Aired in 2009, released in the UK in 2011
12 Episode series
Age Rating 12
Let me tell from you from the start that from the opening scene to the opening theme sequence to the end of each episode and the ending itself of this I was blown away with the powerful themes and presentation of Rideback. It has both substance and style.
A Dancer Who Finds Her Feet Again Through Technology
Episode One is aptly named ‘The Crimson Iron Horse’ as we are treated to a beautifully and convincingly choreographed scene of ballet, it’s not long but the movements of the ballerinas are perfectly timed with the music and I was as impressed as the audience in the cartoon. Usually this might seem a bit cheesy for an introduction especially to a hard hitting show like this but it consistently proved throughout that it was cleverly considered and the symbolism seamlessly woven through the plot to make its point. Here we have a ballerina who has a very bright future with positive critical reception who suddenly injures herself on stage… ‘And the world changed’.
Even though she isn’t permanently injured and can continue she decides not to as her confidence is shattered and her best laid plans go up in smoke but not being normal means she’ll attract something extraordinary. One day sheltering from the rain she accidentally comes across what looks like a motorcycle club but it’s actually a rideback club and there’s a big difference.
A ‘rideback’ is a transformer like machine that looks and moves like a human being on wheels/skates. It’s just amazing; it moves, takes corners, jumps with acrobatic agility, strength and grace – perfect for a dancer and a high risk dancer at that. Ridebacks aren’t ‘intelligent’ and that may be because they wouldn’t need riders defeating the premise of the show (though making excellent and questionable weapons) but as it is the human rider sits atop and depending on the stance either it seems on the ‘shoulders’ (if its standing) or on the ‘back’ if it’s doing the splits, yep the (front not side/box) splits. It turns out ridebacks are quite common and mostly used for racing in this version of Japan.
Up until this point Rin (the ballerina) had for some reason felt the need to live in her prima ballerina mother’s footsteps and shadow, perhaps it’s because she passed away and Rin felt she needed to take her place but there is no reason given for this feeling of expectation and guilt. Her injury changed all that but now due to a particular rideback called Fuego (‘Fire‘) she has an extension of her body or an alternate version of herself that she can vicariously feel being ‘in the moment’, the adrenaline rush and own personal world of freedom felt by high risk takers who even forget about the audience in the blur of their performance until the cheers/boos start and they realize the impact of their actions. Rin is one of those people who puts in the work but doesn’t truly give it her all or feel alive until push comes to shove/that moment of pressure when you know it’s not tedious rehearsal anymore and Fuego and ‘others’ know it.
The Awful Reality
Nope Rin isn’t one of those high society spies from WWI/WWII but she’s soon on the wrong side of the Powers That Be. In recent years the Japanese government underwent a coup by the Global Government Force (GGF) who put into practice the Global Government Plan (GGP), at first like most anti-establishment groups they seemed different but quickly proved simply to be a regime change and are remarked as part of a New World Order. What they are really interested in is martial law and the ‘war is peace’ mafia security racket mentality. They have internal conflict in that previous allies are now enemies, vice versa and depending on the contract/feel of the times relations are always of the fair-weather kind. Perhaps for the sake of nationalism the current faces in charge are Japanese, portrayed as not in the loop and unfairly treated by an incoming foreign Western branch with corporate interest in weapons and who know no boundaries in getting their way; setting up public events from hostage taking, explosions, murders etc and calling them terrorist attacks carried out by the ‘Borderless Military Alliance’ (BMA). Events which conveniently happen as they’re suggesting new, more aggressive and invasive/restrictive security measures be taken and just happen to be militarizing the police force and ‘luckily’ having their new weapons in place before governmental approval goes public.
How is Rin involved in all this? She’s not but becomes an unwitting symbol of freedom and the people when she uses Fuego to rescue her best friend from a hostage situation – thankfully the media, even the mass media seem to be on her side emphasizing that she’s not a terrorist and not on either ‘side’ i.e. the government or the ‘attackers’ but that doesn’t stop her being caught in the middle and blamed. Especially when her younger brother and his friends are hired and supplied with the means to cause a public ruckus/scare only to be slaughtered by the police as part of a “field test” – although she ‘saves’ her brother they are caught, all those involved know they’re innocent but he’s tortured into a false confession and to ‘save’ Rin from going through the same, she’s still put in indefinite detainment without charge or trial as a high security prisoner. These aren’t spoilers as a lot more happens and the connections between characters gets abit complex but I’m just highlighting that this show is a tough, gritty one probably better suited for older watchers and has multiple angles. Death and destruction are a part of the story, wholesale and individual so have some tissues handy if you’re of the sympathetic/empathetic disposition.
