If the world were to change tomorrow, how would people react? What would they do if they were to wake up, only to find the norms they held dear suddenly torn asunder? At one point would one finally lay everything on the line for what is right?
In the near future, the nations of the world are united by the sword. A resistance organization known as the GGP brought the planet’s greatest governments to their knees with the aid of incredible weaponry. New armaments, and vehicles that had never been seen in any conflict helped lead the group from one strategic victory to the next. The heroes from this battle were never seen, though. The media downplayed their deeds, and their names faded into the ether. As the GGP grew, it slowly changed from a band of freedom fighters to a military junta. Their presence in nations was unwelcome, and the masses continued to protest as the new world order stepped into power.
Rin Ogata is but one girl who lives in these tumultuous times. Like her mother, the late, great ballerina Yuki Ogata, Rin is a child that was born for the stage. Her life, her very being comes forth as the spotlight shines upon her. Her flowing movements and peerless grace would have one believe that she will surpass her mother’s lofty reputation.
Unfortunately, fate has a cruel sense of humor. In Rin’s solo debut, her world was shattered, as a bad landing tore her ligament, and rendered Rin unable to dance to her fullest. With few alternatives, she shrank away from the spotlights that she once welcomed, and began to settle into a normal life. Things seemed to go well, at first. The new college semester began and Rin was rooming with her best friend Shoko. Still, something seemed missing. Things begin to change one day, when she happens across a school club servicing a strange machine, known as a Rideback. After a bit of prodding, Rin finds herself on the vehicle, and screaming through the streets. The speed, the agility, the adrenaline rush! Rin’s world was coming alive again! The thrill wouldn’t last, though. The winds of change blow, and Rin soon finds herself ensnared in a government conspiracy. The very Ridebacks that brought her joy will soon take that which she holds most dear.
Rideback’s tale plays much like those found in the ballets that Rin once lived for. What begins as a playful story of hope and finding oneself quickly begins to go wrong. As each episode passes, the tale of the GGP roots itself further into the lives of the cast. Before long, they are fighting for their freedoms, their lives, against the GGP, as the tide turns against the ruling party and ghosts from the past begin to rise from the ashes. The comedy that is prevalent in early installments melts away quickly, to match the increasingly dire situations unfolding in the plot. Seemingly inconsequential glimpses into the GGP quickly turn into moves in a battle of wits and will. As the final episode approaches, everything begins to come together to a truly satisfying conclusion.
The show’s happenings are brought to life by those who inhabit the world. Though the characters in Rideback appear to be little more than caricatures at the outset, they quickly develop their own personalities and motivations. They hold secrets and dreams, fears and hopes that may not always be rational. Through the show, they continue to grow and change, as they find their own niches in the changing world, and they attempt to slow, if not stop the invading influence of the GGP brass.
Much of the show’s mood can be attributed to a single melodic piece. Though the series, a short phrase from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is used to stir the emotions of viewers. At times, it’s a warm, welcoming variation that embraces the joys of life, the fraternity of friends and the freedom a new frontier can bring. Other times, it is a haunting reminder of the cruelty of reality. A majority of the rest of the soundtrack is comprised of forgettable techno riffs that are mainly used to sell the tension of battle or the excitement of Rideback races.
Rideback is a rare treat that explores the human side of science fiction. The plot, while intelligent, never condescends to the viewer, nor do the characters seem to be ripped out of the big book of stereotypes. Instead, they just seem to live, be it through their actions or their words. Political prisoners don’t riot in the streets, they rot in prison and pray that the sun will continue to rise the next day. Likewise, civilians peacefully protest with the hope that their words can stir change, even in the face of armored Ridebacks that could tear them to shreds at a given moment. The entire show is carried with a quiet dignity that surfaces at the most appropriate moments, and avoids falling into the traps and tropes that would have turned a powerful experience into something cheesy. While it’s certanly not popcorn fare, Rideback is the type of series that simply needs to be experienced.