I won’t mess around here. The Redline anime film is badass. It was everything what I wanted the Speed Racer live action adaptation to be like, only better. It didn’t waste time building characters, instead reveled in the caricatures it was celebrating. After all, it wasn’t about one speedy racer, it was about a race, and most of the film was devoted to the most exciting race I’ve ever seen in a feature film.
It (Veteran animator Koike Takeshi, and writer Enokido Yoji yeah that guy) took elements from the original (and the Wachowski Brothers’) Speed Racer, and then the pod race from George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which both really remember love for Cecile B. Demille’s Ben Hur with its battling chariot scene in the Roman Hippodrome and put out a truly amazing spectacle1.
This movie is about incredible scenes that drip with exciting coolness. There is nothing lame about this film, everything screams awesomeness: from reclining to watch the race on TV, to each racer boarding their respective cockpits. But having said that, I want to get into a particular nuance the film plays around with: the concept of the underdog.
JP was NOT an underdog in the traditional David vs. Goliath sense of the word. From the first race he was the obvious monster in the pack, and he only lost because the matter was fixed. His conflict was “when will he be free to just claim the prize that is rightfully his” and that the external barrier was how the gangs have his friend Frisbee by the balls.
This in itself was neatly resolved when another friend (the old 4-armed mechanic) came to the rescue and simply blew the gangsters to pieces with a very big weapon.
Thus, the core constraint was “the freedom to race to one’s content” vs. the unjust and impure (to the race) obligations in order to live and to stay in the race. It was never about winning the race. Once this constraint was taken care of, the victory was just there to be snatched. The former champion Machinehead Tetsuzin was there to provide token dramatic resistance (but of course in an AWESOME spectacular way) but the victory was there. It was ALWAYS there.
Maybe it’s the hair, but JP reminds me of the mighty Thrudgelmir, piloted by the even more awesome Sanger Zonvolt. Here is a mighty machine with a mighty pilot, no underdog nonsense involved. The general Volton is the same, with that kind of hair. There’s nothing exaggerated about his prowess, he’s just someone who oozes confidence. The show does well to give him the space to be awesome when he took on the Funky Boy monster by transforming into a monster himself.
So what I’m saying here is that Redline was very successful in putting into play a set of awesome caricatures and let them be awesome and almost never at the expense of each other. This is not so easily done. The narrative does this by making the race ultra-chaotic. The soldiers joining the fray allowed each racer to demonstrate her ability without necessarily trumping another racer.
Thus, there were no stupid underdogs (unless you force rank). This makes Redline special. You already knew that, but this reason should be news to you, not that you needed to feel Redline was even more awesome than it already is!
1Of course there’s Revolutionary Girl Utena Adolescence Apocalypse but I don’t want to spoil that one, it’s too good.