Redline: Beyond human limits

I’ll revisit this one day.

A moment early in “Redline” encapsulates my misgivings with the film as a whole. Our hero JP is in a dead heat with Senoshee, a rival racer. Senoshee punches a button and her vehicle rockets off into the distance, leaving behind only a wall of broken water. Undeterred, JP kicks his own vehicle into the next gear and he soon catches up to his opponent. As both characters careen toward the finish line, the world around them blends into incomprehensible blotches of colors — brown and blue — and the needles on their odometers transcend the devices’ own limits.

From the looks of it, the odometer above appears nonsensical anyway. It has markings, numbers, a needle — I mean, it sure does look like an odometer, but can anyone rely on it to measure anything? The odometer retains a ghost of its original symbolic meaning, but its practical meaning has long disappeared. The odometer is incapable of measuring anything I can comprehend. Likewise, “Redline” and its characters move through an eclectic world at such an electric pace that I can hardly connect with the film on any subjective level beyond “whoa.”

Writing about a movie like “Redline” is always tricky. There’s always the temptation to temper one’s own words — oh, the animation is top-notch, the action is simply “exhilarating,” the movie oozes sublime energy, etc. — that one loses sight of how the film truly makes him or her feel: cold and detached. There’s a simple story here; in fact, the premise couldn’t be any simpler: a young man sets out on a journey to win glory and the love of his life in a no holds barred competition known simply as Redline. With a start and finish, a beginning and end, a race is much like a journey. The devil, therefore, is in the details.

Unfortunately, there is too much detail being hurried through almost every single scene despite the film’s generous 142 minute running length. The simple story that I’ve outlined above has lost all form and structure; it is like a ghost of what we expect to see. Like the odometer that has gone beyond its limits, so has “Redline.” What I see before me appears to be a hero’s journey to win glory and his love, but it is gone before I can form any emotional attachment to the characters onscreen. In his review, Tim Maughan argues that the film is “animation for animation’s sake,” and his point is understandable on a conceptual level, but his words nevertheless leave me cold.

At its core, the original “Star Wars” trilogy is nothing more than a hero’s monomythic journey. The story might include a giant, planet-destroy space station, swords made impossibly out of light, more alien species than one can shake a stick at (much like “Redline”), and yet the story’s basic human appeal shines through. We can recognize something earnest at the heart of the “Star Wars” trilogy. “Redline” doesn’t have a complicated plot either, a fact that most reviewers will readily admit, but there’s something inorganic about the film. It feels too much like an exercise — a clinic on how to push the medium’s flair to the conceptual limit — that the monomyth at the heart of the film has been bastardized to the point that I can no longer relate to it.

It’s like when someone deconstructs a shepherd’s pie into pomme fondant and a sous vide rack of lamb. I guess the right ingredients and flavors are there, but the spirit isn’t. Similarly with “Redline,” my synapses can connect enough of the dots to see a downtrodden underdog fight for the win of his life, but the movie nevertheless fails to resonate with my heart. After the dust settles and the awe-inspiring visuals subside, I can’t say I’ll remember “Redline” at all.

TL;DR: 142 minutes is just too long for “animation for animation’s sake.” I am left wanting for something beyond the top-notch art direction to keep me interested in the long film, but the narrative falls short.

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34 thoughts on “Redline: Beyond human limits”

  1. You’re the only person who’s reviewed Redline that I think has given it a negative review. While I did not find the film boring, as I’m a sucker for pretty animation, I agree with what you have to say.

    I think it’s undeniable that Redline has style. It has tons of it in fact, from the animation to the design of technology, everything oozes a distinct flair that you’ll likely never again see in another film. “Awesome for the sake of being awesome” is awesome and all, but in the end the question is: why did I keep watching? I’m willing to bet that you’ll rarely find a reviewer that praises the characters rather than the animation. The problem is that, like you suggest, it’s not human. And the worst part? It’s essentially because of the style itself that the movie is pushed from foreign (which I would use to describe Star Wars) to alienating. It’s those moments where people survive giant explosions, enormous grotesque biological weapons go at each other, old men jump up a cliff in a motorcycle and kill gangsters with crossbow shotguns, magic and science coexist yet feel so very detached in the confines of the film; all of that in the confines of a car race, that the audience says “that’s awesome” and not “this is awesome.”

    1. You’re the only person who’s reviewed Redline that I think has given it a negative review.

      Is that so? The “Redline” supporters would make it seem as if the film’s detractors are plentiful. I don’t even think the film is bad, per se. As a narrative film, I do certainly think that it falls short of the mark. As a example of exemplary animation, “Redline” has to rank in the upper echelon.

