie about racing shouldn’t at all be something I’d jump to watch, right? That would be correct, if only Redline didn’t exist. But it does, and the world is a far, far better place for it.
What the Hell is Redline?
Redline is, in all senses and sentiments, an insanely polished and well-crafted anime racing film from the tender year of 2009 (how old do you 90’s kids feel?). Produced by the prolific studio Madhouse (the same folk behind Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers, and Death Note), it’s essentially what happens when you combine some of the universe’s best animators with a metric fuck-tonne of speed and leave them with a script. At least that’s what I imagine actually happened.
A lot happens in both the back and foregrounds of Redline’s 102 minute duration. There’s a massive, intergalactic war. There’s a bunch of space mobsters doing some shady business. And there’s a universally-renowned “underground” elimination race called the Redline. Our hero is a sweet young man by the name of JP, who sports the universe’s finest pompadour haircut. He gets involved with the mob, and has to throw the qualifying race – the Yellowline – to pay off some debts he has piled up. But because of what unfolds, and how lucky (plucky?) JP is, folks vote him into the Redline purely based on popular demand, and because two other racers dropped out for plot reasons. I won’t spoil this for you.
What Makes Redline Special?
It’s rare to see a film with this much graphical detail and care put into each and every nook and cranny. If you were to put this film in its entirety on an editor and check it frame by frame, you would almost have an aneurysm at how each still animates in the most bombastic (and yet subtle) of ways. You may have seen a lot of anime with gratuitous attention to detail with regards to action or emotional tension, but to see one with all possible elements filled to the brim like this is a rarity.
I struggled to watch Redline initially. Not because it was bad in any way, but because it was so hyper-detailed and fluid that it gave me what I can only describe as happy motion sickness. I’d find myself having to pause a lot just to take in a particular scene or sequence of events. And you’d think the visuals alone would carry this film, but there is so much more to it that I can barely touch upon.
The only way you can make an intergalactic high-speed death race even more interesting than what its already outrageous premise is by giving the whole thing a pumped up 50’s style hotrod aesthetic, crossed with a splash of dieselpunk and a way too much pop. Just looking at JP himself – the hair, the outfits, the demeanour – and his ride is enough to sate even the most bored of artists among us. Whether it’s the alien-as-all-hell character design, the intense yet never overbearing action sequences, and even the few shots with food in them, everything is unique.
When it comes to character development – a crucial aspect of most anime narratives – Redline keeps it simple. JP’s priorities keep changing for the better as the story goes on, and so too do those of his comrades. Frisbee, a mobster more-or-less on JP’s side, struggles to to figure out what best to do about his predicament, but is ultimately swayed by JP’s drive. McLaren, JP’s “rival,” makes for a most interesting (and not cringey) romance subplot. And even the intergalactic politics in the background – bioweapons and all – make for an interesting separate plot that, although strong, ultimately serves to further the main events that we care about: the Redline.
The soundtrack is also a work of endearing art. Though you may have heard about five or six songs throughout the movie, the full soundtrack includes 42 (forty fucking two) original tracks by acclaimed anime music man James Shimoji. Though most go great with the atmospheric or ambient scenes interspersed throughout the film, the real heavy hitters tie into the films fast-paced, face-melting action fluidly. Take, for example, Yellowline below.
My Face is Melting
As it should be. Redline is one of those very few anime gems that hardly ever receive their truly deserved fame. Sure, you have Ghibli films, you have stuff like Perfect Blue and Jin Roh, and you have your litany of harem anime, but a film as deftly-executed and insanely-detailed as this comes out only ever five or six blue moons.
Watch Redline. Thank me later.