There is so much unified hate towards this short little OVA that it’s difficult to really give a standard critique of the show that rates each category in the abstract.
Instead, it’s obligatory to start with why I think most people will hate this. In short, this is an anime that flips the audience the middle finger. The creators make a conscious decision that story, characters, or any real meaning whatsoever are completely unimportant. What's more, the humor is beyond tasteless, the character designs are far from appealing, and the show feels almost like a visual assault in the way it barrages the audience with flashy colors, sharp edges and constant motion.
This mix, I think, alienates just about anyone who would ever watch the thing. Pure action lovers will have never heard of such an obscure title, people who watch anime for things like “story” or “character development” are going to be sorely disappointed by an almost total lack of either, and even fans of abstract, demented stuff are going to be disgusted when they find that the show has no meat in it to analyze.
In addition, this is a show that is impossible to take the higher ground with. Unlike similar (but completely different!) works like FLCL, Paranoia Agent, or Texhnolyze, no one can get away with saying pompous shit like, “oh you didn’t like it because you didn’t understand the deep and philosophical meaning behind it.”
The problem is that Dead Leaves has no message whatsover, let alone a hidden one; everything that the OVA brings to the table is as brutally obvious as that one guy’s giant, metallic penis (don't ask).
So why, in spite of all of this, did I enjoy the OVA? I think the answer is that I appreciate the raw, prodigious talent that went into making this. The creators are so skillful at what they set out to do, so completely in tune with their own personal vision, that I enjoyed the work despite its numerous flaws.
In the end, the creators’ total commitment to making something completely unique wins out. Even if the core concept is patently retarded, the fact that an idea that has never been done before is executed so flawlessly makes the anime worth the small amount of time that it asks.
I think people place far too much value in the traditional anime look – the disproportionate girls with giant, insectoid eyes, the generic male protagonist with spiky hair, etc. I’ve found the look to be somewhat tiresome and uninspired after the 2 hundredth or so iteration.
Dead Leaves, on the other hand, has a strikingly different visual style, a far departure from anything I’ve seen. A lot of people have called this style ugly, but I loved it. It’s edgy, bold, and very memorable.
That, and the actual animation is absolutely top notch – this has the most fluid, inventive, and frenetic work I’ve seen since… ever?
Thumping techno + weird voice acting. Generally solid.
I think many people who have enjoyed this might be staying silent in the face of so much negative buzz. After all, saying, “Yeah the story and characters suck, but the action was good and I liked it!” is very difficult to do without sounding like a complete dipshit. Nonetheless, for those that enjoy the wacky wtf stuff, this should be a more than entertaining diversion.
What is Dead Leaves? It's probably what happens when animators are completely burned out and start doodling. And those doodles get an anime.
Story: The main characters wake up with no memories... Or clothes... And decide to rob the local town for clothing, weapons, and a car. While being chased by the cops, they realize they have pretty bad-ass fighting skills. They still end up in a prison on the shattered moon, though. And that's where the story gets.... Weird. Normally, anime asks for some suspension of disbelief. Dead Leaves goes waaaay beyond that. There is stuff that happens in that prison that can only be described as an acid trip.
Animation: Think comic book style art. Thick lines, a lot of color against bland background. It really lends to the strangeness of the anime. Just don't expect consistent frame work. There are scenes and transitions that are a bit... Choppy. Also, why does the TV have such great abs?
Sound: I wasn't paying much attention to the sound, which is a good thing. It means the background music wasn't intrusive to the story. The voice acting worked for the characters.
Characters: This is where the anime excels. The characters are make this anime with their insane personalities. Even some of the bit characters are given decent personalities.
Is this worth watching? Yes. But your brain might be hurting afterward.
review for June 2016's DAMC
What I Liked: The breakneck pacing never leaves you bored. The character designs were interesting, if not mostly crude or just odd. The flat but fluid and colourful animation, which just explodes with energy. Plot is odd but surprisingly coherent for the most part.
