What They Say:
Based on a popular Japanese arcade game, RIO: Rainbow Gate is set at a big gambling casino on a lavish island resort and follows the exploits of Rio Rollins, a dealer nicknamed The Goddess of Victory, who brings exceptional luck to gamblers with her magical presence. As a ‘Gate Holder’, Rio holds one of 13 mystical cards and must periodically engage in a series of extreme competitions, called Gate Battles, against other Gate Holders to compete for the title of most valuable casino dealer. The show is filled with colorful characters, wild costumes, and exotic settings.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in stereo along with the at the time newly created English language dub. Both are at a hard 1.5mbps PCM encoding and that gives us a great uncompressed listen to both mixes. The show works a good stereo design where the bulk of the dialogue is center channel based but with enough directionality and placement to give it a little more life. The bigger action elements have some fun moments where it goes a bit bigger and more creative across the forward soundstage but it also leans into a fuller feeling in general. The music is where things stand out a bit more as there are some good clarity and warmth to it all that hits the engagement level right. Dialogue for both tracks is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this TV Series and OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The fourteen episodes are split evenly across two discs here with plenty of room to work with. Animated by Xebec, the BD-R encoding here is pretty solid as the bulk of it looks really good. Character details hold up solidly, backgrounds with a lot of things in them are spot on, and the more fluid scenes of animation definitely look great. You do get some areas where solid color fields don’t hold up as well, such as some of the green backgrounds in the closing sequence or the red floors of the casino from time to time, but they’re animated with a particular style to them that complicates things. It’s not hugely noticeable but it’ll catch the eyes of some. The bulk of the show and especially the character material looks great and the bulk of the backgrounds are clean and problem free.
The packaging for this release is pretty mice as we get the main visual of Rio in her dealers outfit that plays up the fanservice nicely as she flips the cards through her fingers. It’s bright and colorful even with the black aspects of it and having it set against the white background with the rainbow shadowed version of her just gives it an extra bit of oomph. It’s a bit busy with the text going in a few different directions combined with the rainbow color of it as well but as a whole, it’s pretty appealing and it definitely stands out and catches your attention. The back cover is really, really, really, busy with a cast shot along the top while there’s a small block in the middle that breaks down the premise, episode count, and some production credits. Outside of the technical grid at the bottom, the rest is given over to about a dozen small shots from the show, which is just an overload of color and design work. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this is really nicely done as the background for both discs features a checkerboard pattern with the various suit symbols lightly against them. It sets the right tone and the color layout as it shifts across works well. The right side has the colorful logo with the navigation below it, which is straightforward, while the left side features the character artwork that changes up between discs. They’re well-detailed and colorful, making for a very appealing look overall and sets the mood just right. The menu navigation is decent though because it’s a BD-R there are no pop-up menus during playback. The episode selection is a little old school clunky as well as each episode has its own “page” you can move through with chapter selection in each one instead of the current standard of simply episode selection. The menus definitely look good and are easy on the eyes if you have them on for a bit.
With her origins in the Dead or Alive franchise which spawned quite a few different games over the years, the character of Rio from that series serves as inspiration for this series. The show debuted as part of the winter 2011 season and was met with generally universal scorn, which I thought was amusing because we had an absolutely silly and fun show to enjoy here. This series is focused on the world of gambling and the like.. Sometimes a show can pull it all off by style itself and with Xebec being behind the animation, well, they made it a lot of fun to watch just for the visuals and color design. It doesn’t live or die by its fanservice but rather by how much fun it actually seems to be having. And it does enjoy what it is a lot, though not without the usual turns toward the serious.
The series opens with the Howard Resort where a young girl named Mint has just arrived with her grandfather who is quite wealthy. Mint is your typical adorable little girl who runs around a casino with her teddy bear and manages to get closer to the floor than you’d think would be allowed. Her interest in the place is generally high but even more so when the crowd goes wild over the arrival of Rio, the apparent goddess of victory whose touch can give you the edge with whatever game you’re playing. It’s an amusing sequence as she walks on through the main floor and pretty much everyone wins what they’re playing as she goes by. Mint’s even more intrigued by her because of it but because of her height, she can’t get close enough to actually see her clearly. The two do make a connection though, which is reinforced when Rio arrives at Mint’s grandfather’s behest later on in a special little maid-style outfit.
The opening episode doesn’t exactly stretch itself as we see early on that there’s someone out there that has an eye on Mint’s bear and intends to acquire it through rather unsavory means, which in turn has Rio going up against him in a game of poker to get it back. You can get the feeling that the show is going to be rather light in that regard as it’s trying to have fun and leave you with a smile on your face. It does turn serious when it deals with the arrival of Orlin who wants the bear but that’s generated more by the change in the music which alters the mood more than anything else. It still has this sense of fun about it as Rio offers to play the game against him over it and he finds himself unable to turn away from it, especially since Mint offers Rio’s naked body as a prize. That turns the whole thing into a huge spectacle.
