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Dead Leaves

director: Hiroyuki Imaishi

50 minutes (15) 2004
Manga DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Strap yourselves in and hold tight, because there's never been an anime quite so demented as this. Produced by the team responsible for the smash FLCL, Dead Leaves is equal parts gonzo horror movie, pop video and a strangely affecting, and at times surreal, meditation on growing up.

Pandy and Retro, the main characters, wake up naked on a huge garbage dump with no memory of their lives prior to that point. Pandy is a woman with a circular mark on her face whilst Retro is a man with a TV set for a head. Deciding they need clothes and food in no particular order, they head for a nearby city. Wreaking havoc on its generic, 1950s' styled inhabitants they're arrested and taken to Dead Leaves, a prison housed in the remains of the Moon. There, they battle the sadistic regime, befriend the bizarre inhabitants and plot a bloody and chaotic escape.

Dead Leaves hits the ground running and never lets up. From the opening fight in the city to the final few scenes rarely a minute goes by without an explosion, a fight or a jump cut. It's all presented in a unique animation style that borders on caricature where everything is blocky and stylised, giving the world a unique feel and making the action sequences stunning to watch. Whether Pandy and Retro are wreaking havoc in the city streets or fighting a running monorail battle through what's left of the moon the action is balletic, constant and consistently inventive. There's a real sense of anarchy here, as characters and backgrounds merge together and sound effects play across the screen as words at the same time as sounds. This is action with the brakes off, every idea being thrown at the viewer at the same time in the hope that some of them will stick.

This constant, frantic invention crams every frame of the film with energy as well as a cheerful sense of self-parody. The plot, revolving around Pandy and Retro's past is largely resolved and is, in truth, fairly predictable. However, it's presented in such a stylistic and anarchic way that by the end of the movie neither the viewers nor the characters are much clearer on what's going on. In fact there's a lovely moment towards the end where, having heard Pandy's explanation, Retro confesses he still doesn't know what's happening.

However, this commitment to style over content does come at a price. At times the animation is so stylised it's almost incomprehensible and, crucially, the film's tone never quite settles down. The genuinely dark elements sit uncomfortably next to toilet humour and a couple of moments that push good taste to the absolute limit. These scenes fall completely flat and are the only moments where the pace lags. Likewise, the characters' tendency to shout all the dialogue gets very dull very quickly.

Despite these problems, Dead Leaves is so frantically inventive and energetic that you can't help but enjoy it. Constantly inventive, relentlessly paced and at times laugh out loud funny, you won't see another anime like this in years.
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