What I Didn't: Lots of crude humor for the sake of it to the point that the sheer amount of crass humor in this movie may get old quickly for some viewers. So much violence. Animation felt somewhat ameteurish, like it was one big animation test. The plot goes off the rails (literally) towards the end, almost like it had one-upped itself too much.
Final Verdict: Dead Leaves is the very definition of juvenile: it's loud, brash and revels in its own vulgarity. The avant-garde animation is as chaotic as the plot, which screams through its runtime at breakneck speed without stopping to catch a breath, and the characters are just as wild as the rest of the ride.
Dead Leaves is so glorious that I would help it conquer the world and enslave Belgium. It is so crazy that it makes the guy who rubs his head on billboards trying to remove the letters because he's "an eraser" seem like Doctor Phil. It is so cool that it can stop global warming and protect us all from nuclear winter when the apocalypse happens.
What is truly great about Dead Leaves is that it does not try to be something it's not. Fast paced, ridiculously over the top, quirky, funky, and most of all just fun - but trying to define this short OVA is an exercise is futility. There is something very special about a short piece that in the end is a perfectly self-contained yet open-ended story, that doesn't try to do anything and just does what it does.
I get why some people may not like it, because as for every anime that does its own thing, there are people who just don't care for that. People might try to compare it to FLCL because of the sheer amount of rapid fire insanity that happens, but that misses the point entirely. While both shows take pride in their fast pace and over the top antics, that is where the similarities end. For myself, this was one of the singularly most enjoyable views of my life.
Writing (aka Story and Characters):
Heroes start with amnesia, do crazy things, beat up the baddies, end up where they started. In the middle everything happens. It is a better than average story, but the point is the sheer amount of crazy that just happens all the time. What is truly great is that it creates some twisted logic in which everything makes everything a sort of sense.
The characters in themselves are silly and proud of it. The story is ridiculous. But the writing is about creating a place where normal is a combination of adrenaline and some form of high that makes me want to meet the writers' dealer. In a world where rationality gets thrown out the window, then all that is left is to sit the ride out and see where it takes you. And you know what? That place is awesome.
While I gave a 7.5 for the story (ridiculous yet awesome in its own way), and an 8 for the characters (really, there isn't much in the way of development and they are over the top no matter how cool they are), the writing overall is near perfect. Nobody enjoys Alice in Wonderland for the story or characters - they love the insane world that is created. This is exactly such a case where trying to break the writing down to details just distracts from the single fact that overall something truly special is done here.
Atmosphere (aka Animation and Sound):
Don't expect subtle. Dead Leaves is not about subtle. Don't expect refined. Dead Leaves is most definitely not refined. Don't expect gorgeous. That would be the last word to describe this monstrosity. What you can expect is simple and to the point, unnatural and proud of it, and a form of fun that just does it for the hell of it.
Everything is amped up. Raw characters with raw character design. Over the top fight sequences that abandon any realism in the first two minutes. The voice acting is as far away from subtle as you can get. The soundtrack doesn't even try to be gentle with you, and the effects even less. But you know what? When so many shows just try so damn hard to wow us with technical skill and painstaking attention to detail, Dead Leaves just scoffs and says "nuts to that".
The animation in and of itself is nothing spectacular, and while it has artistic merrit, from a technical standpoint it is lacking compared to the modern offerings a decade later. The sound is excellent but still not at the top tier of what has happened since. How fortuitous that Dead Leaves is more about visceral madness rather than anything subtle. The animation and sound set the perfect tone for such a creation, and the art direction is really one of those cases where the flaws are turned into strengths. That does not mean flaws do not exist, but if you really want to nitpick then you are wasting your time watcing this - time better used to have fun.
For me? A standout ten out of ten. Some people will hate this, others will say "meh" and move on. But if you didn't find FLCL's madness daunting but rather enjoyable, and would like something not quite as pretentious and more focused on fun, this will rock your world.
As you can see by the ratings I've given, this is one of those shows you aren't supposed to discect. Sit down, strap in, and enjoy the ride. That's what I did, and for that express purpose you will find only precious few better.