When I think back to thirty years ago and the boom of the OVA era, I realize that most one-shot anime weren't the best-plotted. They weren't filled with great dialogue. Nobody remembers Ninja Scroll for complicated characters or Vampire Hunter D for its deep meaning. They simply rocked your world with cool people doing amazing and deadly things at warp speed. I love my Miyazaki and Shinkai films; I enjoy leisurely strolling through slice-of-life programs from time to time. But man, I miss the thrill of popping in a VHS tape, turning off the noggin, and just having the thrill meter turned up to 11.
Tailenders captures most of what made the best of the '80s era OVAs work. It's a pastiche with bits stolen from everywhere; the art style is a mishmash of Redline and Dead Leaves, and the story is Speed Racer meets Iron Man. Because it's a racing tale, it's easy to compare it to Redline, and some might consider it a ripoff. But I enjoyed Tailenders for what it is: a non-stop festival of sight and sound that isn't quite as dumb as it appears.
On a dystopian world many light-years from Earth, a terraforming project went hopelessly astray. The machine that was supposed to re-create the world into a paradise left it a parched wasteland prone to killer earthquakes that strike at a moment's notice. Huge cities are carried along the deserts on gigantic wheeled carriers that can handle at least some of the devastation from these mighty tremors. But despite the dangerous landscape, life goes on -- especially in the form of motor racing.
Tomoe and Goodspeed are two rivals determined to beat the hundred-year-old record set by racing phenom Loser King. A ghostly projection of the King's race leads them to push themselves to the ragged edge of speed and sanity. As Tomoe is lined up to take down Loser King's title, a quake hits, ending the race and nearly ending him and his friendly antagonist.
Tomoe wakes up in surgery -- never a good thing -- to find his doctors lying on the floor drugged. He's straddled by a youngish girl, a mad genius who's designed a special engine...one that will keep Tomoe alive and power his machine. For this special heart, she has only one price: follow her instructions on the next race...the same race where Loser King disappeared a century earlier. If Tomoe succeeds, not only might he set speed records to last for generations, he might shut down the wayward terraformer that's been throttling their world ever since. And if he doesn't, well...maybe his fate will wind up the same as the Loser whose record he's been chasing for years.
Tailenders isn't the prettiest anime, full of harsh lines and sharp angles, but it does look gorgeous in HD. One could wish for better animation in terms of movement; while the look may ape Redline and its sheen, it can't match its framerates. It still looks fantastic, however. I can't call the look unique, but it blends enough sources that it's interesting unto itself. There were sparks of creativity, from the megazones on wheels to the car designs.
That creativity appears in fits and starts throughout the show's narrative, too. For all the racing tropes it caters to, the show has a few smarts. Though I don't want to spoil the ending, there's more going on than a simple "win the race and save the day" scenario. I don't want to make it seem deeply intelligent; it's not. It's too much of an homage to films that came before it for that. However, I appreciated that it wasn't so straightforward as to be predictable through the whole.
But are you missing much if you haven't seen it? Not really. The thirty minutes is jam-packed, but the average viewer has seen a Fast and Furious movie and seen similar feats performed (ostensibly) with real cars. Hotshots behind the wheel are a dime a dozen in race car films, so there's nothing new there. It's an excellent example of a B-grade sci-fi racing short...it gives us a few genuine thrills, but you can find them done bigger and better elsewhere.
That said, there's nothing wrong with B-grade excitement. Tailenders was funded by Anime Innovation Tokyo, which exists to give a shot to new and upcoming talent, and they've bankrolled several other short OVAs like it. For something that's supposed to give the latest animators on the block a chance to prove themselves, Tailenders absolutely succeeds, and I'll be looking forward to other features released through Animation Innovation Tokyo. If you're a teenage guy with a half-hour to waste, this is a great choice. And those of us who are pushing forty but remember what it's like to be a teenage boy...yeah, it's for us, too.
Tailenders -- violence, language -- B+