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RideBack Complete Series Anime DVD Review

7 min read

Rideback went in an obvious direction when I was hoping for something different; it doesn’t change the fact that it is still really good.

What They Say:
After an injury forces Rin to trade her stage career for college life, she finds new thrills as a member of the RideBack Club. When she discovers an unusual connection with one machine in particular – Fuego – she is forced into the middle of a revolution. The tyrannical new government rules with an iron fist, and Rin is reluctant to take them on. But as her dearest friends suffer and the insurgency struggles to topple the increasingly powerful regime, Rin may have no choice but to gun Fuego’s engines and speed directly into the heart of the fight for freedom.

Please Note: This is a look at the DVDs that came from the DVD/BD combo set. We review the DVDs separately through a different reviewer to provide an alternate take on the content and how the DVD design holds up.

The Review:
For this viewing, I listened to the English 5.1 dub. The Japanese track is available in 2.0. The sound was clear with no dropout on any of the tracks. Dialogue stayed on the center channel, but there was a nice amount of directionality in the special effects, which is important in an action title like this. Really nice job.

Offered in 16:9 aspect ratio, the video also looks good. The art is nothing special, but it is clean and distinct. I did like the character designs because they were a little more realistic than typical anime characters, and it made for a look that stands out from most titles. More importantly, there were no serious technical issues that I detected.

This is the DVD portion of a combo BD/DVD release. Packaging details are available in the BD review.

Typical of Funamation sets, the menus are basic. There is a static picture taking up most of the screen (Fuego on disc one, Rin on top of Fuego on disc 2). The selections are offered in white on a red bar along the left side of the screen. The selection highlight is yellow, which is close enough to white that it could be hard to see on lesser setups, but in general it is fine.

There are not many extras on this release, but we do get two commentaries (Episodes 4 & 10) which are always enjoyable. Otherwise, all there is are clean versions of the openings and closings. Still, it’s hard to argue with commentaries.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Rideback is a title I took a complete flyer on. I hadn’t even heard of it when it came up for review, but it sounded like it could be interesting, so I took a shot. And man am I glad that I did as it was surprisingly deep, and managed to find a nice balance of peaceful self-actualization in the midst of the chaos of war. Sure, it got a little cheesy sometimes and the whole thing was a bit predictable, but as a relatively lightweight feel-good story, it is one of my recent favorites.

Rin Ogata thought she had it all. As the daughter of Japan’s top ballet-dancer, she was slated to follow in her mother’s footsteps and be one of the most beloved people in the country. But a freak leg injury ended her career before it really had a chance to take off, and now she has to find a new life.

That life comes in the form of the Ridebacks, a vehicle that seems to be part-motorcycle, part-robot. One day she stumbles upon the garage for the Rideback Club at her college and at the urging of one of the mechanics, she climbs aboard one and almost immediately falls in love with the sensation. Her training as a ballet dancer makes her a natural at the balance based control schemes, and she quickly becomes one of the best riders in the club, even going so far as to put in a good performance in the national championship race in her first attempt.

But like the motorcycles they are based on, Ridebacks have inspired a number of Rideback gangs, and terrorist groups using them for their own purposes. During a terrorist attack on a major shopping center, Shoko, Rin’s oldest friend, is held captive; with the help of her Rideback, Rin manages to break through the military blockade to get in and out of the terrorist zone to rescue her friend, inadvertently becoming an inspiration to the malcontents looking to disrupt the increasing militarization of the Japanese government. And when an overly ambitious military colonel gets his own Rideback unit approved for terrorism suppression, Rin is inevitably drawn into the conflict.

Rideback was a title where I went through three phases of enjoyment while watching it. The first phase lasted a couple episodes while Rin adapted to her new life and learned everything she could about Ridebacks, the second lasted for a while after she started getting caught up in the possible overthrow of the Japanese government, and the third was ultimately my acceptance of where the story was going.

I loved the early stages of Rideback, as it looked as if it was going to be a story about Rin learning to find a new passion in life. Though Ridebacks really only exist in science fiction, there was something very slice-of-lifey about the way it all worked out. As this was a theme that was woven into the larger context of the protests and revolts, it was something that I came to accept and love again later on in the series.

If you couldn’t tell already, I went through a period of disappointment with Rideback when the story shifted to the protests and the scheming of the colonel. Frankly, as an anime, it was an obvious turn of events. Anime never seems to be satisfied to leave things well-enough alone. I was far more interested in Rin’s personal and spiritual journey than I was any of the political and military nonsense that was going on around her, and after we opened up with a few episodes centered entirely around Rin’s awakening as a Rideback pilot, I really hoped that’s where this title was going.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the revolution plotline wasn’t well done because it certainly was. There was a decent amount of intrigue in there, especially as the events unfolded and we learned just how many people were involved in everything that was going on. It may have been a bit predictable at times, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. It is just that isn’t what I wanted out of Rideback.

But after a while, I realized that even with all of the fighting going on around her, Rin’s search for a new identity was still the central goal of the entire series. They moved away from it through portions of the middle, but it definitely became important later in the series, and I was glad for that. Because of her inner struggle, Rin was such an interesting protagonist. She came from money, has always been well liked, and has always done well at whatever she has put her mind to, but with the loss of dancing, she feels lost for the first time in her life. She has to come to grips with that, and with what exactly it was that she wants to be, and until she solves those issues, she cannot move on. And as I said, it is so well done, that I was left frustrated whenever it looked as if the focus was moving away from that.

What is interesting is that because her internal search for self-acceptance is the major goal of Rideback, there is sort of a serene, light-hearted overtone to the series, despite all of the violence and war that goes on around her for large parts of the story. There are plenty of opportunities for this series to descend into some really dark territory, such as when Shoko retreats within herself for a while after the terrorist ordeal, but it never sticks. Even when one of the main secondary characters is killed in a fairly brutal way, it does not seem as crushing as it might in other, darker series. There is too much friendship and camaraderie among Rin and her friends for this not to have pleasant overtones.

It was this dichotomy that made me realize that I had been watching Rideback wrong the whole time, and that what I was looking for was really still there. It isn’t Colonel Karenbach nor terrorist leader Keifer that are the enemies, it is Rin’s own doubt; and the moment she puts it all together in her own head, everything else just falls into place.

In Summary:
Rideback was a series that surprised me. With a solid story of a girl’s coming-of-age and self-awareness, there are some very definite slice-of-life qualities to it, though I would not characterize it as such. I would have been happier if they had told Rin’s story without falling back on the stereotypical government corruption/scheming/revolution sub-plot, but it is still well done even with my own hangups. This was just pure joy to watch, and it’ll be one that I return to frequently. Highly recommended.

Episode 4 Commentary, Episode 10 Commentary, Trailers

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: June 29, 2011
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System

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