      But yeah, even if I do admit that the animation is top-notch, I wouldn’t concede that the art direction is flawless. Almost every single shot is so crowded and busy that there’s so much to process visually. The overall effect is that, somehow, this detracts from the overall experience. I hope what I’m trying to say makes sense, but it’s 6AM so I’m not so sure. “Sometimes, less is more” is what I’m trying to say, I think.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the movie is alienating. I’m just indifferent to what’s occurring onscreen. Some might suggest that the characters aren’t moe or conventionally anime enough for the average anime fan, but I actually thought there is plenty of typical anime fanservice in the movie. I certainly don’t think the movie is boring because it lacks fanservice. I just feel that the narrative itself doesn’t establish the stakes of the characters’ conflict firmly enough, but how could it? It’s so busy moving from outrageous moment to outrageous moment. As a result, the plot seems strangely uncompelling, especially when contrasted with the daredevil action scenes. Yeah, people may die in this race, but why should I care?

  2. Yeah I agree Redline does have style with the unique animation. Yes it does have the typical protagonist getting all the glory but its just that the exaggeration gives the extra kick like Gurren Lagann. Simply epicness and awesomeness.

  3. Yeah I do agree it has an unique style as well. Even though it has a shabby plot with the typical protagonist gets the glory of the end, the exaggeration and weirdness gives the extra kick. Builds excitement where explosion, gun firing, monster running crazy all happen at once. Reminds me of Gurren Lagann simply epic and awesome.

    1. Yeah, don’t get me wrong — the film is worth watching just to experience the animation at least once. And if the spectacle blows you away, I can respect that. I just rarely watch film, anime or otherwise, for the sake of its animation or special effects. I admit that I’m judging the film by my subjective standards, but I think that should be a given when one reads any review.

  4. Hey hey why dont we all watch Transformers for the special effects and action and adrenaline pumping explsosions! Its such a thrill Micheal Bay is such a genius pushing the limits of Film and special effects to the next level.

    Yeah I also found Redline boring -_-

    1. I did see your conversation with Tim and I understand where he’s coming from: animation should be a large part of how we judge anime. But like you, I can’t help it if the film nevertheless bores me. No matter how great an anime film’s animation is, there’s only so much one can take. “Redline” is 142min of top-notch animation but little else. When is it okay to start clamoring for more in a film? If not 142min, then two even hours? Three? I will probably be flamed for saying this, but a 15 minute short might have been a better format for “Redline.” You can still get the same visual experience, but this way, there wouldn’t have been any expectations regarding the plot.

  5. I attended a screening few months back that was followed by a presentation by ‘anime expert’ (ha) Jonathan Clements, and although originally my feelings were quite similar to yours (it was very spectacular and entertaining but ultimately sort of boring) some things he said about Koike’s influences and characters made me realize that perhaps it is my lack of cultural context that prevents me from connecting, not the text itself (despite being an animu fan for over a decade \( ; __ ; )/). You can read his essay here (it’s rather similar to the presentation) http://www.salonfutura.net/2010/10/real-gone/.

    Obviously this knowledge does not have to reflect on your evaluation of the film in any way. We have no obligation to know the director’s influences and background before we see a film. Hell, I doubt that many American/European fans got the intertextual stuff more than I did, yet they still *loved* it for some reason. But I find this sort of stuff interesting and I think it’s useful to consider especially when you feel alienated by a filmbooktvshowwhatever created in a very different/specific cultural context (so in this case perhaps not as much Japanese film industry or even anime as much as Takeshi Koike/Katsuhito Ishii fandom?).

    1. I’m sorry, but an unsatisfying plot is unsatisfying no matter the context. The context is neat to understand, but what does it matter if the story nevertheless fails to connect with its audience?

  6. Yeah umm you do Know this film tanked BIG time in Japan right? Welcome to The Space Show had more than triple the attendance of Redline, Welcome to the frikkin space show!!!

    There are many films riddles with Japanese cultural references that we (western fans) are not meant to get, but we still enjoy them because they have something Universally good like a good plot or characters. Take Welcome to the NHK for example, that show was animated by GONZO sometimes the characters morph into unsightly beings, it is that badly animated but the story and characters are so good that this major (and it is very major) flaw can easily be overlooked.

    I also agree with you E Minor on the whole animation for animations sake anime only work well for 15 minute short films. Ever seen Genius Party? That was amazing Studio 4C brought together the best of the best to animate anything they wanted as long as it had the theme energy. Its such a visual marvel and unlike Redline did not leave me cold because they never had to have plot in the first place.

