Dead Leaves Anime Review
US Release By
What's In It
- Sky-rocketing death-tolls
- Extreme gore
- Twisted fairy tales
- Cracked correctional facilities
- Labor pains
- Bilingual descriptive text
- Violence: 5 (extreme)
- Nudity: 2 (moderate)
- Sex: 4 (heavy)
- Language: 3 (significant)
A man with a TV in place of his head and a woman with a Panda-looking mark around her eye wake up naked with amnesia. They logically seek food and clothing but illogically murder people and generally wreak havoc. This lands them in a prison on the moon where they lead a violent revolt that puts them on the path to discovering their twisted past.
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Dead Leaves puts its viewer through the ringer for three quarters of an hour, and no matter how you come out feeling about it at the other end, you're not wrong. Unapologetically crass, low-brow, violent and grotesque, even the characters can't figure out what's going on in the nonsensical story, but that's not the point. It relies entirely on twisted atmosphere and gross-out humor to draw you into the depraved exploits of its morally bankrupt anti-heroes, and if that doesn't sound appealing to you, by all means stay away. The psychedelic visuals have a sinister, Western-style look, and are loaded with blink-and-you'll-miss-it visual gags and imagery that one can only pick up on revisits. The acting, in both Japanese and English dub, is equal parts entertaining and ridiculous, and the aural picture is rounded out by foley that isn't for the squeamish.
Dead Leaves is a thoroughly tasteless , like-it-or-hate-it title, and any positive comment I make can just as easily be used as a criticism. It's worth watching at least once just to see what side of the fence the viewer will end up on, but for those who end up enjoying it, Dead Leaves will likely provide repeat entertainment value.
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The term "on crack" has been used far too often as a descriptor for weird and/or crazy anime, so I won't be using it in this review. What I will say is that Dead Leaves puts its viewer through the ringer for three quarters of an hour and no matter how you come out feeling about it at the other end, you're not wrong.
There's a reason I ended the above paragraph on a vaguely graphic note. It's because Dead Leaves is incredibly crass. It's low-brow, violent and grotesque. The story doesn't make a lick of sense, to the point that one of the main characters openly admits he has no idea what's going on. That character is Retro, who has a TV for a head and a bit of a runt's body. Yet somehow he has all the fighting experience of Bruce Lee with none of the philosophy that Lee developed for his discipline. If anything, he's an anti-Bruce Lee, stating how much he loves being violent with an evil grin.
He's joined by Pandy, who is equally dangerous and morally bankrupt. These two don't mess around as they gleefully murder a double-digit number of people while looking for something to eat. Before too long they are incarcerated in a crooked prison, on the moon no less. In their attempt to escape, Pandy and Retro encounter menacing figures from their past and experience the most bizarre circle of life imaginable.
Dead Leaves goes against the norm in many ways. There are no good guys. There are no cute mascots or pretty boys to root for. After multiple viewings I still can't decipher the plot, but that clearly isn't the point. The feature relies on a very twisted atmosphere and gross-out humor. It tempts viewers to try and identify with characters no one would ever want to have anything in common with. It pushes the boundaries of bad taste and crams in more visual information than one could ever hope to decipher. If that doesn't sound appealing, then by all means stay away. This OVA isn't salable to a number of people and I wouldn't try to convince them otherwise.
However, for those who enjoy adult-themed animation and get a kick out the shock value of seeing outrageous animated violence with some depraved sexuality thrown in to boot, Dead Leaves should hit the mark. Despite the nonsensical story I found it a satisfying viewing experience. It's loaded with blink-and-you'll-miss-it visual gags and imagery that one can only pick up on revisits (fair warning: there are some things that just can't be un-seen). Despite the short runtime, Dead Leaves feels like a meal without overstaying its welcome. It wears its crude sensibilities proudly and makes no apologies.
Production I.G really outdid itself with this one. Dead Leaves feels like the bizarro-world version of FLCL with multitudes of weird psychedelic imagery, random text and breakneck action sequences. However, while FLCL has more conventional-looking characters and a real-world setting, Dead Leaves blazes its own trail by depicting a hyper-stylized futuristic world inhabited by ugly and disturbing characters. There's no mistaking that every single person in the prison, including those who run it, absolutely belong there. There's a persistent sinister, Western-looking element to how the artwork and backgrounds are designed. Lots of sharp lines, bold coloring and graphic character designs help shape the world of Dead Leaves into a place any sane person would never want to go but can't help watching.
The music needs to be overblown to carry the manic visuals, and while the score isn't particularly memorable, the compositions accomplish what they need to. The foley work is more noteworthy; lots of ooey-gooey squishes and bone-crunching thuds accentuate the vile actions characters take against others or have taken against themselves.
