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Redline (2009) and The Unappreciated Potential of Animated Films

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

Anime has always been a staple in Japanese entertainment. It is so popular that it even made debuts overseas and has become embraced by millions of people worldwide. However, despite being fairly popular across the globe, anime and animated movies have never really been taken seriously as a form of either art or film. While recent films such as Your Name (2017) has garnered more attention and respect for animated movies, there were several others that preceded it that went under the radar of audiences. One of these forgotten movies is Director Takeshi Koike’s Redline (2009).

The film starts on an alien planet inhabited by anthropomorphic dogs, later zooming out to reveal that they are watching a high-octane car race at an event called “Yellowline”. Throughout the chaos of the race, we are introduced to the two main characters of the film, Sonoshee McLaren who is leading the race, and “Sweet” JP, the underdog of the race. Just as JP is getting left behind in the dust, he pops a small nitro charge into his fuel tank, giving him a tremendous boost of speed, enabling him to zip past the rest of the competition and rival Sonoshee for first place. However, just as JP is about to win the race, his engine explodes, giving Sonoshee the time to pass him and win. JP later wakes up in a hospital where he is visited by his long-time friend Frisbee, who was the one who blew up JP’s engine. It is revealed that JP and Frisbee are working under the Mafia and earn money by fixing races. As Frisbee gives JP his payment, reporters bust in to tell JP that although he lost Yellowline, he qualifies for Redline due to two racers dropping out. Redline will take place on Roboworld, a militaristic planet that not only despises the Redline racing organization, but is also afraid that the Redline event will uncover their military secrets. While on Roboworld, JP and Sonoshee grow closer as friends. JP contemplates on whether or not to fix the Redline race, which may be his last race.

Redline (2009) was in development for about seven years, starting back in 2003. Initially, Takeshi Koike wanted to make an animated series, with a pilot episode, titled Trava: Fist Planet starring Shinkai and Trava, two major characters in Redline (2009). The series is made with a considerably lower budget than the film, and only has one episode under its belt. Despite the lower budget, however, the series does feature some of the energy and insane cinematography that the film is known for. Takeshi Koike wanted to make Redline (2009) as a sequel and gateway to a larger universe. Madhouse Inc. was in charge of animating the film. Madhouse Inc. is a famous Japanese animation studio that has a long track record of animating popular TV series and films, such as Cardcaptor Sakura (1998-2000), Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000), Death Note (2005-2006), and The Animatrix (2003). Unlike most other films at the time and in the future, Redline (2009) was entirely hand-drawn, with up to over 100,000 hand-drawn images. In addition, Takeshi Koike also served as the animation and unit director of Redline (2009) and improved his art style in the film significantly compared to his previous work in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This, along with all the hand-drawn images, contributed to the film’s seven-year production.

For an hour and forty minute film, the story felt like it was trying to cover a bunch of plot points in a short amount of time, overwhelming the viewers at times and confusing them at others. The plot tries to tell a love story, a bond between two best friends, and a political drama involving the authoritarian government of Roboworld, all while talking about a story involving dangerous and outlandish intergalactic races. I feel that the plot of the movie was really geared towards a TV series rather than a feature film. From what I understand, the main plot of the film deals with the friendship between JP and Frisbee and how their dreams clash with their lives working for the Mafia. However, in the end, it appears the romantic subplot between JP and Sonoshee was actually the main plot of the film. Speaking of which, the ending of the film leaves many of the aforementioned subplots without closure. While some may interpret it as an open ending like that of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001), others may feel disappointed at the sudden and lackluster ending of Redline (2009).

Where the film really excels at is in its animation and cinematography. Every shot is filled with such charisma and insanity. One of my favorite types of shots in the film are when everything in the scene for a brief moment goes silent. The music stops and the action slows down, giving the audience time to properly take in the wonder of the scene. In addition, every detail on every character is properly drawn and detailed, for example, crocodile skin pattern on shoes, bolts and nuts on a briefcase or a car engine. Every frame is consistent with the last and there is no lack of detail on anyone’s face, hair, or clothes. The animation of the film even presents itself to the characterization of the film’s characters. Everyone has a distinctive look, personality, and style of movement. Despite the long production of the film, it definitely paid off considering the quality of the animation. Considering that every frame was hand drawn, it really makes me respect the production of the film.

When Redline (2009) was first released in theaters, it was met with generally mixed to positive reviews. However, the film failed to make back most of its money at the box office, gaining back only $214,180 compared to its $3 million dollar budget. This prompted Madhouse Inc. to see Redline (2009) ultimately as a failure and thus stopped taking financial risks. This is a harsh reality of working in the anime business: original ideas are often seen as a risk and many studios do not want to invest in something that may not make back its money. Today, films often have a similar look. This is no different for animated films. Films such as Your Name (2016) and A Silent Voice (2016), while being critically acclaimed movies, have a very similar look and feel, both circling around teens and talking about problems they experience in the real world. However, there is no movie that I have ever seen that is even remotely similar to Redline (2009). The characters, style, and passion of the film all make it stand out as a landmark of what hand-drawn animation can really achieve.

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