THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


In recent years, Japanese anime and manga have become increasingly popular in the United States. Not only have sales of the genuine article gone through the roof, but American animated movies and comic books have been greatly influenced by their Japanese counterparts. Like many, I became familiar with the genres through this influence, and I’ve recently enjoyed learning more about the real deal. I’ve recently begun reading the original Japanese manga “The Ring” (which helped inspire the American blockbuster) and I’ve soaked up anime features such as Ninja Scroll, Princess Mononoke, and Swept Away among others.

Although I’m certainly not the world’s leading expert on anime and manga, I do know when I see something I haven’t seen before. Such is the case with Dead Leaves, a new release from Japan’s acclaimed Production I.G. (which also did the groundbreaking Ghost in the Shell as well as the riveting anime sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1). Dead Leaves is available on DVD from Manga Video and Anchor Bay.

The film begins with our two heroes – Pandy and Retro – waking up naked and disoriented. After going on a crime spree in search of necessities, they are captured and taken to a “lunar penitentiary” known as Dead Leaves. The place is filled with strange-looking beings who defy description, except to say that they all appear to be part-human and part-something else. Pandy and Retro eventually learn that the inmates of Dead Leaves are the victims of genetic experiments gone awry. The facility is a way to contain them from the outside world. Together, the duo organizes the other inmates to stage a daring prison break – but not before they can take down those responsible for the atrocities committed with the walls.

Pandy and Retro are the main characters in Dead Leaves, available from Manga Video
A simple plot description is not adequate to convey the experience of watching Dead Leaves. So much of the flavor is found in the animation and the humor. For starters, the film is dazzling to look at, filled with inventiveness in every corner. The characters, for instance, have very unique looks that somehow befit their personalities. Consider Retro, who has an old-fashioned television set for a head. (His face fills up the screen.) I also admired the style of animation. Many times, anime utilizes a very precise style in which everything is meticulously drawn. Dead Leaves is just as elaborate in scope but more reserved in terms of detail. Oftentimes, the use of color or shape is used to convey locations, movements, and characters. I was frequently reminded of the color-saturated look of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. However you describe it, the look masterfully creates an entire universe for the viewer to get lost in. This is one of the best-looking animated films I’ve ever seen.

The humor – which is frequently ribald – is equally pleasurable. In some respects, Dead Leaves uses a self-knowing approach to anime/manga. It knows the rules and conventions of the genre and sets out to bend (or break) as many of them as possible. This starts in the opening scene, where Pandy comments on Retro’s oddly stylized appearance. “That TV on your head,” she says, “makes you look like an asshole.” Later on, Pandy and Retro, locked in their prison cell together, decide to pass the time by making love, despite their outward animosity toward one another. As the sound of their lovemaking fills the penitentiary, little animated hearts drift out the door and down the hall. Before long, all the other inmates are battling extreme, unquenchable horniness. The humor here is intentionally subversive, which really fits in perfectly with the film’s eye-popping look.

The finale of the story relies heavily on action, which is done just as well as everything else. Action is generally par for the course in anime/manga, but the over-the-top tone of Dead Leaves puts an original spin on the standard chase scenes and fights with villains.

In addition to being a feast for the eyes, the sound on Dead Leaves is also dynamic. I watched the film in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and found it to be very effective in adding to the atmosphere of the movie. In addition to the film itself, the Dead Leaves DVD contains interviews with production staff, video diaries, footage from the World Premiere, and more. These features were not available on the review copy I received, but they are certain to make an already enjoyable feature even more appealing.

Dead Leaves - with a 50-minute running time – is perhaps too short. I’d have liked it to be longer because it was so good. However, the possibility of a sequel (or sequels) is there for the taking. I, for one, would love to see more adventures in the series. I’m always on the lookout for something bold and wild in its originality. This is a great example of that principle in action. Dead Leaves is captivating in its unpredictability. I can’t wait for more.

( 1/2 out of four)

Dead Leaves is unrated but contains graphic violence, brief nudity, and mature content. It is recommended for audience 17+. For more information, visit

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