A Review of “Dead Leaves” – No, Trust Me, You’re Not High…

“Hey baby, ever made it with a WOOOORM?” 
– Retro

In my thirteen some years of being an anime fan, I can honestly say I have never EVER seen anything quite like “Dead Leaves”. To call it insane would be the understatement of the century. “Dead Leaves” is downright confusing. It’s the show that you pick up off the shelf and wonder “Why in the heck did I buy this? I should trade this in the next chance I get. This is completely sick and twisted!” all while you’re popping the DVD in your player. What is it about “Dead Leaves” that makes you question it and detest it, yet keeps you coming back for more? Could it be the rocket-strapped story line that goes a mile a second? Is it the characters who demand that you stand up and take notice? Is it the animation style that resembles a comic book on crack with music to match? Or could it be the acting? Has a once shamed director redeemed herself from previous errors and put out a good project…while expecting? Buckle up, and hang on.

Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content: Long story short; you name it, “Dead Leaves” got it. Language? Oh yeah; everything shy of using F-Bombs. In a way, the English Dub is CLEANER than the original Japanese. Violence? YUUUUUUP! Bloody, gory, and voluminous using dang-near every kind of weaponry you can think of. Nudity? Uh-huh. Not that much of it, but it is there. Sexual Content? Indeed. One of the characters has a large, brass drill right on his crotch in place of…shall we say…original equipment. I could go on, but suffice it to say that “Dead Leaves” has earned it’s TV-MA rating and I would not, under any stretch of the imagination, recommend this show to anyone under the age of sixteen.

Movie Availability – Finding this series in a brick and mortar store is going to be like finding a needle in a haystack in the dark–it’s nigh on impossible, and unless you go into a specialty shop or a store that sells used DVD’s, you won’t have a chance of finding it in your average retail store. Online, however, your chances of getting a hold of the series is greatly improved as both Best Buy and Wal-Mart, at the time of this printing, have the movie on DVD for sale. Wal-Mart even offers the option to stream the series for about $2, so if you don’t want to invest and wait around for physical media [or, if after reading this review, you decide to try it before investing in it], this might be the option for you.

Story Premise – “Dead Leaves” is fifty-two minute original movie created by Production I.G. The movie begins with our two main characters, Pandy and Retro, sitting in a barren area with no clothes on and no memory of who or even what they are. After making the decision to get  food, wheels, and clothes, they do the only logical thing one can do; Rob a bank, steal a car, and go on a wild shooting rampage through the city. Eventually, after what has to be the craziest shoot-out in recorded anime history, the pair are immediately tried, convicted, sentenced, and put in a special jail for mutants. After a session of hot and steamy sex, Pandy and Retro, with the assistance of the other mutant prisoners, mount an escape from the prison and only then, the pieces of their past finally start coming together. “Dead Leaves” is a study in story telling on an abbreviated schedule. It tells a story that many movies would take a whole 1-2 hours to refine and go into detail over and compress it into a 50 minute format. While bits of information are given periodically through the movie, especially with the story of the caterpillars and ants connected to our female lead, for the most part, there’s only 3 minutes during the movie where the plot is explained in it’s entirety in a rare moment of exposition…and even then, the dialogue is mostly lost due to overlapping dialogue from the female lead. The ending is…well…in a strange sort of way, for a series like this, it works…and on some freakish level, it’s almost touching. Overall, “Dead Leaves” is NOT a movie you’re watching for the story; You’re watching for the action, plain and simple. If you want to try and get some sembelence of what this story is all about, I recommend repeated viewings…and a strong stomach. [18.5/25]

Favorite Scene – My personal favorite scene has got to be during the great escape. Faced with impending capture astride a motorcycle with a couple THOUSAND escapee mutants trailing behind, Retro calls for Chinko Drill to come to the front. Chinko climbs to the front and says to Retro, “So should I kiss you first or just stick it in?” Retro then grabs Chinko and slaps him in the front of the motorcycle, using his rather large “drill” to break through the wall and escape. Seriously, this moment had me both scratching my head and laughing like a banshee for quite a while.