So far I’ve mostly talked about Rin, the iconic girl in a flowing White dress almost flying on a Red rideback but all of the main cast have their roles and are engaging. From Fuego who is unlike other ridebacks one of special few who ‘choose’ their riders, to Rin’s friends and peers in and out of the rideback club. There’s a mix of male and female characters, the Captain of the club Tamayo a strong female champion rideback trailblazer to the techie members and then the founder codenamed Goblin who has a very shady past and trying to keep his identity and Fuego on the down low. They strongly support each other and work well as a team.
The government are shown mostly through relatives of Tamayo and then the incoming/overriding military faction’s (Yellow Blonde, Blue eyed) leader and his assistant who see ridebacks as an unpredictable and so far uncontrollable threat but have their own ‘White Riders’ who have a reminiscent quality of ED-209 from Robocop and new&improved automatic bug like version that have even more ways of hurting targets.
The ‘new’ ‘anti-anti-establishment’ being interchangeably referred to by the government as the BMA are really made up of members who have close personal history with the establishment and are mainly personified by their cliché name ‘Black Knights’ i.e. Black clad Black rideback riders and typically mysterious, hypnotic, gorgeous, vengeful, dangerous White haired lieutenant who seems to want Rin as his figurative queen. We don’t learn much else about them/him but it’s obvious they’re very well funded.
There is little fleshing out and development of characters other than Rin and I think the characterization suffered abit from some of the stereotypes and unlikliness of the MSM not taking the government line (though still being cagey) and Tamayo’s family looking clean and ‘nice’ despite their huge wealth, influence and privilege. That said for the plot, themes and length of the series the balance of action and character interplay was well managed. The first episode was devoted to introducing the main protagonists and yet didn’t seem like a waste of time, not much happened in terms of plot movement yet it was important, captivating and thrilling. Things happen fast and furiously after that and yet there are slowed moments in between to concentrate on the character relationships or highlight the nature of human and machine in harmony which are then ironically and poignantly inverted to show how something beautiful can be turned ugly and repulsive with abuse.
The characters are quite archetypal and at times I even wondered if Rin was set up to be this hero as if all the characters are pieces on another bigger, unseen chessboard. Many Japanese (and Canadian) stories show characters who’ve been manipulated on almost all levels to the point of plants in their family, friend, romantic and professional/school relationships and the protagonists usually try to make the best of it and be as true to themselves as possible as it is to be when you’ve been moulded/groomed/’guided’.
Other than the opening sequence which has a separate videogame like style and then the fluid/slick special effects of the ridebacks within the episodes – the animation isn’t anything special but it is modern, crisp and clear. Some characters have distinct appearances but mostly the design and shading are generic. Given that the dubbing was done by Funimation it’s up to their usual high standards, I’m not usually a fan of their dubs because I hear the same voice actors over and over again but here despite the popular vocalists they managed to be inconspicuous and portray the characters rather than themselves.
The score isn’t that noticeable but the opening and closing sequences are well worth noting both for their visuals and music; the former is really driven, digital and catchy showing viewers that it isn’t a ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ show but a unique take on the ‘girls with guns/badass girl’ type as here the character is more classically feminine but still uber cool. The latter adhering to the anti-hero ‘rule’ of showing the main character in a serious, melancholy position with a more traditional tune that is touchingly bittersweet.
There are many animes that tell a story through metaphorical contrast/comparison or even competition e.g. musical, sport, modeling, food making stories that manage to lure and keep the viewer even if they know nothing about the subject and often impart a lot of helpful tips to those who have or develop an interest. Hence this isn’t new in that sense but it continues the method superbly and even triples it by not only contrasting war politics brutality and finesse with arduous yet elegant ballet but combines them using ‘mecha’. Mecha is a very popular type of anime featuring machines and AI robots usually worn/ridden controlled by people, they’re not usually ‘sentient’ but they can be very intuitive and responsive. I’m not the biggest fan of mecha based shows so it takes something special for me to watch a whole series and this has that X-Factor.
In general I’m not a fan of motorised vehicles/transport either, in all my years other than Kit from Knight Rider I can only remember one car I ever thought of as attractive and I can’t even remember the name, that’s how little they mean to me. I acknowledge their importance for travel but I’m primarily a walker and would prefer it if vehicles were powered by Brown’s Gas (the electrolysis of hydrogen and oxygen from water – a technique cheaply, efficiently and most importantly clean energy/technique used already in various industries but has been ignored in favour of fossil fuels, electric and lame hybrid compromises even though new vehicles don’t need to be made for the conversion). I’m extremely proud of the London buses that were redesigned to lower and have ramps for mobility users, accommodate pushchairs and wheelchairs and marginally more comfy seating – if you can get one and not be squashed – but my interest in transport is functional and that’s where it ended, until I saw this. When I saw Fuego I sat up to attention and thought “finally! A vehicle for me!” I also don’t usually use the colloquial term ‘she’ for objects (or places) but goddess she is beautiful.