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A cavalcade of intergalactic speed demons enter a deadly car race in the full-throttle Japanese anime "Redline."

Voices: Takuya Kimura, Tadanobu Asano, Yuu Aoi, Cho, Kanji Tsuda, Kenta Miyake, Kenyuu Horichi, Monako Hisa. (Japanese dialogue)

A cavalcade of intergalactic speed demons enter a deadly car race in the full-throttle Japanese anime “Redline.” One of the most visually spectacular toons in recent years, pic is a thumping ride for fanboys, but the script’s underdeveloped central romance and the fizzling out of intriguing plot threads will impede wider acceptance of this collaboration by helmer Takeshi Koike (“Animatrix World Record”) and scripter-designer Katsuhito Ishii (director of “Funky Forest: The First Contact”). Robust biz can be expected (pic opened Oct. 9 in Japan), and turbo-charged worldwide ancillary seems assured. Manga Entertainment plans a limited theatrical release Stateside in 2011.

Produced by brand-name outfit Madhouse, pic is a triumph of design and technical execution. Showing the influence of Western graphic novels and the work of French comic artist Moebius (aka Jean Giraud), the visuals have a distinctly different look from that of traditional 2D Japanese animation. Most eye-catching is the elasticity of moving objects: Cars, buildings and hulking mechanical monsters are bent and stretched in marvelous ways.

Playing like a twisted combo of “Death Race 2000,” “Speed Racer” and a ’50s hot-rod movie on steroids, pic opens with a dazzling 11-minute pre-credits sequence showing competitors vying for berths in Redline, an illegal, no-holds-barred road race. The main protag, and one of the few human characters in a freakish gallery of cyborgs, robots and animal-human hybrids, is J.P. (voiced by Takuya Kimura), an ultra-cool Redline contender sporting a pompadour big enough to put the Leningrad Cowboys’ coiffures to shame. Once jailed for race-fixing, he’s told by alligator-skinned mechanic/manager Frisbee (Tadanobu Asano) to follow betting-syndicate orders on the big day.

Story idles long enough to establish that J.P. secretly loves race rival Sonoshee (Yuu Aoi), a crowd favorite who watches TV topless and feels “wheels are my only love.” But the hyperactive screenplay can’t commit to much more than a few longing glances and a perfunctory clinch when the checkered flag falls.

The quest for speed at the expense of story cohesion is nowhere more evident than in the lead-up to Redline on Roboworld, a military-run planet that has denied permission for the event and promised death to all competitors. At this point, a batch of new drivers is hustled through the frame with few making a lasting impression, and juicy subplots involving Roboworld’s disaffected workers are allowed to fade away. Biggest head-scratcher is Princess Supergrass (Monako Hisa), a charismatic figure who drifts in and out of the picture and seems to be some sort of spiritual supporter of Redline.

But action is the name of the game, and the final reel does not disappoint. The race to the finish line is genuinely astounding, with maniacal drivers and their heavily armed autos melding into fearsome hunks of metal and flesh.

HD rendering of candy-colored visuals is first class. James Shimoji’s crunching techno score dominates, with jazz and disco music breaking up the barrage at well-timed intervals.

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Production: A Manga Entertainment (in U.S.)/Tohokushinsha Film Corp. (in Japan) release of a Madhouse, Gastonia production. (International sales: Tohokushinsha, Tokyo.) Produced by Kentaro Yoshida, Yukiko Koike. Executive producer, Masahiro Fukushima. Directed by Takeshi Koike. Screenplay, Katsuhito Ishii, Yoji Enokodio, Yoshiki Sakurai.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Riyuu Takizawa; editors, Akira Terauti, Naoki Kawanishi; music, James Shimoji; art director, Yuko Kobari; sound (Dolby Digital), Tsuneo Marui; character designer, Ishii; associate producer, Daisuke Kimura. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, Oct. 5, 2010. (In Fantastic Fest; Hawaii, Annecy Animation film festivals; 2009 Locarno Film Festival.) Running time: 102 MIN.

With: Voices: Takuya Kimura, Tadanobu Asano, Yuu Aoi, Cho, Kanji Tsuda, Kenta Miyake, Kenyuu Horichi, Monako Hisa. (Japanese dialogue)

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