Monday, May 2, 2011

RideBack (anime TV series), via Hulu

Synopsis:

In the near future, a group called the GGP has taken control of the world. Rin Ogata, however, didn't care about any of that. She wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina of her mother's caliber, but a torn ligament made that dream impossible. Now she's in her first year of college, happy enough with her best friend Shoko, but still undecided about what she's going to do with herself. Then she's given a chance to ride a Rideback, sort of a cross between a robot and a motorcycle, and it's like she can dance again. Entranced by one particular RideBack, a red Fuego, Rin joins her university's RideBack club.

Rin's abilities as a ballerina give her the balance, agility, and finesse necessary to be an incredible RideBack rider. However, those same skills get her into trouble with the GGP and attract the attention of anti-GGP terrorists. As Rin's friends and family end up in danger, Rin must figure out the best path to take. Should she give up RideBacks the way she gave up dancing, or should she continue, even though RideBacks seem to bring those around her nothing but pain and death?

Commentary:

I'm not a fan of mecha anime or manga at all. In fact, I've only ever seen a couple episodes of what is probably the classic mecha series, Neon Genesis Evangelion. Sorry, Evangelion fans, but it bored me. I've never seen a single Gundam episode.

I think the mecha anime genre might be the one genre I actively avoid. I tend to think of it as being mainly about "a boy and his machine," filled with incomprehensible techno jargon, and largely depressing in tone (I think I got this impression from the small amount of Evangelion I watched).

Occasionally, however, there are mecha shows that remind me that what I think I know about the genre isn't necessarily true. RideBack is one of those. I was willing to give this show a shot, if only because, for once, this was a mecha series about a girl and her machine. And the girl wasn't a sex goddess with boobs obviously meant to be stared at by male viewers. Her habit of wearing a dress on a RideBack did give several male characters a good view of her panties, but it should be noted that viewers weren't actually shown her panties all that often (from what I can remember). I was pleasantly surprised.

I was first introduced to this show via a lovely AMV that showed the end of Rin's dancing career and the beginning of her love for RideBacks. Really, some AMVs work better at selling shows than any official trailers ever could. All I needed to see was Rin performing amazing RideBack acrobatics, and the instant the show appeared on Hulu, I added it to my queue.

But, like I said, I have certain reservations about mecha anime, so it was a while before I actually watched the show. The first episode starts off a bit slow, focusing on laying down the basics of this near-future world, Rin's love for dancing and the end of her career, and the start of her university life. I think it takes half the episode before the really good stuff starts: Rin riding a RideBack for the first time.

While Rin was a bit shaky to start with, she quickly proved herself to be a natural on a RideBack. I don't care how much a RideBack relies on its rider's movements, there's no way someone could be that good right away. The series used Rin's dancing skills, a session with some RideBack manuals, and an unspecified amount of practice time to make the idea that Rin could compete in a tournament slightly more plausible. I was willing to suspend my disbelief, because it was just that much fun watching her be awesome.

I thought the series was at its best whenever it showed Rin doing something on a RideBack. However, as the series progressed, those scenes were fewer and farther between. Instead, the show shifted its focus more towards the unrest between the GGP and the anti-GGP terrorists. Rin was captured and called a criminal. After the terrorists freed her, she got to engage in a beautiful bit of RideBack acrobatics, but then she lost her heart for a while after witnessing RideBacks being used to kill and destroy. By the way, yes, this is the kind of show where one of the main character's friends gets killed. I won't say which one. I will say that you don't need to worry that this is also the kind of show that delights in ripping viewers hearts out by killing everybody off - only one character anybody is likely to care about dies.

Rin's final time on a RideBack is lovely, if not quite believable as an actual fight. The Fuego's revival and Rin's ability to go up against that many opponents at once are all unrealistic, intended to provide some good visuals and fit the whole "memorial ballet" aspect...and it totally worked on me. I didn't care that it was unrealistic. All I cared about was that, after having to put up with several episodes worth of a bunch of military types trying to arrange for each others' deaths, I was finally getting to see what I really loved about the show again: Rin being awesome on a RideBack.

This show doesn't have some of the things that usually attract me to a series. There is no romance. There's not much in the way of hot guy characters, unless you count Kiefer (which I kind of do, despite the fact that he is intense, scary, and filled with a love for doing battle while on a RideBack). All of that is okay, because I could watch Rin on her Fuego for ages.

The emotional impact of it all was, for the most part, pretty good, even though many of the characters could have benefited from a bit more development. Also, while I understood the whole "I'm going to quit RideBacks" bit, it didn't sit well with me, because it relied so much on Rin placing the blame for every bad thing on her own shoulders. She didn't just blame some things on herself...she blamed practically everything on herself, which I thought was a bit much. For instance, what happened to her brother was his own fault and, had she not interfered, his idiocy would have gotten him killed.

Overall, I thought this show was pretty decent and accomplished quite a bit in only 12 episodes. I was a little disappointed that the show didn't focus entirely on Rin and her Fuego, but that didn't mean I found the parts about the GGP, revenge-driven Kiefer, and serious, battle-weary Okakura to be bad, just less interesting. I could probably be enticed into buying this if I ever found it being sold for $20 or less, but it's not currently at the top of my "To Buy" list. If I ever do get this, that would make it the first mecha series in my collection - heck, I don't even own Big O.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • The Vision of Escaflowne (anime TV series) - Another series with a female main character and a mecha. It's been a long time since I've seen this one, but I remember this being another mecha anime that pleasantly surprised me. This series mixes fantasy, mecha, and some elements more commonly found in shojo anime (like a bit of romance).
  • Oh My Goddess! (manga) by Kosuke Fujishima; Ah My Goddess! (anime TV series) - Another series with a university engineering club, this one focusing on motorcycles. Okay, so the club isn't a huge part of the series, but it does turn up a lot. The series is about a college student named Keiichi, who accidentally calls the Goddess Help Line. When a goddess named Belldandy arrives to grant his wish, he wishes for her to be his girlfriend forever. Yeah, I know it sounds terrible, but the series actually manages to come across as rather sweet.
  • Transformers (live action movie) - Watching the RideBacks shift from standing mode to spread legs form (in which they look like motorcycles with arms), I was reminded of this movie. If you can stand Megan Fox, you might like this movie about a boy and his machine from outer space.
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (anime TV series) - If you liked the mechas, political stuff, and tragedy, you might like this series. The Empire of Britannia invaded Japan with giant robot weapons. Years later, Lelouch, a Britannian who had been living in Japan at the time of the invasion, gains amazing and terrifying powers that allow him to lead a rebellion against Britannia. I've only seen a few episodes of this, but I've seen enough to be able to say that this series has a lot of fantastic, messed up, and riveting things going on.
  • Dragonsong (book) by Anne McCaffrey - If you'd like something else in which a girl finds her dreams crushed, only to end up doing awesome things others only wish they could do, you might want to try this. Menolly wants nothing more than to become a Bard, but that dream seems impossible when her father arranges for her to receive sub-par healing after a bad hand injury. After running away, Menolly accidentally bonds with an unheard-of nine fire-lizards. Although I suppose this could be called soft sci-fi, it reads more like fantasy. Don't let that scare you off, though - if you rooted for Rin, you'll probably want to root for Menolly, too.

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