When movies try to straddle too many genres at once, they often fail miserably.
Even relatively simple hybrids like horror comedies can end up leaning more towards one of their two halves, dropping fans of the other in the process. Consider this episode of The simpsons or Mr. Burns goes to the doctor and learns that he has all the diseases known to man, but that they are somehow perfectly balanced, keeping Burns healthy and maybe even invincible.
It’s the kind of jaw-dropping tonal synergy that many genre mash-ups seek and the kind of game that’s arguably the best racing movie not starring Vin Diesel.
Famous Japanese animator Takeshi Koike made his directorial debut with a film that took him nearly a decade to finish. Perhaps the last great movie made with fully hand-drawn animation, it’s also an exciting combination of everything you could want from an anime: spaceships, Nazi robots, aliens, punks, Akira-like the kaiju, the muscle cars of space, Transformers, romance and tons of explosions. Either way, everything works.
12 years since its initial release in 2009, Red line remains one of the most exhilarating and richest anime experiences you can have. A love letter to traditional hand-drawn techniques, overkill 80s movies, and OVAs (original video animation, mostly in Japan), this is the kind of movie that could easily have spawned an entire franchise.
The basic plot is this: Sweet JP is a famous but still relatively small human pilot in the galaxy’s biggest entertainment competition: Redline. (Thought Wacky races as a Death Race 2000.) After the abandonment of another competitor, JP has the chance to participate in the biggest Redline race. One problem: The race is expected to take place on Roboworld, a fascist planet full of Nazi cyborgs who have sworn to kill any runners who reach the surface of Roboworld. Elsewhere, romance breaks out between JP and his compatriot Sonoshee, two planets use the race to break a long-standing peace treaty, and JP faces a debt he and his best friend Frisbee owe to the Mafia.
From the start, Red line has a unique galaxy full of amazingly detailed backgrounds and character designs. Just like the way the original Star wars introduced the public to a massive universe and its rich history by depositing numerous references without slowing down to explain them, Red line fills his world by teasing a multitude of stories we don’t see on screen.
The hand-drawn animation of the film took nearly a decade to complete, and its distinct pop-art style adds a level of surreal absurdity to this sweeping story, allowing for an easy suspension of disbelief. When the movie introduces us to all the pilots participating in Redline, we briefly see colorful characters like an alien princess with superpowers that she has sworn not to use in the race (despite everyone using deadly weapons to theirs. advantage) and MachineHead, a cyborg who merges with his car.
It is not surprising that Red line was originally billed as a TV show, with the production team spending a lot of time fleshing out all of its possible storylines – including a political subplot that unfolds simultaneously with the central, thrilling run.
Red line doesn’t really hide its political dimensions, and it’s easy to miss these background maneuvers, given everything there is to watch in terms of beautifully imagined aliens and fast-paced kinetic action. The film alludes to the political state of its galaxy in subtle ways, portraying a picture of a fragile peace that everyone is looking to shatter. That the race takes place on Roboworld is intentional, as is the film’s use of fascist images. While many anime tend to use Nazism as a visual shortcut for over-the-top villains, Red line makes sense of its Prussian-style Roboworld by exploring how fascist regimes use flashy imagery and reconstructions to mask the true horror of their actions, suppressing artists and individuals along the way.
Without spoiling too much, Roboworld is hiding something nefarious, and the forces of evil will stop at nothing to keep it hidden. (One scene even describes Roboworld handing over one of its own planets to space refugees in order to distract the galactic community from its dark intentions.)
Red line is the type of anime movie that is no longer made: an original, crazy sci-fi epic with a visual flair so incredible that many of its perfect shots could literally be framed. The multi-level story at the heart of Koike’s film is compelling to watch, even within the larger-than-life confines of a candy-colored racing extravaganza.
Red line is now streaming on Amazon Prime.