Active Raid – Review
Original Air Dates: Jan 7th, 2016 – March 24th, 2016
Synopsis: In the near future, a Quicksand Disaster sinks a major portion of the Tokyo area. In an effort to reconstruct the city as fast as possible, new and powerful exoskeleton suits, known as Willwear are constructed to aid in the restoration effort. Of course with new technology comes new crime. To combat the new threat of Willwear aided crime, the government sanctions the creation of a new police division with their own Willwear power suits.
However, the 5th Special Public Security Section’s Mobile Assault Division has come under fire, particularly because of one crime-fighting unit, Unit 8. Unit 8 is known for using excessive force, or causing undue collateral while apprehending their targets. But just as a special investigator is secretly transferred onto their team, Unit 8 finds themselves uncovering the criminal workings of a group known only as Logos.
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Active Raid is a mess of elements: political struggle, terrorism, camaraderie and more, but none of these elements get anywhere near the screen time needed to do them justice. In between character growth and plot line of the week, Active Raid struggles to properly balance everything it seeks to say, and in the end manages to say none of it well. Simply put: Active Raid moves far too fast for its own good, attempting to squeeze in more than can reasonably fit in a twelve-episode season and deliver a satisfying story to the audience. If anything, Active’s twelve episode run feels almost like those abridged anime films that squeeze twelve half-hour episodes into two hours. And we all know those abridged films often obscure and cut out important plot details.
Linny: Active Raid has its best moment contained in a single episode that blends a love of giant robot armour with nostalgia, and succeeds in crafting a story that’s touching and convincing. It keeps trying to repeat that theme of emotions and machine action but because of their episodic nature, the other episodes and stories feel isolated from each other. The main connecting thread for all these episodes is Unit 8 and the mysterious super villain, Logos, who is the puppet master behind all those separate yet connected incidents. The anime spends so much time trying to make him seem mysterious and unpredictable that it’s forced to unload a ton of information in the finale, making it feel crowded and rushed. This has the combined effect of feeling try hard in an effort to sell the menace and power level of the villain, as well as reducing the dramatic effects of its reveal.
Tom: The villains themselves, Logos, are easily the worst aspect of Active Raid, constantly mishandled and poorly developed through the twelve episode run. There’s classic ideas behind them, disillusioned individuals, seeking to over throw the government, bring chaos to the masses, etc. But we spend so little time getting to know them, and their plans, that there’s nothing for the finale to build on. Outside of that, the main cast, Unit 8, has a load of quirky characters to enjoy: from Haruka Hoshimiya who’s obsessed with trains to Yasuharu Funasaka who’s obsessed with giant robots. There’s an oddball in every position for this Unit. Unfortunately those quirks are all we really know about any of them. Episodes are so crunched for time with plot that we barely have a chance to get to know any of these characters. Active Raid reminds me a lot of Patlabor, a similar set up with a rag tag quirky group of characters fighting in the name of the law, but not always aided by it. That’s one of the few things Active Raid does well, is building obstacles for the team (although maybe episodes wouldn’t feel so rushed if there weren’t so many?) The unfortunate truth is that the plots are just too congested to support Unit 8’s 8-man team.
Linny: The lack of time and exposition for the characters means that they all feel like caricatures or parodies of the stereotypical archetypes expected in similar shows and not actual personalities in their own rights. This also means that the chemistry and interactions between them feels stunted and limited, which could frustrate viewers who enjoy more fleshed out characters. However, there are still plenty of little jokes, quirks and even background revelations to keep a more casual viewer entertained enough to sit through at least the first few episodes of the show.
Tom: The show begins with a plot surrounding the newest member of the team, Asami Kazari, actually being a spy for the government. Her job is to ascertain whether Unit 8 should even be allowed to continue. It’s not a bad plot, and bizarrely the series pretty much drops it after the first episode. It’s only in the penultimate episode that any kind of meaningful lip service is paid back to it. Despite Active Raid’s generally jovial nature (the show, at least early on, doesn’t take itself too seriously) periodically delves into darker elements, such as suicide, and sexual manipulation. But it doesn’t handle them with any grace, so much to the point where it all feels awkward. There are places where Active Raid gets purposefully uncomfortable, or even controversial, but there’s then no pay off, or further discussion of these ideas. It feels pointless and solely there to introduce a much unneeded edge.
Linny: Remember the earlier mentions of satire and comedy? Well, while they are most certainly present, their delivery tends to fall flat or fail to hit the mark ever so often. There are some gags and jokes that seem really random, so much so that their randomness becomes a source of hilarity. The show has its saving grace though with some well planned out humour ever so often, such as a joke involving a suit wanting to do an update at a most inappropriate moment, or the crew mechanic devastated by the abuse being mete out to the armoured suits in action.
Tom: Active Raid is a hodgepodge of ideas, and sometimes it actually produces something interesting. On rare occasions it shows promise, like during one episode where a stalker nerd villain scenario has a few new twists, or the cool world building of episode 6, explaining why Willwear came to be the dominant force in technological development, and that giant robots as a instrument of aid fell to the wayside. It’s really quite interesting, but otherwise Active Raid’s ideas aren’t fleshed out enough, or it just plays everything too safe. What’s truly unfortunate is that what little Active Raid had going for it drops off in the final three episodes that themselves struggle to bring the Logos plot to a close. But since the series lacked the necessary build up, the show is stuck wrapping itself up, while still building up the concept of Logos, their plans, the potential fallout, and more. Far too much happens and what exposition there is is just too little and too late.
Linny: Most of the visual effort seems to have been spent on the Willwears as they all look sharp and unique, with every team member having their own personalized suit with specific abilities. Even the action sequences are done well, with enough attention and work put in to ensure they look smooth and fluid which will surely please those who pick it up for the action factor.
Tom: Active Raid is a heavy mix of CGI and Traditional Animation in the vein of Tiger and Bunny. Unfortunately Active Raid’s traditional animation just can’t keep up consistently, often producing poor character faces in long shots, or stilted movement in late run episodes. The CGI flows extremely well, and for anyone who enjoyed watching the heroes in Tiger and Bunny duke it out, the Willwears can look pretty slick too. The music also adds much needed flare to the series, with its upbeat tunes keeping the show lively and energetic, even when the plots progressing too fast for it to actually make a lot of sense.
Linny: As someone who never really enjoyed anything related to mechanical suits or armour, I always worry about watching and reviewing a show such as this. While Active Raid never swept me off my feet, it has some good jokes and fighting sequences. Plot and story wise, this show isn’t the best and has a rather weak finale. If you’re like me, Active Raid is best left either untouched or saved for a desperate day. It’s not terrible but it fluctuates too much to be a good choice for anyone even mildly averse towards mecha/suit based stories.
Tom: I wanted to like Active Raid. Reading the description, and watching the first, while uneven, episode gave me hope that I’d be looking at a spiritual successor. But while Active Raid mimics much of what made Patlabor such a strong anime classic, it never truly succeeds at any of it. The cast isn’t properly fleshed out, episodes are crammed too tight, and the villain’s plans don’t hold up under even the most minor of scrutiny. I’d planned on perhaps recommending Active Raid to starving Patlabor fans, but in the final episodes those plans were laid to rest, much like Logos’ schemes for Japan. Active Raid isn’t awful, I’ve seen worse, but even for fans of the power suit genre there’s simply better shows you could spend your time with.
Active Raid is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.com