A Wacky Adrenaline Rush With Hyperkinetic Style
Takeshi Koike’s 2009 anime film Redline is what happens when a director sets out to create the weirdest and wildest story possible without alienating audiences looking for a simple and fun time.
Focused on a fairly standard, if bonkers, future-set story by Katsuhito Ishii concerning an intergalactic car race, Redline is all about massive thrills and the constant challenge of one-upping itself. Bursting out of the gates with a monstrous pre-title racing sequence that introduces audiences to its cyberpunk world, big characters, and thrill-seeking tone, Redline makes it abundantly clear from the very first frame that this will be a wild ride. That initial race familiarizes audiences with “Sweet” JP (voiced by Takuya Kimura in the Japanese version and Patrick Seitz in the English dub), a thrill-addicted greaser racer who has the skills to win, yet his debts to the mob force him to throw the contest. And while his forced throwing of the race allows female racer Sonoshee “Cherry Boy Hunter” McLaren (Yu Aoi in Japanese and Michelle Ruff in English) to win, they both wind up qualifying for Redline – the biggest race in the galaxy, which sees all manner of drivers battle it out for glory behind the wheels of their awesome cars.
While Redline doesn’t have much more on its mind than wild races and the romance between JP and Sonoshee, it does throw in some additional layers through the inclusion of JP’s entanglements with the mob and a brewing war involving a planet of cyborgs, which just so happens to be the setting for the climactic Redline race. Are they particularly interesting storylines on their own accord? Perhaps not, but their inclusion is meant to continually increase the stakes of the story as a whole. As they collide within the film’s final act, the championship race is made far more complicated, outlandish, and unpredictable. Their contributions in the form of an enormous monster fight during the race and a satisfying conclusion to multiple characters’ arcs make the ending to Redline all the better.
Speaking of the ending, it ranks among the most abrupt in recent years, shifting tones dramatically in moments and paying little attention to the idea of denouement within story structure. Then again, Redline is all about thrills, so once the climactic race has ended, why drag things out?
Koike’s production of Redline with Madhouse Studios took a whopping total of seven years to create. Why? Because the animation is absolutely insane. Redline is packed full of the most intense racing sequences you are likely to have ever seen and that’s thanks to the thumping score by James Shimoji and the highly kinetic nature of the action on display, as well as the massive amount of details packed into every frame. Nothing stays still. Even quiet scenes of conversation are constantly in motion with both background details and individual character expressions constantly in flux. Thankfully, that mesmerizing animation helps distract from some of the more blasé conversations that mostly serve to explain the stakes of the film.
That’s not to say that everything outside of the races or fights is a bore. JP and Sonoshee make for fun leads, with each having more to their characters than the archetypes that their appearances would lead audiences to assume. While few of the supporting characters have more to add than one-dimensional motivations and rivalries, their astonishing designs and wide variety of species entice the imagination. Combined with the sometimes bloody action and briefly grotesque creatures that often punctuate the world of anime, Redline works as a more adult (if not necessarily more mature) sci-fi extravaganza. This is a vibrant and complex universe where audiences only catch glimpses of history and other planets as the film stays focused on its simple yet classic story of racing and redemption. The Star Wars influence is felt heavily in these moments, not in specific designs but in world building. But Redline’s races make Episode I’s podracing sequences look far worse for comparison. Koike shows how sci-fi racing should truly be done thanks to the unbridled possibilities available in anime.
Worlds, cars, and characters are all brimming with a style that is hyper detailed, thickly lined, and vibrantly colored without being overwhelming, helping to keep the focus clear in even the most complex action sequences. There’s also an emphasis on a more stylized approach to everything seen here. Character proportions are thrown out of whack, expressions contort the face, and the physics of the races do not even pretend to be anywhere close to reality. But it’s all in service of making the action and emotions within Redline as vibrant and unpredictable as possible, no matter the scene.
There’s a sense of escalation throughout the course of Redline that draws audiences deeper and deeper into the characters, which makes its final race all the more exhilarating. As racers jockey for position, use outlandish weapons to beat the competition, and nitro boosters warp reality, the film throws everything it has at the audience while also maintaining its focus on the two characters who actually matter. While the central romance doesn’t play much deeper than those found in your standard Hollywood blockbuster, it adds a certain degree of sweetness and additional humanity to a film that could have only been about shock and awe. It’s much appreciated within the context of the weirdness and hyper-stylized action that surrounds it.
Is Redline greater than the sum of its parts? Does it have something lurking beneath its exhilarating exterior? Well, no. But Redline never tries to be something more than a thrill ride and it’s that singular focus which makes it a success. This is spectacle. Something that is all about its sights and sounds and singular emotions. It leaves a lasting impression through the sheer quality of its creation and the endorphins that blast through your system.