Otaku USA Magazine
Takeshi Koike’s Redline Streams for Free on YouTube

Redline, one of the most raucous, eye-smashing films of the last, well, ever, has been made available for streaming on YouTube at no charge. In celebration, we’re posting this feature on the film, first featured in the magazine back in 2010:

Once upon a time, Japan was a nation flush with spare cash. Lots of that capital was poured into the animation industry, and writers and directors with bold ideas were given the chance to show their stuff. It was a golden age of sorts, with the marketplace filled well-animated and unique cartoons for adults. But as Japan’s economy tumbled and as the money dried up, so did that experimental streak, with studios making safer, more profitable bets.

So for the 102-minute duration of Redline, a new film from Studio Madhouse, I kept wondering what wonderful alternate universe I’d slipped into where they still make movies like this. Redline recalls the first time you popped Ghost in the Shell into your VCR or came across Liquid TV flipping through late-night cable: when watching animation still felt a little subversive, a little scary, and more than a little sexy.

Takeshi Koike’s Redline Streams for Free on YouTubeThe premise is pretty simple. Imagine how cool it would be if The Phantom Menace had been entirely about the pod race, and the hero, instead of an annoying little kid, were a leather-clad, chain-smoking badass. Oh, and there were tits. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Redline.

The leather-clad badass in question is JP (played by SMAP alum Takuya Kimura), a racer who qualifies to drive his souped-up Trans Am in the Redline, a race that’s essentially the intergalactic anime version of Mario Kart, with a lineup of bizarre contenders in equally bizarre vehicles trying to get to the finish line in any way possible, including blowing each other up.

As if that weren’t dangerous enough, this year’s Redline comes with a catch — it’s scheduled to take place on a planet called Roboworld, which has expressly banned the event and plans to take whatever means necessary to stop it — including, but not limited to, lasers, bombs, and a biological weapon called Funky Boy. If that weren’t enough, JP and his manager Frisbee are in trouble with the mafia. Oh, and in the middle of all this madness, JP falls for an old flame, a racer named Sonochee (Yuu Aoi). Because at its heart, Redline is a love story. 

Get all that?

Redline is the brainchild of the incredibly multitalented Katsuhito Ishii who, aside from writing and directing live action films, has written several anime scripts, did the character designs for Kill Bill’s animated sequences, and even moonlighted as Redline’s sound director.

It’s the first feature directed by Takeshi Koike, who built an impressive resume as a key animator on projects like Ninja Scroll and Memories and directed two OAVs in 2003: the “World Record” segment of The Animatrix and Trava: Fist Planet — a 4-parter Katsuhito Ishii wrote and co-directed. Koike and Ishii then embarked on the creation of Redline, a project that would take seven years to complete.

The film takes place in a racing-obsessed, Mad Max-esque world built with loving care from the ground up, crammed with weird creatures and contraptions. JP and Sonochee are the only humans in the film, the rest of the cast rounded out by a wild cast of beasties. Standouts include JP’s mechanic, a grizzled oyaji with four arms (doubling his efficiency, natch) and Machine Head, a racer who comes complete with his own “Theme From Shaft”-style theme song.

If it sounds like a dense, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it film, that’s ‘cause it is. Like the titular race, Redline speeds by, barely letting you catch your breath. Every frame is bursting at the seams with energy. Fans of super robot anime like Gurren Lagann will feel right at home, as JP’s speed seems to have less to do with his car than how furiously he screams. Subtle this film is not. It almost feels as if Koike and Ishii threw all their energy and passion for the project right up on screen.

Animation-wise, it’s obvious from the first frame Redline ain’t your typical anime. The style, in fact, is more easily compared to something like Aeon Flux than anything out of Japan. But even that comparison is lacking: in the end, Redline is an original.

Of course, just because it’s one of the most unique animated films in years doesn’t mean it’s without precedent. Racing and anime have a long history together, going all the way back to Speed Racer. And Redline’s scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs, guts-and-tension spirit will be recognizable to any fan of super robot anime. But the way Redline fuses these influences and incorporates them into its own style makes it worth checking out even for those who aren’t normally drawn to these genres.

Studio Madhouse took a big risk in allowing a first-time director embark such an ambitious project not based on a pre-existing property. Thankfully, their faith was well-placed. Redline is such a wonderfully over-the-top, frenetic and unique package that by the time the credits roll, you’ll feel like you’ve been smacked by a sledgehammer — and you’ll love it.

Matt Schley

Matt Schley (rhymes with "guy") lives in Tokyo, and has been OUSA's "man in Japan" since 2012. He's also written about anime and Japanese film for the Japan Times, Screen Daily and more.