Judge Roman Martel often uses his mecha-tricycle to fight the forces of evil—and catch up with the ice cream truck
Seriously folks, the trailer to Rideback didn't do it any justice.
While reviewing another anime series for Verdict I watched the trailer for this series. It showed a girl riding around on some kind of motorcycle/mecha contraption. The animation looked pretty good, but other than that it didn't make much of an impression.
Once I got Rideback to review I figured it would be about racing, maybe in a Fast and Furious with robots kinda vein. Not even close.
The story starts in the year 2020, with ballerina Rin Ogata (Tia Ballard, Birdy the Mighty) as she takes the stage to perform to Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." We watch as she dances and then just as she's reaching the climax of the piece, she injures her ankle.
Jump forward a few months and Rin is attending university with her best friend Shoko Uemura (Kristi Bingham, Sekirei). Rin's given up on her dreams of becoming a top class ballet dancer like her mother. Instead she's going to settle for just getting through school. But a rainy day changes everything. She dives into a club house on campus to keep dry and meets Haruki Hishida (Micah Solusod, Corpse Princess). He's a member of the Rideback club and enthusiastically manages to get Rin onto one of these motorcycle/robot hybrids.
With the cloud burst over, Rin goes out for a drive and discovers that not only is she naturally adept at operating the Rideback, but that she gets an adrenaline rush from it. It doesn't take long for Rin to join the Rideback club, make new friends and even gain a rival in the form of Tamayo Kataoka (Stephanie Young, Eden of the East).
At this point, you think you've got Rideback figured. Rin's going to make new friends, get involved in a race, prove herself and regain the confidence she lost because of her dancing accident. You'd only be half right. Because simmering under each of the early episodes is a political storm involving an entity called the Global Government Plan or GGP. This group is attempting to take control of Japan using the attacks of the Borderless Military Alliance or BMA as an excuse to assert marshall law.
Things come to a head and Shoko becomes trapped in a building captured by the BMA. Rin races to her best friend's rescue on her Rideback, and manages to appear on television and the internet as "The Rideback Girl." From that moment on, there is no way that Rin is going to escape the notice of the GGP or the BMA.
The conflict between the GGP and the BMA and all the supporting characters we encounter on both sides fuels most of the action in Rideback. It is revealed early on that Ridebacks were originally designed for combat use during the Battle of Arizona. The BMA uses some seriously armored machines with plenty of firepower. The GGP has their own units called the White Riders that are just as deadly. While I wouldn't call Rideback an action packed series, there are a good number of combat scenes involving the Ridebacks and the animation is handled really well. The mechanical design on the Ridebacks is interesting. At first I was skeptical of a motorcycle with arms, but once you see these things in action they look a lot more functional than the similar concept used in Outlaw Star.
But the heart of the story is Rin, and the conflict within her. She's just a decent girl who gets pulled into a whole mess. It puts her friends, family and herself in constant danger. And yet, she loves the thrill of driving the Rideback. There are moments when she achieves a unity with the machine, and during these scenes composer Takafumi Wada uses the Mussorsky piece "The Great Gate of Kiev" mirroring the moment Rin achieves in the first episode. This little tune pops up in numerous forms tying Rin's love of dancing with her love of the Ridebacks. It works exceedingly well and is darn catchy to boot.
By the end of the series things continue getting more dangerous for Rin, no matter how hard she tries to defuse the situations she finds herself in. Once we hit an incident involving her brother, I honestly had no idea where Rideback was going to end up. Tragedy seems to be looming in every corner and Rin's internal conflict shows no sign of resolving.
But luckily, this anime series does provide a solid ending with some great closure. It's a refreshing change of pace to have such a good ending in an anime series, and for that reason alone I can easily recommend it.
Beyond that, there is plenty to enjoy. The animation by studio Madhouse is up to their high standards. The character design is atypical but works great with the more realistic story line. The characters are well rounded. The action scenes are thrilling. There are some humorous parts (especially in the first quarter), but the drama is what drives the story and it's here where the story excels. Up to the task are the English voice actors who do a great job with their roles, especially Tia Ballard who plays Rin.
Funimation presents Rideback with an excellent transfer. Dark scenes looked sharp, and the colors popped during the daytime sequences. The 5.1 sound added a bit of power behind the race and combat scenes. There are two commentary tracks with the English voice actors, both for key episodes in the series. You also get the typical clean opening and ending credits.
Rideback does an excellent balancing act that anime often dares but rarely achieves. It mixes genres to create a unique storytelling experience and reaffirms why I love anime as a medium. Simply put, Rideback is one of the best anime series I've seen this year.
No matter what she may think in the end, both Rin and this series are not guilty.
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