The early episodes up through the first half or so are pretty fun in a kind of wacky way. Rio’s luck isn’t so strong at times, such as when she’s found herself having to train a new dealer, a young and inexperienced woman named Ania Helsing. With Rio not wanting to do anything but be a dealer, she’s nudged into training Ania which isn’t exactly what she wants to do either but finds herself with little choice. What this segment does is introduce us to the new girl but also to something bigger in the series as we learn that there are thirteen specialty cards in the world from the dealers association called gate cards. They’re exclusive and rare with a good deal of meaning to it for those that are dealers. Rio’s earned one and has it kept in her room in quite the attractive container as it symbolizes just how skilled she is as a dealer and it has some special memories of its own for her.
Ania is, in general, a total disaster as she causes quite a few accidents along the way but her arrival is at the same time that another dealer has graced the Howard Resort with his presence. Elvis is quite the dealer himself and he’s also a gate card holder like Rio. He’s the flashy and stylish type with lots of women on his arms as he strolls through the casino floor with confidence. And that confidence has him there to challenge Rio outright for her gate card, which gets everyone excited since gate battles are apparently quite special. And the Howard Resort owner is only all too happy to promote it, which means a big stage, lots of scantily clad girls and an epic duel of luck between the two with a game of roulette.
The Howard Resort certainly knows how to hire its dealers as the arrival of Rina brings a bit more of a buxom hourglass beauty to the show. With the show being more aimed at guys, which means we get hardly anything with male dealers, building up the harem-style cast without any actual male lead to focus on is actually a welcome little trick. The focus on Rio and her life as an expert deal with seeming goddess like abilities, and the proof to back it up with the special cards that she has, allows things to have a very different feeling. The show continues to have a sense of fun about it and the addition of more characters has not harmed it so far.
With Rio and Rina being childhood friends that have been separated for awhile, putting them together as Rina gets acquainted with the place works nicely as we can see there’s not exactly tension or jealousy between them, but a little sense of unease from Rio’s part because of the way Rina talks and nudges things in certain directions. It’s all pleasant and friendly, but it has a little undercurrent of distrust in there as well. The show does play things up a bit as it progresses in the first half with a gambler that tries to challenge Rio, which lets Rina get a look at how Rio operates but also the general nature of the Resort. It’s sadly a bit over the top, similar to what we saw previously with the dealer that came to challenge Rio, so it’s not all that surprising.
Where the show goes after this isn’t a surprise either, but it makes sense considering what we’ve seen of the resort owner at this point. In an effort to make a really popular attraction, he whisks away both Rio and Rina to a large scale event where the two have to face off against each other in a game of skeet shooting. Where things get really interesting for the audience is that when the shooter misses a target, a piece of their clothing gets loose and falls away. So the one who does the worst will end up naked in front of everyone. Pitting Rina and Rio against each other in cowgirl outfits really sets things just right and with it being a show that deals well with fanservice, you know that they have to rig it a bit with a lot of wind and skimpy outfits. The competition is certainly cute and doesn’t diverge much from how the series has handled things from the start.
As the series progresses, we’ve seen a few gate battles so far and they’ve been fun to mildly interesting at best since a lot depends on who all is involved and the level of the bet. With the sixth episode of Rio, Cartia is making her play to really build up her casino empire that’s in competition with the Howard Resort by challenging him to a gate battle with his resort as the collateral for it. It’s a risky bet to be sure, which makes it potentially all the more exciting, and Howard looks at it as a way to really promote the Sky Resort with something as big as this. It’s all a challenge designed to stick it to Howard but also to get a shot at Rio since she’s gaining in stature even more after the recent gate battles and her card acquisitions.
The match has an interesting angle to it in that Cartia has her player, someone named Jack, who will go against Rio and she doesn’t get to know what he looks like or who he really is until the match itself. It’s a nice bit of psychological pressure since she can’t be certain who all is watching her at any point that may be playing games with her mind prior to it. Thankfully, she does get help from her friends, Rina in particular who reinforces their childhood friendship, while Mint thinks she has a clue who Jack may be as she follows a man in a purple kimono that strikes her as odd. It’s too obvious, which is why the person she runs into in the middle of this little adventure turns out to be the real Jack that Rio will go up against.
What we get from here are more distinct battles that carry on and keeps the show focused on some of the darker elements with it leaning into character work a bit more and a kind of grim feeling that permeates it, which is unfortunate because the lighter touch early on made the show so enjoyable and engaging. With some of the battles playing out, we get things going to a point where after a battle with Vartia and the loss of the Howard Resorts, Rio has holed herself up and taking all the blame for things. Howard himself is working up all the legal angles he can, at least in the background, since he’s spending his time fishing with a few others outside and looking rather longingly at his old resort. The girls, in general, are a bit somber about things but they’re doing the best to carry on while being concerned for Rio. Rio for her part is trying to come out of things with a little help from the kids who are trying to cheer her up and get her back on track.
While things have changed hands in the larger picture, the resorts basically carry on as they always have as there are many people coming through to gamble, see shows and have fun. And enjoy the ladies who work there. But there’s a different air about it for some of them as they feel like something is missing even as they do keep winning and working through the tables. The lack of Rio in their lives, her Goddess of Victory nature that elevated it all to a new level, is something that a lot of people won’t notice in the end, but the key players will and their presence or lack thereof can really change the flow and feel of a place like this.
