If you have no knowledge of the inner workings of animation, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s easy when in reality it is brutally difficult. One of the reasons it took the release of Akira to really popularize animation in the west is because the difficulty of animation and lack of budgets capped the quality of the finished product. We laugh at cheap walk cycles and graphics of cartoons like Speed Racer, but we forget that they really had no choice. So what do you get when you give an animated movie a $30 million (!) budget, around 7 years in development (!!) and a bitchin’ techno rock soundtrack?
You get Redline, one of the best animated movies I’ve ever seen.
Redline takes place in a future somewhere between Cowboy Bebop and Star Wars, set in a future where interplanetary travel is possible (and relatively easy) but still constrained within the same nebula and the technology isn’t completely bonkers. Here, humans and various aliens compete in extreme races on various planets in hopes of accumulating enough points to compete in the capstone race: Redline. The story follows “Sweet” JP, a carefree rockabilly with a fantastic pompadour, as he qualifies for Redline by a stroke of luck. Along the way he has to deal with a planet full of cyborg Nazis, a debt to the mob, and a long lost unrequited love.
This is going to sound shallow, especially coming from a guy who laments that special effects trump plot nowadays, but this movie looks incredible.
The races are absolutely bonkers, with everything being painstakingly animated with the highest attention to detail. You see metal fly off of vehicles piece by piece, dust and debris swirl around as though you could reach out and feel it coat your skin. There’s lasers, bombs, missiles, gunfire, crazy nitrous boosts and anything else the most hyperactive 12 year-old’s brain could dream up. The characters themselves are exquisite, down to the minute details like the creases around their eyes and mouths.
Speaking of the characters, they are fantastic.
JP is the central focus, and his character avoids taking on most of the tropes of a typical anime protagonist. He’s smooth and confident without being insufferably cocky, and despite his prodigious racing ability it’s clear that his cool-headedness is due to his personality more than anything. He’s not a protagonist you idolize, but definitely one you root for.
The best part is that even though JP gets the majority of the screen time they still flesh out all the other characters. They don’t have the kind of depth JP has, but you get to understand their backstories and personalities. And all of them are hilarious.
The characters that don’t get fleshed out are usually parodies.
A terrific example is the aforementioned Nazi planet, RoboWorld. Run by a military junta of cyborgs, headed by a loud-mouthed (but ultimately impotent) “President” advised by an enthusiastic Colonel Volton and a metrosexual Secretary of Defense named Titan. These characters are pretty much one note, but as they try to remove (and then kill) the racers from their planet you see that it’s a quite skillful parody of Hitler’s Third Reich.
What I really love about this movie is that it’s accessible to everyone. For hardcore anime fans, this movie is a work of art where you can drool over every frame and laugh at the fluid comedy. For non-anime fans, it’s an action movie that you can enjoy as a spectacle without being held back by anime tropes or excessive wackness. If you’re really stupid, and I mean the “spent money on the Transformers movies and think Stepbrothers should have won an Oscar” stupid, you’ll be able to enjoy the pretty lights and colors without blowing a fuse.
What I’m trying to say is that everyone needs to see this movie, it’s that damned good. This is coming from a guy who considers him a snob and an aficionado, who’s genuinely debating giving this movie a place in the top 15 anime movies of all time. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with the very first song on the Redline sound track. See if you can keep yourself from head-banging when the guitar drops at 28 seconds.