The acting, in both languages, is equal parts entertaining and ridiculous. Real life husband and wife Amanda Winn-Lee and Jaxon Lee have good chemistry as Pandy and Retro, however Winn-Lee's tendency to squeak during fight sequences can be distracting. In Japanese, I preferred the sultrier sex-appeal of Takato Honda as Pandy but Kappei Yamaguchi is easily the most memorable member of the cast. That's not necessarily a good thing, because while Yamaguchi goes all-out, his bombastic rambling can be genuinely annoying. The sound director should have reined him in a bit more, which is why I'm inclined to give the nod to Jaxon's more measured rendition. Otherwise, both versions feature lots of interesting and varied character voices for the inhabitants of the prison that our anti-heroes are held in.
I found the differences in dialog between the two versions notable. The Japanese dialog, or at least the subtitle translation, is noticeably more blunt and profane than the English dub. There are moments when the Japanese dialog is very straightforward while the equivalent English lines aren't as clear.1 This is interesting, because the very nature of the Japanese and English languages would normally result in the opposite. Moreover, this is a Manga Entertainment title, and the dubs Manga commissions are usually known for including more swearing than the original dialog and subtitles. Considering the nature of Dead Leaves it's surprising that the dub ended up a little softer than the original.
Dead Leaves is thoroughly tasteless, and the fact that I enjoy it may not speak well to my character. It's a like-it-or-hate-it title, and any positive comment I make can just as easily be used as a criticism. It's worth watching at least once just to see what side of the fence the viewer will end up on, but for those who end up enjoying it, Dead Leaves will likely provide repeat entertainment value.
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This one really pulls out all the stops, but if you enjoyed Dead Leaves you may want to look into Panty and Stocking With Garter Belt, which is produced by Gainax and also directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi. You can really feel the carry-over elements from Dead Leaves, especially with the comic book sound effects in the background. The series may not be as viscerally violent but it's got the weird sexuality down pat and wears its Western influences from Gendy Tartakovski, Jhonen Vasquez and John Kricfalusi on its sleeve. If you're looking for more manic violent action in a similar vein, you may want to try Apocalypse Zero (emphasis on the "may"). There's also Oruchuban Ebichu (also known as Ebichu the Hamster), which juxtaposes cuteness and violence, and Excel Saga certainly has its moments as well. The FUNimation dub of Crayon Shin-Chan might work if you're looking for toilet humor without the violence.
As you might have guessed by now there are some Western animated titles that are appropriate to recommend in this case. The look of Dead Leaves bares similarities to some of the animated series MTV produced for its Liquid Television block in the '90s, especially The Head (known as The Oddities in Canada) and Aeon Flux to a lesser extent. The newer Rob Zombie-produced animated feature The Haunted World of El-Superbeasto definitely has a comparable level of depravity and violence and you may want to check out the Comedy Central series Ugly Americans as well.
Notes and Trivia
Dead Leaves is a co-production that came about simply because Manga Entertainment approached Production I.G about creating an original project.
The similarities to FLCL may not be coincidental as director Hiroyuki Imaishi worked as animation director on FLCL.
Footnote 1: One of the most noticeable differences in the dialog occurs when Retro and Pandy are about to have sex. The inmates are all bound in straight jackets and it's established that there's a hole in the back of the jacket where a tube is inserted to forcibly expel fecal matter. As Retro is making his move, in both languages Pandy asks how he expects to have sex with her through the straight jackets. In Japanese (via the subtitles), Retro replies, "We have those holes for s***ing, remember?" while in English he states, "Some people pay good money to get tied up like this." In Japanese it's quite clear how Retro is able to finagle his you-know-what to you-know-where but the scene doesn't play out as clearly in English.
US DVD Review
This DVD is one of the better discs Manga Entertainment produced at the time. The audio is the highlight of the main feature: there are 5.1 and 2.0 audio options for both languages, and the 5.1 tracks are aggressively mixed and well separated. The video transfer looks good however not as good as it probably should. While it's understandable that the picture breaks up during the many high motion sequences, there seem to be instances of macroblocking during slower scenes as well. The special features offer up more laughs and entertainment after the OVA is finished. There are round table discussions, drinking games and candid interviews with director Hiroyuki Imaishi and other members of the staff and voice cast (including an enthusiastic Kappei Yamaguchi). The discussions are absolutely priceless and reveal more information about certain people than you would ever want to know.
Not really fit for normal human consumption, but since that isn't a proper rating the 17+ rating Manga Entertainment gave it will have to suffice.
Violence: 5 - The body count is off the charts and the deaths are horrendously violent.
Nudity: 2 - Pandy and Retro are naked in the opening but nothing full-frontal. Otherwise there are some nipple slips from the warden of the prison and Dick Drill's anatomy is exactly what you'd imagine.
Sex/Mature Themes: 4 - The sex scene is off-screen but there is still general depravity throughout, not to mention various bodily fluids...
Language: 3 - Definitely profane, even more so in the subtitles than the dub.