First, some preamble. REDLINE is an anime that took 7 years to complete, and once you watch the movie, you’ll understand why. Also, I haven’t watched much anime (I’ve watched a couple of seasons of Naruto and that’s about it), so I am by no means an expert on the genre.
REDLINE can be summarized as a racing movie, and it would be pretty fair to call it “Death Race in Space,” though the racers are chasing fame rather than freedom. (Mostly.)
Set in some indeterminate future, REDLINE’s universe is filled with a plethora of alien species. A chief entertainment seems to be extreme racing. We open to the qualifying Yellow Line round, the winner of which would compete in the Red Line championship.
We meet two key characters - “Sweet” JP and Sonoshee - as they battle it out in the Yellow Line race. JP is the underdog, trailing the race until the last quarter until pushing ahead to lead. Just as he seems poised to win, his engine explodes and Sonoshee wins after all.
As he’s racing, we find out that his partner has gotten involved with the mob and that the race was rigged -- the crash was caused by a bomb placed on his engine by his partner. JP survives the crash, but is unwilling to work with his partner again. As JP recovers in hospital, he learns that he has been offered a spot in the Red Line race after a couple other drivers drop out. He agrees to work with his partner (the only way to get the car fixed and ready to race again), but he won’t commit to fixing the race again.
The next segment of the film provides additional back story for the characters, including the other racers involved. JP and his partner were a couple of punks that grew up together. JP’s motivation for driving was two-fold -- he was inspired by a young Sonoshee’s determination, and he idolized this pimp-like character that drove off in a hot rod with two hot chicks in tow. In spite of the pimp dream, Sonoshee has become his muse, his goddess, and that leads him to court her before the race.
Sonoshee’s motivations were never explained fully, but she is clearly her father’s daughter, and winning the Red Line is her main purpose in life. In the memory that inspired JP, Sonoshee berates the group of kids mocking her (including JP) for just standing there instead of racing as well. She succeeds in extricating her car from the tire wall and goes back into the race, determined to get better and better. Her obsession with the Red Line has resulted in her completely rejecting a personal life, though she is vaguely flattered by JP’s attention.
Other characters and relationships are introduced as we wait for JP’s car to be rebuilt, and we also learn that JP had taken the fall for his friend in another race fixing debacle. Sonoshee, initially repulsed by the cheating, finally understands and admires JP’s loyalty.
Did I mention that the Red Line race was occurring on a planet (Roboworld) that didn’t want it and whose government was bent on destroying the race and all the racers? I probably should have. They say it’s because the ground is sacred, but the reality is that they’re hiding military secrets and really don’t want the exposure because it violates a butt load of treaties.
So, the racers are attacking each other (expected in these races, apparently) and they’re also trying to dodge an interplanetary defense system that progressively becomes more over the top and ridiculous.
Just a note: things like physics don’t really apply to this movie. JP’s hair alone is a freak of nature (think the Fonz’s hair on steroids), getting blown up at worst causes a broken hand or foot, magic is expected and the science is so ridiculous that even the characters comment on it. (At one point, the government of Roboworld said it was basically offensive that they were being invaded by technology that was only theoretically possible.)
The race organizers sabotage Roboworld’s efforts by first taking out their interplanetary disintegrator, then waking up Funky Boy (a strange genetic experiment that shoots lasers from its face. Or something.) in the hopes that he’d turn on the attacking soldiers.
Funky Boy delivers, and when the disintegrator is back online, the government chooses to destroy its secret weapon rather than let him destroy the planet. Or it tries to, at least. Unfortunately enough of Funky Boy survives that he reconstitutes himself and starts frying everything again. Apparently, a third secret weapon is pulled out of a hat and we have the equivalent of Godzilla vs Mothra.
As the monsters keep each other busy, the race goes on. Sonoshee’s vehicle is destroyed in the chaos, though, but she agrees to drive with JP so he can help her win.
As an aside, I did have a slight issue with this. Up until this point, Sonoshee was driven and independent. She had the only really arbitrary topless scene, but otherwise she knew what she wanted and she knew how to get it. Then all of a sudden she doesn’t care about winning through skill and is satisfied with getting across the finish line first by any means at all. She quite literally becomes JP’s muse/goddess as she practically lies on top of him in the car as he races towards the finish line. Her main contribution to the driving is giving him her secret source of energy and pushing his foot on the pedal harder.
The final sequence is perhaps the most ridiculous, brightly colored spectacle I’ve ever seen. With all the boosters gone, the only edge JP has left is the bomb still attached to his engine. (Did I mention that his partner was determined to pull the same trick again? I probably should have.) This gets detonated just before the finish line, and JP and Sonoshee are propelled forward, shedding car pieces left and right until they actually cross the finish line sans car all together. And then they profess their love for one another and live happily ever after.
To say this movie was over the top is a complete understatement, and whatever issues I may have with the motivations of the female protagonist, I was impressed with the symmetry and parallel structure of the plot. Everything, from the propelling properties of an engine exploding, to the power of the platinum nitros, had been appropriately framed. The only component that felt like a “deus ex machina” was the appearance of the second monster (otherwise known as the third military secret), but if I had stopped to think about it, it makes perfect sense -- you can’t have a Japanese monster movie with only one monster.
If you can put aside the ridiculous physics and just accept the cultural quirks, REDLINE is a hell of a ride and a lot of fun. If you missed it at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, it should be available on DVD/Blu-Ray soon -- check www.anchorbayent.com for details.