Set in the not-too-distant future, ex-ballet dancer Rin Ogata struggles to find an identity for herself in a world run by an organisation called the GGP. As she starts college, she encounters the Rideback club, a group of enthusiasts who race and maintain transformable mecha that resemble motorbikes with arms. Could this be the outlet she's been looking for? And what's the real history of the Rideback anyway?
Ah, Madhouse... is there any daft idea you can't turn into an achingly cool production? From the almost Knightrider inspired opening beats of the intro, Rideback is just a tour-de-force in style. It combines ballet and mecha in the most bizarre way, but does so with enough passion and grace as to make it seem completely natural.
It helps that the script is nicely paced and actually has a payoff after only 12 episodes. The cast is kept small, and is all the better for it - the Rideback club providing the sort of everyday backdrop that's fun to relate to, with shadowy figures always on the horizon to add an element of ever-present danger.
The soundtrack is great too - it's never intrusive, but always adds to each scene whether it be pathos or Hollywood-style action.
The visuals are very crisp, and it's a shame that we only have the DVD to work with in the UK (the Blu Ray is available in the US). Colours are beautiful and at times the detail is just stunning, but even on DVD the series can be appreciated as a lovely piece of work.
It's the visual direction that gives the series a solid punch though. The opening episode, showing a narrated ballet scene, is as graceful in shot as it is in form - the camera swoops around a dancing Rin and captures all the beauty of the moment, before casting her aside as she injures herself, really capturing the crushing feeling of having her dreams snatched away from her.
The series works as a slice-of-life, but unusually there's no male lead for Rin to fall for. There are some touchingly romantic scenes between 2 other characters, but otherwise this is entirely about Rin's struggle in a world turned upside down by politics.
What makes Rideback work (where it really shouldn't) is in the everyday space it occupies. Even under a new military regime, the world continues to turn as normal, and the events of the tale are very much the ordinary meeting the extraordinary and how those involved cope with the fallout. It's entirely believable within it's own worldview, and that lends it a weight that few other anime manage.
The English dub isn't bad - the cast match the character designs pretty well, and despite the odd squeaky performance (Rin-fan Suzuri is the main culprit here) there's nothing to take away from the drama if you choose to forego the original language.
Rideback is an all-too short treat from Manga Entertainment, and should be embraced for its strong female leads, excellent direction and intelligent pacing. The fact that motorbikes with arms jump off bridges doesn't hurt it either.