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Redline (2009)

Redline is the most deadly racing tournament in the universe and takes place every 5 years on a different planet in a different galaxy. It is a no-holds-barred race where big guns and big engines give you the edge. There is no bigger title in the universe for racing than to be crowned champion at Redline. Up against the best and baddest drivers in the universe, Sweet JP in his TransAM2000, and Sonoshee Maclaren in the Crab Sonoshee, want to get to Redline and be champion. But this time the deadliest road race is being held on Roboworld, a military planet, where they really do not want the race to takes place.

Redline follows our protagonist, Sweet JP and his TransAM2000, on his route to Redline. In order to get to Redline he has to qualify and so our story begins at Yellow Line where we are introduced to a wide variety of aliens, cars, despicable tactics and Sonoshee Maclaren, who drives the hover car Crab Sonoshee. It is at this opening sequence where you are either “in” or “out”. Takeshi Koike (the director and character designer) and Katsuhiro Ishii (story and concept) have created a world with over-the-top action and death-defying accidents that is spectacular to behold. It is even more spectacular when you realise it is hand-drawn.

If you are looking for a deep and thoughtful storyline at this point you’ll be out. If you want crazy action and pure adrenaline-fuelled entertainment you’ll be in. For a racing animation we have missiles, guns, missiles being shot out of the sky, people running by cars at 200km/h, inter-dimensional space travel, bio-weapons, gangsters, gamblers and romance.

What Redline lacks in story/plot it makes up for in the animation, character designs and soundtrack. It is in these elements, particularly the visual style, where it is strongest and excels. I saw this when it was released in 2011 and it blew me away. I had not seen something so kinetic, bold, colourful, distinctive and fresh for a long time. It reminded me of the anime that got me into anime in the first place – the big budget shows of the 80s and 90s. It reinvigorated my interest in anime and animation. As anime was starting to be filled with generic, bland characters (design and personality), a trend that has continued, this slapped me in the face and demanded my attention. We do get a bit of time with each character and they feel rounded and have a motivation behind their actions, but with Redline, it is all about the look.

The character designs are very distinct. The overriding style has a very strong appearance with lots of black shadowing and thick lines. At times it can look a bit ugly but this design style really works with the material. The designs of the main racers give them all a distinct look. All of the human characters are distinguishable from each other. With the aliens the character designs are out of this world (admittedly I’d query some of the physics and how they ended up like that, but they look cool). Vehicle designs match the personalities of the drivers. JP is a classic racer so his car has that classic design. The thug-like policeman, Gori-Rider, drives big, brutish ... tank. The magical princess car turns into a giant pink robot!

Redline is awash with different aliens and each of them is unique, even where there are groups of the same aliens. Of the characters from Roboworld, it would have been easy to make them all very similar but again, all are distinct in personality and appearance. There is so much detail in the look of every frame so there is always something new to see. This is refreshing to see where modern designs often look samey across shows. As I said earlier this definitely does not have a typical anime-look.

As for the animation, it is fluid. There is a lot of movement within the film and it is rare to have a static shot. Something is always moving in the background. Each of the vehicles moves differently and there is a sense of weight and power behind them. The races suggest excessive speed and superhuman drivers. When JP “pops” a cap of nitro into the tank the car is shown to stretch (including his giant quiff!) because it’s going so fast. There is also a great sequence at a finishing line early in the film that shows relative speeds between objects – one travelling very slowly and the others just whizzing past. With regards to people and their movement, everyone moves as their personality dictates. JP has a relaxed and laid-back gait. Outside the races Sonoshee glides across the surface in her billowing dress. I particularly like the limp given to JPs friend and mechanic, Frisbee, suggesting that there has been some kind of serious action or event in his past.

Being set on an alien planet near a major sporting event, there are plenty of crowded scenes throughout the film and there is a phenomenal amount of movement in the background characters that you’re not really supposed to pay attention to. You can certainly see where the budget went and why it took so long to be completed. I think it was worth the wait.

The sound design is excellent. Every vehicle looks different so they need to sound different too. Sonoshee’s hover-car has such a different sound to JPs. If they were the same it would jar and take you out of the action. The explosions are big and have a sense of scale. The soundtrack by James Shimoji is excellent with the main musical themes sounding like an engine revving and changing gears. (I liked it so much I bought it, but do not drive with it on. I think that would be dangerous.)

Redline is a definite must see for lovers of animation. It is a superb example of the power of animation to depict a story. All of the different story elements, characters and death-defying action work because it is animated, and animated very expertly. If this were a live-action film it would definitely not have worked.

Although released in the late 2000s (2011 in the UK and US), Redline follows in the tradition of the great anime features from the 80s and 90s. It is a very simple story backed up by some truly sumptuous images, fluid animation and unique character designs. It is a rare hand-drawn treat with a unique sense of style.

Redline is available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Blu-Ray/DVD double play pack (including a short book about the feature by its creative team) from Manga Entertainment in the UK or Blu-Ray, DVD and streaming from Anchor Bay and Manga Entertainment in the US.