If you read my review last month of the first three episodes of Atsushi Takahashi‘s teenage mecha series RideBack then you’ll remember that I was pretty impressed with it, especially it’s more mature take on what is quite an established genre. One element that intrigued me was the way the show’s political backdrop was being slowly introduced; news reports and media clips played out in the background, while it’s teenage protagonists seemed blissfully disinterested. Well, you can only ignore global totalitarian regimes – and the inevitable insurgents that spring up in reaction to them – for so long; both have a habit of making you pretty damn aware of them sooner rather than later. And usually not in a good way. It’s certainly fair to say this is true for ex-ballerina Rin Ogata and her college pals by episode 4, when they start to find it pretty hard to ignore those news reports – especially as they’re in some of them.
For a start, when Rin breaks through an army blockade on her RideBack to get her roommate out of a terrorist attack on a shopping mall, she doesn’t just grab the attention of the media, police and the GGP (the aforementioned, shadowy fascistic regime) but also the piqued interest of the so-called terrorists themselves. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; despite pleas from club boss Tenshirō Okakura to keep her head low, things start to take a turn for the even more serious when her kid brother Kenji falls in with a gang of RideBack riders on an Akira style rampage, and she steps in to try and bail him out, not realising that the whole stunt has been a set-up to allow the GGP to publicly show off it’s new (distinctly Patlabor like) police RideBacks. It doesn’t end well, with her arrested and being forced to watch her brother being tortured by GGP secret police. With just that one brief scene, both the tone and focus of the show shifts permanently.
I won’t say too much more – I’m not here to give a you a blow by blow account of what happens in every episode or reveal spoilers – just to say that Rin gets busted out by some new allies, we learn some more about Okakura’s murky background, the GGP flexes it’s military muscle, and Rin decides to never ride a RB again. Well, presumably until another friend or family member is danger again in episode 10, at a guess. We also, unsurprisingly, get to see a lot more of the RideBack’s in action – including combat – as well as learning a little about the software and hardware that makes them work, and why young Rin has such a natural talent for riding the things. While the designs – like the initial premise of the show – seem a little outlandish at first, the way the RBs move and operate is fairly convincing, the whole concept of a mech balancing on two tyres and being controlled by its pilot shifting their weight might might seem harder to swallow if we weren’t all familiar with the sight of a Segway and its advanced balance control systems.
And that’s still RideBack’s biggest win: taking a typically unlikely anime premise and making it believable and compelling. If there’s one concern it’s where exactly does the plot go from here – its only just got into gear, and there’s only three more of it’s initial 12 episode run left. It seems that so much as been started that can’t be finished that quickly – or is Madhouse betting on the series being popular enough to get an extended run, a second series or an OVA? Time will tell. Check back in a few weeks when the season has ended and I’ll be sharing my final impression and concluding thoughts.
(Note: This is the second part of an ongoing review of RideBack. The first part can be read here.)