Characters – The character lineup for “Dead Leaves” consists of about 5% main characters whom we actually learn have names and about 95% cannon fodder who get killed brutally, bloody, and horribly. Our two leads, Pandy and Retro are almost polar opposites, but they’re absolutely perfect for each other. They’re like a very, VERY exaggerated version of Bonnie and Clyde…if Bonnie had a red-eye and Clyde had a portable TV for a head. Pandy is our main female lead; she’s a mysterious woman who appears human, save for the bright red circle around her right eye, which gives her a panda-like appearance. Pandy is a strong female lead with a complex past. I love her bad-a$$, I don’t give a crap attitude and how calm she is as compared to her partner.  Not to mention, she kicks major bad guy booty, especially in the last major fight of the movie. Retro is a freak-show, plain and simple. He has a Tube-Style TV for a head [think of Canti from “FLCL”…] and enjoys getting into fights and shoot-outs with whoever happens to be around. His energy and moments of hyperactivity are actually funny to watch. I would go into detail about some of the other characters, such as the amorous and anatomically dubious Chinko Drill, but seeing as how many of the characters are used as cannon fodder, I don’t think going into great detail will be worthwhile. Honestly, I was not that impressed with the final boss. I suppose because we didn’t get too much time to learn more about her back story or to learn why she has this whole evil plan, she didn’t come off as being too impressive or memorable. her lackeys, Triple-Six and Triple-7 did not impress me at all. [19.5/25]

Animation – All I can say with regards to animation here is…wow. From the first frame to the last, “Dead Leaves” takes you on a roller coaster ride of color and motion. It’s like reading a graphic novel at high-speed held up to your nose. Nothing stays still for longer than two minutes in this one. It’s always moving. Character designs are insane; the creators clearly had a ball with this one as all the characters have a unique look, even if they’re only seen for thirty seconds on-screen. As I mentioned above, “Dead Leaves” is a violent and bloody movie–if you have anything against blood and gore [or any other bodily fluids for that matter] then you might wanna leave this one on the shelf as “DL” leaves nothing to the imagination. [12.5/12.5]

Music – “Dead Leaves” has a soundtrack that matches the action on-screen beat for beat and note for note. While there are no vocals that accompany the music [asside from some moments when classic opera is used], I feel that the techno, Matrix-esque style music and beats work well. [12.5/12.5]

Performances and Production – Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this before: this movie was created by Production I.G and Studio Gainax, and licensed by Manga Entertainment in the US with voice actress Amanda Winn-Lee at the helm in the US and playing the lead role of Pandy. If you recall, Amanda also directed and acted in the early Evangelion movies; “Death and Rebirth” and “The End of Evangelion”. However, you will also recall that I took her to task for some of her decisions made in the English production. However, I cannot allow past indiscretions to impede my judgement on the show in front of me. The truth of the matter is, this is a very well-directed, written and acted movie. Amanda’s portrayal of Pandy is perfect. She plays the role of bad-a$$ awesome well, and all her lines stay true to the original while giving the character new life in the English dub. Jaxon Lee’s portrayal of Retro is deliciously insane. You can seriously feel the energy he put into the role, matching Retro’s attitude and emotions without skipping a beat. Keith Burgess as Chinko Drill is downright hilarious. Every line he said left me in stitches. All other characters, temporary though their roles may be, are also well acted, and complement their Japanese counterparts perfectly. Redemption Granted. [25/25]

Final Scores:

Story and Premise: 18.5/25
Characters: 19.5/25
Animation: 12.5/12.5
Music: 12.5/12.5
Performances: 25/25

Final Grade: 88/100 = 88% – (B)

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra)

  • Once again, husband and wife team Amanda Winn and Jason Lee [Listed as “Jaxon Lee” in the credits due to Screen Actors Guild issues] return to the world of anime as both actors and producers. Interestingly enough, Amanda was pregnant with her first child during the recording and producing of “Dead Leaves”. [Art imitating life…]
  • “Dead Leaves” has aired once on broadcast television. During the Sy-Fy network’s “Ani-Monday” time block, “Dead Leaves” was shown, although heavily edited. 
So where does that leave us? Well, to quote Facebook: “It’s Complicated”. While “Dead Leaves” does deliver on action and amazing animation styling, and while the acting is very well done in both languages, I still think that the story as a whole could do with either a little more clarity, a longer running time, or a general overall toning down. Being outlandish is one thing, and in some cases when done right, it’s a great thing, but you should NEVER let it sacrifice from the story you’re trying to tell. But don’t let that dissuade you from giving “Dead Leaves” a try. If nothing else, for better or worse, you will ALWAYS remember it. 

And that is the “Dead Leaves” review in the can! Once again, congrats to “HK” for winning our little contest! Keep your eyes open because another opportunity may be coming up soon! So, next month, myself and OtakuAndrain are going to take a more gentle route and review anime series from the beautiful ladies of CLAMP. First up on the docket from myself is a staple from the manga mistresses and one of the most iconic romance stories around. I’ll let you be with me if you let me be with you as I review…

“Chobits”

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