    1. Yeah, I’ve written about “Genius Party.” And that’s what I mean — in a short film or a series of shorts, the 142 min. plot of “Redline” would be broken up into manageable chunks. It’s the same reason why I brought up “Fantasia” in other discussions. Of course, people blew my “Fantasia” comment way out of proportion. Nobody ever said “Fantasia” didn’t contain narratives, but it’s obvious that the stories in its animated segments are wholly different than what “Redline” is trying to do. It’s a false equivalency to say that a series of segments or shorts in “Fantasia” or “Genius Party” justifies a 142 min. snooze of a plot in “Redline.” This subtlety is immediately lost on people, however, because they just want to be deliberately obtuse.

      I suspect that some have taken a liking to this “them against us” mentality where ‘them’ is misconstrued as the lowly, puerile otaku masses. So defending “Redline” isn’t just a matter of taste; it’s like a crusade for some people.

  7. Like F-Zero on crack, Redline is too much of a good thing. It’s an action movie spoiled rotten with mind-blowing animation, and at least everyone can say it succeeds on that level. The ‘loser gets the girl’ trope was as cliché as it gets, but then again, I can’t think of any blow ‘em up action flick that has a solid story behind it. Well, it was fun while it lasted.

    1. It’s not about this lame trope or that lame trope. Nothing can be purely original nowadays, but it’s what you do with it. “Inception” isn’t a perfect story by any means, but there you go — an action flick that has a solid story behind it, even if it’s just ‘loser gets the girl.’

  8. I think you mean “tachometer,” or “rev counter.” The odometer is the meter which counts the distance your car has traveled, not the RPM.

    /nitpick

  9. It sounds like you are trying too hard and overanalyzing the movie. Something can be enjoyable yet simple. If you want deeper meaning you shouldn’t be watching anime in the first place. The movie never claims to be genius or to offer anything more than entertainment. If you did not enjoy it that is your prerogative, but don’t say it failed you because you had the gall to read too much into it.

    That said you still missed the point of the movie. You talk about how Star Wars(which was three or six movies) is a simple human story. So is Redline. It’s about a man who has been chasing glory his whole life. He gets it. How you could not understand this, and talk at length about some meter analogy instead to rant about how the movie failed you, boggles the mind.

    So yes, this movie has flaws, but your criticism of it is the most insipid thing since Roger Ebert criticizing Gladiator for being too sad.

    1. It’s ironic how you criticize me for missing the point when you missed the point of my review. Hint: my criticism isn’t that it’s too simple.

      1. No, it is. Your criticism is that the movie is too busy so you can’t connect with it. Now that means two things: One, your complaint is asinine and you are nitpicking, or two, you are slow. Which is it? This movie does have segments that are overly cluttered visually, but it is a simple and well executed story. To say the entire movie is rendered unable for you to relate to is either fallacious or stupid.

        You want to see an actual movie that chooses to forgo plot for visual pornography? You should take a look at Dead Leaves, which did not even try to keep a plot. Redline actually had a plot and remembered it throughout the movie. Were you even watching this movie?

        1. So I say simple isn’t the problem, going so far as listing Star Wars as an example, but you still insist that I’m complaining about the movie’s simplicity. Good one.

          One, your complaint is asinine and you are nitpicking, or two, you are slow.

          Ah yes, if people can’t emotionally connect with a movie you like, it means they are broken in some way. Please tell me how to enjoy the arts. Obviously, there’s only one true answer and you’ve got it.

        2. I never said that you were complaining about the movie’s simplicity. Go read it over again. I am saying it is a simple movie so your talk about being unable to connect to it is stupid. It is actually even worse when you bring up Star Wars, because Star Wars was similarly cluttered with unnecessary flash and special effects like the entire Hoth battle, or the entire Endor fight with Ewoks, but you probably do not even register that and instead rant about Redline having too much stuff in it for you to handle.

          I can already predict your lame duck rebuttals. “But it was spaced out better in Star Wars!” Because it was three movies. “It’s flawed but Star Wars is still a great story.” So is Redline. So you haven’t got a leg to stand on.

          And no, your inability to emotionally connect to Redline is not a sign that you are emotionally broken, although your overt defensiveness about it is pretty interesting. It is just funny that you can criticize the movie for a personal failing of yours. The half baked meter metaphor you used to jumpstart your review shows it. You’re trying too hard to be clever. Oh, make no mistake. Redline has real flaws. But you pointed out none of them and instead tried to tie everything to this nonsensical idea of yours. It’s pretension at its worst.

        3. My overt defensiveness is interesting? You read a negative review — a review doesn’t even call the movie bad — and start calling me names. Instead of just going “Oh, I don’t agree with you so let me explain why,” you take it as a personal offense and insult me. Why should I take you seriously at this point?

