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"RideBack" Complete Series: Pick a Lane and Stick With it!

by on August 2, 2011

I can’t say I have ever heard of a story about a ballerina who turns into a mecha pilot. I’m always asking for anime to try new things, so right from the start I was pulled into Rideback by its new-to-me concept. Unfortunately, having a good concept does not automatically mean a series will be great. This one is a mixed bag of positives and negatives, ultimately failing to deliver a concrete story due to its inability to stick with one idea.

After suffering a major injury, ballerina Rin Ogata decides to stop dancing and attend college. While trying to find her motivation and place within the school she stumbles upon a group that rides machines known as Ridebacks (which are basically humanoid motorcycles). After being asked if she would like to give one a test drive, Rin discovers that she is a natural on the machine and feels an adrenaline rush like she has never experienced before. When Rin’s childhood friend is held hostage in a terrorist attack, Rin goes in to save her. Though she succeeds, Rin is subsequently named a terrorist herself and then gets caught between two armies fighting for a different future. Rin must decide whether to stand her ground and fight for what she believes is right, or get out while she can.

RideBack’s main problem is that it is way too short (only 12 episodes) for what it tries to do with its story. The small episode count results in the show having a lot of information per episode, quick plot transitions, and an ending that is both abrupt and lackluster. In other words, RideBack is far too ambitious for its own good. The racing and riding aspect of the show is where RideBack shines the most, and because of that the first half of the series is much better than the second half. But there is so much of the actual racing world that is never explored, and it’s a letdown that the viewer is given only one race before the series ends. It would have been nice for Rin to train and hone her skills and participate in multiple races. Instead RideBack just jumps from one idea to the next, never being able to settle and fully develop just one.

The politics and war aspect in the series at first isn’t all that bad. When Rin goes to save Shoko (her childhood friend) it is easily the most exciting episode of them all—less because of the situation than because it is awesome to see Rin ride in and get through it all. But then the series gets entrenched in the politics and it becomes a headache having to sort whose side everyone is on. It doesn’t help that for a time Rin is completely without a RideBack, making things a bit dull. Despite starting off with a fresh idea, the political messages in RideBack have been done time and time again (peace can be obtained only by sacrificing freedom). It doesn’t help that they have been developed much better. My biggest grievance about RideBack is the ending, which comes too quickly and feels far too clean. When introducing large political messages and wars they need to be treated as such: with power and impact.

A strong protagonist can go a long way for any show or movie, and RideBack benefits from the fact that Rin Ogata more or less carries the series and keeps the viewer interested. Maybe it is her innocent, yet confident personality. Maybe it is the way the series is really all about Rin discovering herself. Maybe it is the sheer thrill she gets from riding Fuego (her RideBack).

Or maybe it is just because everyone else is so lame. Most of the characters are underdeveloped and contribute little to the plot, acting as mere cheerleaders or commentators most of the time. The antagonists are fairly one-note and predictable, so it is difficult to find them menacing. Again, it would have been best for RideBack to stick with racing and riding, perhaps developing rival teams and focusing on Rin finding her place in society through that. Instead, her development has to come through war and desperation. I will say though that there are some dark and shocking moments that I did not expect to happen, especially towards the end with one particular character.

The technical aspects are the real prize of the show. I don’t claim to be an expert on animation, but I have to say that RideBack is definitely gorgeous, very pleasing to the eye. This is particularly welcomed when Rin and others are riding so quickly, making quick transitions and jumps. In some shows the animation dips during such moments, but in RideBack the animation maintains its quality and gives the show an edge that makes it entertaining to watch. The music is also very aesthetically pleasing, and very calming at the time. It is an odd thing to hear mecha-racing and -battling but infused with ballet music, but it is a pleasant surprise to say the least. Included in the extras are commentaries for episodes four and ten. They aren’t as bad as most FUNimation commentaries, but they still are too self-congratulatory for my liking. That is a bit of a letdown but (unfortunately) somewhat expected at this point.

What starts out as a lot of fun quickly becomes sour by the end. It is especially disappointing when it comes down to a thing like not having enough time. To be fair, though, it is hard to say whether or not more episodes would have saved RideBack. It goes off in a direction that never seems to fit the atmosphere the show starts off developing. Some concepts just aren’t meant for a darker and politically bloated plot. While it has at least a few relatively important positives, RideBack is not a complete failure, just a fairly large letdown.

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