Because of all that has happened, Rio’s simply lost her touch at this point, though all the girls and some of the players try to help her along again. What makes it hard for her is that she’s lost her confidence in general and building that up through dealing can be a cagey issue since the players want to win, but they want her back as well. It gets kind of comical along the way with how some of the guys are with it, but there’s a serious turn it takes with Rosa being possessed that adds a little more menace to it. It’s hard to see it too much that way when you have several bunny girls standing around her looking all cute and adorable as well. It’s all given a more straightforward goal from what she says, but it’s just another element to getting Rio back to the kind of bouncy, fun and outgoing girl she was at the start of the series.
With only a couple of episodes left, the series is ready to start taking proper shape with what’s at stake. With Cartia pulling the strings and a definite past involved between all of them with Rina involved, the idea that the two must battle in order to be something called the MVCD comes to the surface. As Howard points out, Rio has only one gate card at this point while Rina has eleven, but it’s enough to challenge her and to protect her mothers legacy, something that Rina is intent on destroying and surpassing. With a somewhat clear purpose at hand, Rio definitely comes across much more energized and outgoing, which does lead to an amusing and fun match she plays against Dana briefly here which is very reminiscent of how the show was at the start, just with a bit more danger to it.
There’s something to be said about a group of lucky ladies heading into a casino, all dolled up and looking great, scoring huge wins very easily and doing it with style. Having the sizable group of women that the series has brought together so far coming to Cartia’s resort and casino and working through the floor with their various games of choice is a fun opening moment, especially after the show has been so focused on darker and more emotional issues for the last few episodes. Having them riding through the casino on a cart filled with buckets and buckets of money is certainly humorous and reminds you of the charm of the characters and the show itself from early on. With their intent on taking the winnings and buying back pieces of what was lost, they’re making some good progress here and enjoying every minute of it.
While we get a lot of different things playing out, the stronger focus really is on Rio figuring out who she is and coming to grips with the how Rina admits she knows exactly what kinds of lies Cartia’s been telling her. Often you wonder how a character can be so stupid so as to not understand these things, but Rina knows it and understands it, but uses it as the reason for getting back on track with her life and simply following the course that she’s on. She’s not slavishly following Cartia because she believes the lies she’s being told, rather she’s following Cartia because the lie gives her something to believe in and use as motivation for moving forward with her life. It’s not an easy thing for Howard to understand when he gets it, but it does change the perception of Rina just a little bit more from how she started off and why she’s going through with events as they are.
The series has built a decent subplot to carry through the episodes that weren’t exactly clear at first but became clearer as time went on with the girls and their mother and all the issues involved with it. Bringing that in to the finale, as the two young woman play against each other when it comes to luck, having her appear before them in the special space that exists for them attempts to build a decent little heartwarming moment that does largely work with the way the show takes itself only a little seriously at times. With the storyline having dealt with the problems the sisters have with each other, or mostly just with what Rina is dealing with when it comes to Rio, having their younger selves put both of them in their places in front of their mother is quite appropriate. And that it all leads towards them playing a hard-fought game against each other only amplifies it.
There is a certain magical element to the show that has been there from the start but it goes a little further this time, almost providing us with an authentic magical girl moment that makes you grin. While it does take the show a bit further than you would have guessed from the first couple of episodes, it’s that kind of go-anywhere mentality to the show that allowed it to work so well early on because you couldn’t be sure what it would do, though it was largely grounded in reality. I’m somewhat ambivalent about some of the places the show went at times, and this definitely falls into it as well, but for the most part, it’s something that’s kind of silly, plenty goofy and yet it fits in with how good-natured Rio’s personality is and what she wants to achieve.
A huge strength of the show really comes down to the animation and character design quality. Xebec has been a growing favorite of mine in this area and Rio: Rainbow Gate doesn’t disappoint. With the resort locale for this episode, we get lots of beach scenes early on and some really nice casino material that includes bunny girls and the like who are waitresses there. Rio, in particular, shines well and she goes through multiple clothing changes in the opening episode alone, which is a really welcome thing since many series keep people in the same outfits for the entire run. She’s definitely got her normal outfit, but she’s not restricted to just that. And even better, Rio’s gameplay has a really neat animation style to it that utilizes mathematics, color, and symbols in order to make it all work. It’s a very stylish way of handling something like card play, which you can’t do in an exciting way in anime form otherwise. As much as I love the Bond Casino Royale card game material, that wouldn’t work here. Xebec has nailed it.
It’s been a few years since I saw this originally but a lot of the same feelings are still essentially there. This is a series that screamed that it must be hated from the start, but it had the right level of goofiness and fun to it for the most part that it was a show I looked forward to enjoying every week. It does have a larger storyline to it and that kind of hampered things in the second half at times which is more apparent here as it turns the show too serious, but when it right its course towards the end, it started to hit all the right marks again. This isn’t fine cinema, it’s just simple, fun entertainment with no real value to it that I’m glad folks got exposed to thanks to the creation of an enjoyable dub and getting a mostly solid Blu-ray release.
Empty calories with a delicious taste.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: May 2nd, 2017
Running Time: 333 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.