          It is just funny that you can criticize the movie for a personal failing of yours

          Reviews are subjective, bro. I found it boring and explained why I thought it was boring.

  10. I didn’t take it as a personal offense, I have always and maintain that your review is just silly and stupid. It does not take personal stake to find a review silly and stupid. Again, your defensiveness is telling and your projecting is sad.

    Also, you said that you don’t give a damn and now you’re trying to act all fly like you don’t care. But you have been trying to justify yourself to me for three or four posts now. I don’t think you understand how a review works. When you put a review out there, on the internet, you are saying “this is my opinion, and I want you to see it.” By doing so you open yourself up to the criticism. This is kind of what comes with putting your opinion out there. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have a blog… would you? Seems like you’re the one who is upset that someone has a dissenting opinion.

    So since you’re turning tail, I guess I’ll say you need to grow up or grow a thicker skin.

      1. Sorry, but a poorly written review can be called out as a piece of stupid writing. Tough luck.
        You have yet to actually defend your review, by the way. Unless “it’s all subjective” constitutes a defense. However, there is a reason that review sites now allow users to review the review. Some are just trash, such as yours.

        1. I don’t have to defend my review when all you’ve done is spent 90% of your paragraphs attacking me as a person. Like I’ve said, why should I take you seriously when you accuse someone of being asinine or slow just because they don’t connect with something you personally enjoy?

        2. 90%? That’s some hyperbole.

          Why should you try to justify your review? Well, ignoring that you have tried and are still trying to, a reviewer must be able to stand behind their reviews. If you go “well it’s just my opinion” it does not fly. Someone like that has no business reviewing anything. It means that, when challenged, you either know your work has nothing to stand on or you are incapable of backing up what you wrote. Which is it? You wrote the review, you put it out there, you obviously expected people to read it, and you can’t even stand up for it.

          And the criticism of your review and your ability to review isn’t because you couldn’t connect to it. It’s because your review has no objective criticism of the film. It is ALL “I couldn’t connect to this movie, it felt really artificial to me, because I say so. Shitboringfilm/10.” There was no explanation of anything. There was no analysis. That wasn’t a review; it was all puff.

          It’s not hard to be a credible anime blogger of all things so it’s amusing to see you being so bad at even this.

        3. Like I’ve said, I won’t bother defending my review to someone who resorts to ad hominem attacks.

        4. You have yet to actually defend your review, by the way.

          Well, ignoring that you have tried and are still trying to

          You can’t even make up your mind.

        5. Also, while I’d love to continue this, I have things to do. I guess if your readers follow this discussion and judge it for themselves. By the way, I am also screencapping this page. Later.

  11. Oh, and before you post some indignant reply about how you reeeeaaally don’t care and it’s all just OPINIONS, or, more likely, not say anything at all:

    It is absolutely hilarious that when people come out and say “I agree, Redline was boring, you’re so right!” you go “I know, I know, it was so masturbatory. Sigh, looks like I am the last guardian of good taste, movie had a crappy plot shitsux” but when you’re actually called out on it it’s all “W-w-well it’s all subjective, I don’t care what you think, I do what I want!” Seriously, backpedal harder, run away harder.

  12. Before I sat down and watched the movie, I already knew it was going to have awesome visuals and a simply story line. What was to make it or break it for me was its directing. While the Yellow Line race at the beginning was a timelapse of PERFECTION, the rest of it failed to catch up, with Funky Boy and Big Gunz In The Sky scene breaking the pace. It got even more visually crowded than before, and that’s when I began appreciating the movie for its ambitious start. Still, a movie well worth seeing purely for the visual porn.

    The internets though are the most amusing part of this experience. I mean, some people think this movie embodies some kind of old spirit of anime that was long lost, a spirit people don’t appreciate anymore, a spirit not find in anime these days. Perhaps this level of craftsmanship isn’t found anywhere else, but Japan still makes exciting anime, last I checked.

  13. What I found interesting was how despite the bombastic visuals and high octane pacing, JP’s characterization was quite subtle. Granted it was accomplished 99% through flashbacks, but each of those flashbacks established little things about his character and made we want to know more.

    I kept imagining weird interrelationships for the characters. Like JP and Colonel Volton with their respective funky hairdoos. Also Sonoshee and the King of Kings guy with them both having the steamlight stuff. I don’t know why exactly but I got the distinct feeling all the main characters had daddy or mommy issues…but it never amounted to anything but niggling feelings.

    I personally felt that seeing the inner workings of Roboworld detracted the most from the story. Every time they appeared the mood of the movie completely changed and we wouldn’t have had the weird Funky Boy stuff. Though it would have removed the amusing useless president roboguy moments.

    I will say though that 140 minutes flew by for me.

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