Dead Leaves

Tastelessness. Cultures around the world reflect an amazing lack of unity on what constitutes virtue or even comedy, but virtually everybody throughout history has agreed that matters concerning certain bodily functions and body parts are private. When you make them public, they are tasteless. Some cultures make the tasteless taboo; others consider the tasteless funny. Sometimes, curiously enough, the tasteless becomes funny precisely because it is taboo. Six Brits realized this and formed Monty Python. But no matter. Point is, what's tasteless in Japan is tasteless here, and ultimately how you feel about tastelessness is going to determine how you feel about Dead Leaves. It is expertly animated, stylistically sharp, and utterly tasteless.

As Dead Leaves opens, two individuals find themselves sitting next to each other on a moon-barren plain, naked. One is Retro, a guy with a TV stuck to his head. The other is Pandy, a woman who looks like she just stepped out of a Pander Brothers illustration, all hard lines and bold random colors and ready for anything. They aren't sure who they are or where they've been, but they know they've got needs like food, clothing, and ultraviolence, which they quickly take care of with a massive attack on what appears to be downtown Tokyo. Quickly captured and sent to Dead Leaves, a notorious prison on the moon (that's been half-annihilated itself), they find themselves amongst mutants and other savages. A jailbreak, a pregnancy, and obnoxious amounts of crudity ensue.

It seems to me that Production I.G., the house behind Dead Leaves, really wanted to emulate the crazy antics of a show that they co-produced with Gainax: FLCL. The energy level is the same, and the odd graphics that don't scream "anime" are here as well. One could get the sense that the team was trying to create a force of nature, something that would be accepted because of its sheer oomph. Certainly the graphics are top-notch, and there's a playful creativity on display. Certainly Production I.G.'s track record shows that those elements have shown up in many of their series and has catapulted them to name recognition amongst otaku.

But there are two things that make Dead Leaves just this side of unbearable to watch. The first is its gleeful embrace of vulgarity. Without being disturbingly gross, I can tell you that this program leaves no bodily function sacred. Things beyond the pale show up at regular intervals. And even if you find scatalogical humor funny, there's also an disturbing amount of gore and carnage, all of it handled with a wink and a smile. Some might consider it pitch-black comedy, but it lacked the wit to carry it off. I can appreciate sick and twisted programs at times, but not when it's so amazingly juvenile as it is here.

Beyond the tastelessness, though, is something worse: boredom. The characters aren't interesting, I didn't care if they lived or died, and I wasn't interested in what they did. The artistic merits of the thing kept me interested for ten minutes and the sheer forcefulness of it for about twenty minutes more. But well before the finish line, I was pretty much done. The plot itself is pointless, what there is of it. Even then, does it matter what happens to people you'd just as soon see shut up and keel over already?

While Dead Leaves shares characteristics with programs I've given the dreaded F grade, I can't find it in myself to flunk it. It's crass and stupid but intriguing in the sense that there is plenty of talent still visible on-screen. A couple of the jailbreak sequences are fun to watch in an odd sort of way. It's not a total loss, and it's not so repulsive as to deserve the trash bin necessarily. But damning with faint praise is about all I can manage on this one. It tried to be hip and edgy and popular, and it wound up being junk.

Dead Leaves -- continual graphic violence, brief nudity, sexuality, scatalogical themes throughout -- D+