Saturday, 16 April 2011

デッド リーブス/ Dead Leaves

I wasn’t sure, going in, whether or not I was gonna like Dead Leaves. I’m not usually keen on Production IG, who wowed the world with Ghost in the Shell and then got lazy, churning out films and OVAs that have a lot of amazing animation and great style, but severely lack in substance, including Blood: The Last Vampire and, in part, Dead Leaves’ spiritual predecessor, FLCL.

On the other hand, this was the big break of Imaishi Hiroyuki after working as key animator on an episode of FLCL. It was on the back of this that he could go over to Gainax and make Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, which is easily one of the best shows of the last five years. And stylistically, Dead Leaves has a lot in common with what makes Gurren Lagann great – stylised presentation featuring bold shadows, odd angles and exaggerated physics, a frenetic pace and ridiculously exaggerated set-pieces.

What it doesn’t have, on the other hand, is Gurren Lagann’s sympathetic characters, sense of fun, touches of seriousness or clever pacing. It may be similar stylistically, and that drill looks identical to one of Shimon’s, but writing is what really determines the style of a piece, and this 45-minute animation is what we might get if Viz decided to write a parody of anime, using all the Western clichés. Only without the smart sarcasm, and with an almost undetectable level of clever pastiche.

A girl with a spot over her eye and a guy with an old-fashioned TV for a head wake up naked in the middle of nowhere. After naming each other Pandy and Retro, they get on the wrong side of the law and end up in a prison on the moon. Trying to bust out, they start to learn about their pasts.

This shoestring is punctuated by fart and penis jokes, boobs hanging out, anal violation, sex in straitjackets through poop-holes and lots of people exploding, getting squished and having their heads chopped in two, not to mention sheer randomness and lots of guns and robots. It’s the kind of anime you see representing the whole industry in disapproving Western newspaper articles – surrealism, gore and sex, not to mention being tragically unfunny. This stuff can be fun, done right. But Dead Leaves is poor.

The voice actors are on autopilot, Yamaguchi Kappei inimitable as ever but simply cruising in Usopp mode, not bothering to think up a new characterisation (which he often does) and everyone else simply fits into the broad role their character comes from, mostly totty, dunce or tough guy. The ending is as by-the-numbers as the rest of it, and ultimately, I’m left with the feeling that I’ve seen something flashy but useless. Recommended only if you’ve never seen high-octane stylised anime. And if TTGL didn’t exist.

(Originally written 7.8.08. Production IG have since made anime I love, including Seirei no Moribito.)

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