Dead Leaves (Anime Film Review)

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As a massive fan of Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking, Co-founder of Trigger) I wanted to jump into his directorial debut. He had previously worked with Gainax on Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL, and Diebuster. His animation style is one of fluid, constant, motion, with exaggerated characters to make every frame as lively as possible. Dead Leaves, produced by Production I.G, and released back in 2004, is the fullest expression of Imaishi’s animation style. It is a nonsensical journey that demonstrates what happens when you leave animators to their own volition. It truly is chaos incarnate.

The story follows Retro and Pandy as they awaken nude and unable to remember anything. As any logical person, might do, they decide to go on a violent crime spree, killing dozens of innocent people, hijacking a car, and demonstrating their superhuman strength. It’s a strong opening segment that helps quickly establishes the deranged nature of both characters.

Retro is the wild card, acting on impulse and fast to violence, while Pandy does her best to stay level headed and get through a situation in one piece. They are overpowered by the cops and sent to a lunar prison for the worst of criminals: Dead Leaves.  The majority of the film is spent within the prison, as Retro and Pandy attempt to escape the wretched facility. Sadly, the rest of the plot is inconsequential, as it proceeds pretty much how you’d expect it to: Drugs, sex, and lots and lots of violence.

Now look, there is a lot of fun to be had watching Dead Leaves, but it fails to strike that nice balance seen in Director Imaishi Hiroyuki’s (FLCL, Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking) other works. The wackiness of a series like Fooly Cooly is earned through its grounded coming of age story. I mean, even Panty & Stocking was more grounded, and they have an episode dedicated to fighting a giant shit monster. There is simply nothing to balance out the insanity found within Dead Leaves. It can become a chore to watch at times without something to counterbalance the wackiness on display.

That isn’t to say Dead Leaves is mediocre; far from it. The hyper-stylized aesthetics that would go on to inform much of Gurren Lagann’s aesthetics,  is a treat to watch. It oozes personality with the liberal use of stark dark shadows and flat colors. So many shots are framed in such a way that they would make splendid posters.

You can tell that the key animators must have had a blast working on certain scenes. The opening police chase maintains a level of fluidity and moving parts that you just don’t often see in Japanese animation. And even when using limited animation, Dead Leaves strives to make every frame as unique as possible. While aesthetics alone are not enough to carry the film, the visual spectacle of it all does help to outweigh the mostly flat and tensionless plot.

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Dead Leaves is the type of animated product that should only be watched while intoxicated. It’s far too juvenile for most audiences with its ultra-violence and the constant barrage of fart and dick jokes. But If you like Imiashi’s other works like Panty and Stocking, you just might enjoy yourself, If just for its stylish art and wonderfully animated action sequences.

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