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Title:
  Rideback The Complete Season

UK Distributor:  Manga Entertainment

BBFC Certificate:  12

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  £24.99

Episodes:  1-13 (of 13)

Audio Options:  English 2.0; Japanese 2.0

Subtitles:  English

Release Date:  31st October 2011

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)
 

Another of Mangaís standalone releases, Rideback is a 13 episode series which follows an ex-ballet dancer who becomes a symbol of resistance against a totalitarian regime by riding a transforming robot motorcycle.  This is why I love anime.

The story starts with Rin Ogata's fall from grace as she suffers an injury that cuts short a promising ballet career.  Listless following her injury and the untimely death of her world-class ballerina mother, Rin's life is turned around when she shelters from the rain in a school garage.  Inside she encounters Haruki Hishida who introduces her to Ridebacks, robotic motorcycles which started as military hardware and have since built up a growing following as racing machines.  The poise and balance she learned from ballet make her a naturally skilled rider, and the intuitive controls of the Fuego machine she rides and its transforming ability enables her to jump and move in a way she hasnít experienced since she quit dancing.  However, the Japan she lives in is not a free one, and the ruling dictatorship has plans to introduce military-style Ridebacks for police use in order to combat terrorists who are launching increasingly high profile attacks.  However, Japanís remaining native politicians worry that the move is the first step to martial law, and Rin becomes embroiled in the controversy when she breaches a police cordon on her Rideback in order to save her friend.  Now wanted by police and the military for her actions, Rin is well over her head and things only get worse when the terrorists take an interest in her too.  All she wants to do is race with her club, but with such powerful forces swirling around her is it possible for things to blow over and return to how they were before?
 

Rideback is one of those series that slipped completely under my radar, despite actually being pretty damn good.  The central premise is one of those random concepts that only seem to exist in anime, but despite seeming slightly ludicrous on paper it actually works really well in practice.  Primarily the series concentrates on the Ridebacks and how they are used, the pacing is well handled and the political situation is introduced relatively slowly to avoid overwhelming the viewer.  The story  is quite well thought out and maintains its

character focus even when the larger plotlines start to close in, and things donít necessarily progress as you may expect.  The effects of military rule on everyday life is treated with subtlety, with life carrying on nearly as normal but with a disturbing lack of accountability for the police and security services and a higher degree of insidious control.  It depicts a world thatís not too far removed from our own, making it slightly more unsettling than it at first appears.

The production values are pretty high too, with the same care and attention given to the sleek lines and technical plausibility of the Ridebacks as to the ballet scenes the series opens with.  In fact the dancing is respectfully and realistically handled as the futuristic technology and riding sequences, allowing the connection between the two which forms the core of the series to really flourish.  The series steers clear of the clichťs and formula which can hinder most school based anime series - such as comic misunderstandings and fanservice - and also doesn't shy away from showing the consequences of Rin's actions.  In places this makes it quite dark, and its at these points when the totalitarian setting really comes through.  Interestingly racing only takes up a short part of the series and soon gets sidelined once the political plotlines kick in, but despite this the Ridebacks and Rin herself remain the main focus of the story, which is quite impressive. 
 

The series does lose a bit of its plausibility as you learn more about the world.  The military takeover seems a bit far-fetched, as is the implication that certain riders can share an almost psychic link with the Ridebacks.  Itís a misstep which leans more towards the kind of thing you get in a giant robot series and seems out of kilter with the more realistic direction the series follows.  There's also the strange fact that despite the focus on the characters and how they react to certain events, Rin is the only one you get to know a great deal about. 

Even as the story progresses and you learn more about the history of Ridebacks and how they were used in the military takeover, it still isn't clear what grudge the leader of the terrorists has against the commander of the military junta in Japan.  Maybe I missed something, but as the focus shifts to the founding of the military rule the story kind of loses its track, and it's only when events focus back on Rin that the series regains its footing.  Despite this the story remains intriguing throughout, and the fact that you want to know more about what's going on when things get a bit messy shows how much the story has drawn you in.

Rideback was a series which seemed like a second tier release, it was delayed from its original release date and slipped out quietly whilst attention was drawn by the likes of Fairy Tail and Redline.  However, it is a classy series which takes a unique premise and runs with it, creating an action-packed and impressively animated tale which is part IGPX and part Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.   The story is strong, even when it loses some of its focus, and the characterisation of Rin and her friends is spot on, even if you don't learn too much about some of them.  Rideback is a self-contained release with a unique premise, impressive visuals, an intriguing story and superb action sequences, for the money it's excellent value and fans of near-future sci-fi like Ghost in the Shell will find plenty to like.  Well worth picking up.

Extras:

Textless opening and closing sequences, and a full commentary of episode 10 which is pretty good stuff, particularly for a lesser known release.  Not bad.

Ratings

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