Monday, January 24, 2011

:anime: Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month:: RideBack


Official Sites: English
Additional Links: Tokyo MX Page, ANN Entry
Video [Free]: FUNimation Videos, Hulu, Anime News Network

Last month, I recommended Highschool of the Dead (which was also reviewed last week), Madhouse's adaptation of the manga which prominently featured two subjects not normally (if, really, ever) covered by the studio: zombie horror and heavy fanservice. It was a stark departure for them, even with the sheer number of works they have produced that spread across the spectrum, but it was not the only uncharacteristic title they made of recent. In the prior year, RideBack debuted in January 2009, representing Madhouse's first real mecha-centric work in their near 40-year history. While the subject of robots, in general, is not foreign to the studio (Metropolis, Battle Angel/GUNNM, Chobits), a production with people piloting mecha is not something they have done before (Patlabor WXIII notwithstanding, which more of an investigative drama and bereft of mecha action until briefly at the end). But at the same time, RideBack is not your typical mecha show…

Rin Ogata was once an aspiring ballerina, a gifted talent born in the shadow of her famous mother. However, an injury during a performance causes her to end to her career. Now in college, Rin catches sight of someone operating a RideBack--a transforming motorcycle robot-- in the driving rain, and as she seeks shelter in the nearby garage it came out of, she sees a red model that piques her interests. A member of the school's RideBack Club there offers her a try on it, and despite a raucous time controlling it, she finds herself enraptured by the experience, as if she was dancing again. Soon, she joins the club and begins participating in racing competitions. However, with a military organization taking control over of the world, including Japan, Rin will also soon become the unwitting center of a maelstrom of political upheaval and unrest…

Having robotic motorcycles (think Segways, but with arms, more speed & power, and 1000x cooler) and a story that is more political intrigue than Gundam-esque robot drama may not sound like your average mecha show (and the mecha are atypical enough), but RideBack manages to instill plenty of great, well-choreographed action sequences, suspense, and a compelling--and, at times, poignant--storyline into its rather unique tale, which blends together better than its disparate pieces may suggest. The characters and their development are also quite good, but Rin herself is perhaps the best. Skilled she may be, she's also down-to-earth and a strong female character in her own right, making her one of the most likable and relatable ones in the show (and one of the most unheralded females characters of recent).

The direction on the show by first-time series helmer Atsushi Takahashi is also very good, and while RideBack is not perfect or completely smooth, there certainly is not a lack of effort or heart behind it, either. The production values run on the high side for the most part, with some good CGI in the mix and an attention to speed and movement, to boot. As such, the CG RideBacks mesh well with the style and quality of the animation and the designs of the characters, which lean on the simplistic and aberrant side (by way of the source manga), but still work pretty well. In addition, first-time anime composer Takafumi Wada turns in a befitting, though not wholly standout, score (in a bit of irony, he would later compose the score for HOTD).

Its unusual story--by mecha and other standards--may not be to everyone's liking, but RideBack, like most other FUNimation titles, is available in its entirety for free online at the distributor's video site, Hulu, and Anime News Network in Japanese with English subtitles, so try giving it a look-see…

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