“Redline” — Speed Racer on steroids and the slow, sad death of an amazing art form

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“Redline” is one of the most technically amazing and wildest films I’ve ever seen. It is also a mostly unknown film outside of Japan.

Redline took an amazing seven years to make. Why did it take so long? Because it contains more than 100,000 individually hand-drawn cells. That’s 100,000 different paintings done … by hand.

Redline 1That right there explains why hand-drawn animation is a dying art form; Pixar and DreamWorks using computer power can crank out two or three feature films a year. Pixar movies are cute and there’s no questioning the quality of the work done on these computer-animated films. But it’s still kind of sad to see hand-drawn animation slowly fading. It’s nearly gone in the U.S. Even a lot of the animation you see on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon is actually computer animation made to look hand-drawn.Redline 11

Hand-drawn animation is simply hard, grueling, time- and labour-intensive compared to what you can do with computers. Where hand-drawn animation is staying alive is in Japan (and even in Japan computer animation is slowly taking over.).

Which brings us to “Redline.” The work on “Redline” began way back in 2003. The movie was delayed several times and was not released until 2010. (I’ve tried to find out how well it did in Japan, but information about it is limited.). It saw a limited release in the U.S., but has gained a cult following through people renting or buying the DVDs or watching it online.

Redline24It was the first full-length feature film made by Takeshi Koike (the only other thing of his I’ve seen is the opening animation to Samurai Champloo and a segment of “Animatrix” called “World Record.” When I first saw “Redline,” I was immediately reminded of that chapter from Animatrix and figured it had to be the same animator. His style is quite unique and unlike anything else you see in anime.).Redline 12

It is an absolutely visual feast and one the strangest and most unique anime you’ll ever see. Very much like a Hiyao Miyazaki movie, you can watch the film a couple of dozen times and see things you didn’t catch before. An anime technique, which was originally done to save money but became a staple of the anime ethos, is the use of still-frame. Long, still close-ups of characters with little or no movement was done to cut costs to begin with, but it became a source of dramatic tension the anime world.Redline 22

There’s none of that in “Redline.” In virtually every frame, there is a ton of movement, not only from the main characters, but in the background. Constant, non-stop movement both in the forefront and the background is the staple of this film. It’s simply mind-blowing to watch this 105-minute film (and that’s short by Japanese standards) and to think, “my goodness, this is ALL hand-drawn?” It just doesn’t seem possible.Redline 21

“Redline” takes place in an alien world in which racers compete in tricked-out vehicles in no-holds-barred races without rules or boundaries. There are few traditional anime-appearing characters. Most of the characters are odd-looking aliens. The main character, J.P., looks like a rockabilly reject from the 1950s and doesn’t look like anything you would see in most anime (I’ve been told he somewhat resembles a character called Space Dandy, but I’ve never seen that old anime.).Redline 18

The closest any character comes to appearing like a traditional anime is a woman driver named Shonosee McClaren. (Big eyes and of course amply bosomed — there is the almost obligatory nude fanservice scene with Shonosee. You see so much of this is Japanese anime, you just kind of become numb to the inherent sexism there, like why is she the only character we get to see nude. It’s simply part of the ingrained culture of anime and I don’t try to defend it. It’s from Japan and it is what it is.)Redline 15

The film borrows heavily from a number of other anime and even some non-anime films. There are scenes which will make you think of “Speed Racer,” though it’s a massively bulked up version of that ancient anime. Shonosee even drives a car that looks a little bit like the Mach 5 from “Speed Racer.”

The races also reminded me of the pod races from Star Wars I; there’s scenes that harken to the “Road Warrior.” The character of “Funky Boy” a giant, grotesque biological weapon, reminded me of both the mutant Tetsuo in “Akira” and the Giant Warrior of “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” The mutant monster that Col. Volton becomes reminded me of the gluttonous No Face from “Spirited Away.”

Redline 7Another character, Old Man Mole reminded me of the six-armed character Kamaji from “Spirited Away” (At this point, I was expected the soot balls from “Spirited Away” to show up.) The floating laser cannons reminded me of the diamond star gates of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” There’s a battle scene that reminded me of the big opening battle scene from Star Wars III.

I don’t think all of these reminders were by accident. One could accuse “Redline” of being derivative, but I love homages and “Redline” throws so many homages out there that it doesn’t feel like it’s simply ripping off older films. It just feels like part of the over-the-top, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe to the whole film.

Redline 2“Redline” is not an especially deep or ponderous movie. In the end, it’s simply a silly, weirded-out space race movie, and it’s bloody fun to watch. The fact that this film took seven years to make doesn’t bode well I think for the continuation of hand-drawn animation. The future has arrived and films like “Redline” will become more and more a rarity.

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Redline has been pulled from YouTube for copyright infringement. Here are some AMVs:

2 thoughts on ““Redline” — Speed Racer on steroids and the slow, sad death of an amazing art form”

  1. Great article, Haruko-san! You really know your stuff. It will be sad to see the demise of hand-drawn animation for sure.

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