Review: Redline

Anime is no stranger to excess. In fact, that’s what gave it such an advantage in decades past, when other venues of animation played it safe and boring. Yet anime goes for the wrong kind of excess all too often, losing itself in predictable violence, unvarnished misogyny, toy-fueled pandering, and, most recently, hyper-cutesy piffle aimed at the socially withdrawn. Even the few worthwhile anime creations from recent years are reserved, cuddly fare like Ponyo and Summer Wars or thoughtful snails like The Sky Crawlers. It’s been far too long since a film embraced that excess, that visceral glee and magnificent stupidity that made people sit up and notice this crazy anime thing in the first place. Redline does that.

Redline lands deep into an advanced future, though a profusion of starships and hoverspeeders hasn’t killed civilization’s fondness for cars. So there’s a circuit of combat racing that culminates in a cross-planet rally called the Redline (think Wacky Races, F-Zero, and Death Race 2000). Sweet JP, a heavily pompadoured young punk, wrecks his way into the big race after losing a qualifier to fellow human Sonoshee McLaren. The two plunge into the Redline alongside the simian cop Gori-Rider, his criminal rival Todoroki, the vicious superhero Lynchman, the odd team of the elfish Trava and the lobster-like Shinkai, the Superboins pop duo of Boiboi and Bosbos, and the previous Redline champion, a cyborg called Machinehead. Their racetrack is the whole of Roboworld, a bellicose and heavily armed planet that vows to throw its entire military at these high-speed trespassers.

That’s really all you need to know. Redline doesn’t waste your time with hard-science prattle or meaningless background. It’s too busy looking good. Strike that—it’s too busy looking fucking amazing. Director Takeshi Koike and co-creator Katsuhito Ishii hit on a strange style that recalls both Peter Chung and dark ‘90s anime, and they imbue every inch of the film with heavy shadows, beautifully animated detail, and enough sexual imagery to fill a hot-rod magazine. The backgrounds swarm with bizarre aliens to beggar Star Wars. Vehicles heave and rush. Explosions pulse and twist the air. Characters look gorgeously distinct without clashing. And it all meshes with a slick little soundtrack. Redline shows the seven years of work that went into it, and it begs to be paused and dissected frame by frame, just to properly appreciate every little touch.