Dead Leaves: Even a Psychedelic Explosion Can Be BanalDecember 24, 2010
Last year’s Secret Santa went over so well (though not for us, thank you Texhnolyze!), that here we are again. And once again, we have failed. Someday I know we will get a Secret Santa recommendation that I don’t loath. I swear this is possible.
For the second time a row we have spun the roulette wheel of fortune and the result has been the same. This time we disliked our Secret Santa pick for complete different reasons than why we disliked Texhnolyze. On some level I have to say that is impressive. But our other two choices we far worse. While we had never seen the animeI know the Hell Girl manga was always filled with utterly unlikable characters in a formula neither of us liked. On the other hand while I had heard some good things about Koi Kaze I can almost guarantee, that especially after this season, Narutaki wanted nothing to do with an incest show no matter how tasteful. So we were once again left with a show that was an unknown quantity to Narutaki and something I had vaguely avoided. My prediction is next year we are going to have to watch Mamoru Oshii’s Angel’s Egg and then Narutaki will never participate in Secret Santa again.
The movies start with a woman with a facial tattoo named Pandy and a man with a TV for a head named Retro waking up with no memories and no clothing. Their next logical step is to go on a crime wave that gets them thrown in a maximum security prison on the moon. Pandy and Retro then attempt to lead a prison break and hopefully jog their memories at the same time.
Once they start to remember random bits of their pasts, it becomes apparent that this isn’t just any old prison. And when I say prison I mean insane asylum more. Pandy and Retro have been here before and now someone is looking for revenge. All of this is largely unimportant, plot is pretty much secondary in this perverse and violent no holds barred ride of their life.
This movie NEVER stops. We jump from one fight to the next with a bit of insanity in between. Even the flashbacks move at a breakneck speed despite being slightly slower pace than the rest of the film. Pandy and Reto fight clone police offers, mutants, mecha and everything in between alongside prisoners who would be more at home at a freak show than a prison. Reto gets his head chopped off only to get better a bit later on. Pandy gets pregnant, has a super powered mutant baby, and then the baby sacrifices himself as an old man all within the last 10 minutes of the movie. All this happens with little more than a minor hand wave before jumping to the next plot point. But as it turns out the plot is largely unimportant. It is all about creating a vibe with a relentless pace. It is a tribute to ADHD. The problem was I as never on board so the movie mainly jumped from one boring high energy scene to another.
Pandy and Retro are not likable characters, they start the show by going on a violent crime spree just because. While this could be used to springboard into a story of redemption, Dead Leaves just becomes weirder and weirder nonsense. Things just happen in this show, and you either accept that or stop caring about a third of the way in. As would seem obvious, I was the later. They attempt to hold your attention through humor that relies on grossing you out or being shockingly crass and sexual in addition to the high-speed pacing. While energy in a work is good, this film never takes a breath and without that the speed actually feels slower; the fast pacing becomes mundane as every scene is given the same feel.
When you realize that the director Hiroyuki Imaishi would go on to direct Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt it all makes prefect sense. The closest title I can think of with the same feeling is Panty and Stocking but even that is much more subdued in comparison. The art is extremely stylized to the point that is does not look like any other anime. It almost has the feel of animated graffiti. The characters often look bizarre and are some characters stray into the grotesquely sexual. The people of earth look normal but we quickly leave them behind for the moon where there is a man with a drill for a penis (that releases all the appropriate fluids) to the gun-toting psychic bear baby with speakers for ears. For better or for worse you can’t say that it looks extremely formulaic.
I was practically suffocating while watching this short movie. Visually engaging at times, but many more times a barrage of odd imagery this film couldn’t be over soon enough. The style and design are overall very cool, and probably the only thing I can say I liked, what with its heavy lines and odd proportions. It is easy to see many of the influences that went on to make Gurren Lagann so in a way I’m glad Imaishi made this and got it out of his system.
The great failure of Dead Leaves is that is all style and no substance. I know there are people who are going to sit down and watch this like a non stop sugar rush. The unique visuals and unrelenting pace will draw them in. But I just could never muster the effort to care. The characters are less people and more colorful means of carrying the plot. I never cared once about Pandy and Retro so the movies is more of a bad trip than a psychedelic wonderland. I was always looking on quizzically rather than following along. I appreciate Dead Leaves’ attempt to make something different and possibly even something to appeal to an international audience but I want something with a bit more meat and less crude shock tactics. It was a nice try but no cigar.
I didn’t like it. The end.