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RideBack - The Complete Series (2009)
Director: Atsushi Takahashi

review by Sarah Ash

Rin Ogata (Nana Mizuki/ Tia Ballard) has always dreamed of being a world-famous ballerina, like her mother. But a fall during a prestigious performance puts an end to that dream and, once recovered, she goes off to start college with her best friend Shouko (Megumi Toyoguchi/ Kristi Bingham). Caught on campus in a sudden heavy downpour, she takes shelter in a rundown garage/ shed, which turns out to be the home of the college Rideback Club.

Enthusiast Hishida mistakes her for a new member and insists that she take out their latest model of the humanoid motor cycle, the gleaming red Fuego, for a spin. Rin hesitates at first - and then allows herself to be persuaded. "It feels like riding on someone's back," he tells her - and off she goes. Of course, something goes wrong and the machine begins to run away with her, causing the other club members to set off in hot pursuit. Yet a deep connection has formed between Rin and Fuego and - even when hurtling through the air - she rediscovers the joy in movement that gave her life meaning as a dancer.

But all is not well in the Japan of the near-future. An organisation called the GGP has taken over the world. Rin and her newfound friends in the Rideback Club unwittingly find themselves involved as the soldiers of the GGP arrive in Japan, led by Colonel Romanov Kalenback (Shinichiro Miki/ Jason Douglas) with white Ridebacks to keep the peace in a brutal and militaristic fashion.

When anti-GGP terrorists stage a raid in a nearby shopping mall, Shouko is trapped. Rin doesn't hesitate to take Fuego to rescue her friend and fearlessly braves both terrorists and GGP law enforcers to stage a dazzling escape. It's then that she encounters another Rideback rider, a white-haired, scarred man, who tells her, "So Fuego has chosen you."

Captured on television, Rin is identified as one of the terrorists - and is ruthlessly hunted down by the new regime. As her friends try to protect her, she is forced to make some harsh and life-changing choices. One member of the Rideback Club has a dark secret and has been concealing his true identity from the authorities - yet when things look particularly bleak for Rin, he proves to be an unexpected, if laconic, ally. As the GGP become more ruthless in their bid to hunt down the terrorists, old, unresolved enmities resurface and Rin - with her unique relationship with her Rideback Fuego - finds herself at the heart of the conflict.

RideBack: The Complete Series is based on the seinen 10-volume manga of the same name by Tetsuro Kasahara and lasts a mere 12 episodes - and yet these episodes are so tautly and tightly put together that it achieves far more than many other recent series that lasted twice as long. Screenwriter Hideo Takayashiki really knew how to put this show together; with only 12 episodes, he and director Atsushi Takahashi still managed to use all their experience to create likeable, believable characters and sustain a concise, spare plot that moves relentlessly onward to a thrilling and unexpected finale that - unlike so many anime series of late - delivers a satisfying resolution. And the animation - especially of the Rideback sequences and Rin's memories of her life as a dancer - is impressively fluid.

In a year in which we've seen rather too many series released in the UK which depended heavily on fan service at the expense of plot and/ or character development, RideBack (2009) crept quietly onto the UK market late this autumn - and deserves much more acclaim and publicity than other boobs-and-panties-heavy releases. One such series, High School Of The Dead, shares the same composer Takafumi Wada as Rideback and here, as in HOTD, he produces a well-crafted, effective score.

When we first see Rin on stage, she is dancing to The Great Gate At Kiev from Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition (piano version), and Wada uses this theme to depict Rin's psychological journey, creating his own set of variations, and bringing it back in the triumphant original version when Rin finds her self-confidence once more. In the wrong hands, this could have been trite or clumsy, but Wada pulls it off; he also deserves praise for not over-scoring the most dramatic moments.

In Eden Of The East, the power of the cell-phone plays a key role; here, although cell phones are ubiquitous, it's the running commentary provided by the news reportage on TV that acts in some ways like a Greek chorus, communicating the events as they happen to the shocked viewers at home or on the move. There's a subtle use of recurring symbolism in the depiction of falling cherry blossom and snowflakes - and the mystical 'light' that Rin glimpses when dancing on stage or riding Fuego is ominously mirrored by images of moths drawn too close to flickering electric lights.

The US script and English dub from FUNimation complement the original script and voice actors well and Tia Ballard's understated yet sympathetic portrayal of Rin is one of the best performances I've heard in a dub for a long while. And it's good to find an anime series with so many strong, yet believable female protagonists.

Disc extras include commentaries on episodes four and 10, and text-less opening and ending themes.


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