Dead Leaves is more comic booky than any comic book adaptation you’ve ever seen. Usually filmmakers and animators sift out the elements fit for translation to a new format. But Dead Leaves is in love with all the conventions, even the ones made superfluous by the addition of a soundtrack and the moving image. Unconcerned that you can hear the boom of an explosion, the film throws in the ballooning exclamatory text for good measure and sets it loose to ripple across the billowing pressure wave.
At times the screen splits into fully animated panels so that it feels like you’re flipping through the pages of a graphic novel at high speed. It’s not nearly as inventive as FLCL, where characters tumbled through the same as though they were leaping headlong down a stairwell. But then Dead Leaves only has a little less than an hour running time whereas FLCL was a full series, so it feels more like it simply has to pick up and discard ideas as quickly as it can rather than explore the possibilities.
If you’re left with anything after a viewing (the story itself is about as paper thin as can be) it’s that the film is not striving to push any boundaries, just exalting the qualities unique to comics: depicting the human body in motion dynamically, representing missing sensory experiences artistically and freezing physical chaos. It’s all the more amazing since Dead Leaves is an original work of anime and not based on a manga. It’s all par for the course. Robocop brought live-action comic book goodness while likewise not being an adaptation, Dick Tracy sank under imposed limitations where it thought it was being slavish and The Dark Knight and Watchmen seem jaw droppingly fresh despite their direct inspirations being more than twenty years old.