Set to the pulsating rhythm of a techno soundtrack, from the starting pistol of Takeshi Koike’s Redline it’s clear that you’ve never seen a racing movie quite like it. Fueled with the frenetic joy and creativity of a sugar-intoxicated child armed with a comic strip and several thousand coloured pens, the vibrant anime takes its spectators to a surreal plain of unhindered artistry, taking shape in a story that details the most popular race in the whole galaxy.
Conceived by Koike, who designed the original storyboard and also served as the animation director, as well as Katsuhito Ishii who came up with the narrative, Redline was in production for seven years, with work starting in 2002. Designed as a visually spectacular race through a bizarre interplanetary galaxy, it was decided that the movie was to be hand-drawn, with debut feature filmmaker Koike having to orchestrate the animation of over 100,000 individually-drawn cells.
Whilst painstaking, the result boasts a frenetic exhibition of haywire action and luscious ingenuity that follows JP, a slick boy-racer who is vying to compete in the infamous high-speed race, Redline. Rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest racers in the entire galaxy, including the feisty Sonoshee “Cherry Boy Hunter” McLaren, eccentric red-haired criminals Miki and Todoroki and the unfathomably powerful antagonist Machine Head, a racer who seemingly has the entire power of an industrial revolution in his arsenal.
Immediately dunking the audience into this cosmic world of sci-fi speeds and epileptic flashing lights without a seatbelt, Koike’s film engulfs the viewer with its sheer intoxicating tempo, throwing us into a fever dream of wacky characters and impossible scenarios. It’s like an episode of Wacky Races if the American animation took place on a distant planet with a tyrannical leader who threatened apocalyptic violence to any competitor and everyone was just as conniving and sinister as Dick Dastardly.
Whilst Redline comes into its own during its emphatic racing sequences that make the most of hand-drawn quality as each animated cell visibly vibrates with the g-force of the racers, the story that backs up such sequences is equally as compelling. Almost a satire of the conventional racing movie, JP is a predictable maverick à la Steve McQueen, breaking all the recommendations of his rag-tag technical team to push the limits of racing and find supremacy in the sport.
Equally, his love interest and fellow racer, Sonoshee, is something of a female cliche herself, a young woman trying to play a ‘man’s sport’. Surprising the competition, she becomes one of the race’s most revered competitors as well as a predictable old flame in the life of the protagonist. Revisiting their past lives we see JP encounter Sonoshee in his childhood as she attempts to race and keep up with the competition, “I bet she doesn’t even remember” he sighs as he rides his silver Hog motorbike over a cosmic desert.
It all results in a perfectly melodramatic racing movie that swallows the viewer into an inebriating world of flashing lights, bright colours and surreal cosmic tunes, giving you front-row access to the most psychedelic race in world cinema. Give yourself up to the sheer awe of Redline and you’ll discover one of the most dizzying experiences of unhinged anime ever conjured.