Active Raid – Review

Active Raid:

Original Air Dates: Jan 7th, 2016 – March 24th, 2016

Or face some serious power suit wrath.

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.

Police are adopting all kinds of new law enforcement methods.

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.

Another day another holographic shark wandering the alleys.

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.

Oh this makes me dizzy.

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.

A lot of people with weird fetishes in law enforcement these days.

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.

Linny Not Recommend Badge

“Not Recommended: Especially if you’re not a fan of the genre.”

Tom TiolI Art Badge

“Take It or Leave It: Even starving Patlabor fans will find there isn’t much to love in Active Raid.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Active Raid is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.com

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2 comments

  • Considering that power suit shows are actually quite rare, in this day and age, that last statement feels rather hollow.

    Strictly speaking, Active Raid isn’t over yet, because it is actually intended to have a second season. Which is why it doesn’t need to address every single potential issue within twelve episodes, knowing that there’s still time to come back to a few remaining ideas.

    That said, you have a valid point about the ultimate mastermind not being a compelling enemy character, but this was never supposed to be a heavy character drama nor a truly plot-centric show in the first place. I believe that’s a key part of why you
    might be unnecessarily judging Active Raid for not being something it wasn’t really attempting to become.

    AR was considerably episodic and carefree in both style, tone and structure. If there was any drama involved, it was often treated with a degree of wackiness and moderation surrounding it. Because the main feel the show wanted to transmit wasn’t one of sadness or self-reflection, but light amusement and humor.

    In other words, the series was following an easygoing storytelling template that isn’t too common these days yet was quite widespread during earlier decades, and particularly within the Tokusatsu genre (comparable to the likes of Power Rangers, Kamen Rider and so on). That’s basically the main source of inspiration for a lot of the elements found within the production, which can be explained because of the writer’s background in that industry (Dekaranger, Akibaranger, etc).

    There’s a little Patlabor influence, sure enough, but that wasn’t the dominant concept. AR is a lot more whimsical, unrealistic and lighthearted than what Patlabor usually tried to be, so they weren’t attempting to copy much of it at all. Perhaps you would have enjoyed the show a lot more if it had truly attempted to closely mimic Patlabor, on a structural rather than purely superficial or circumstantial level (having police officers doing wacky things and facing a couple of technological threats), but for me that wasn’t necessary since the show’s real aims were far less ambitious still within my field of interests.

    While I do admit the main characters of Active Raid aren’t anything special, I think they work pretty well for this kind of show and some of them did get more development time than others. Which is why it would be both too harsh and kind of inaccurate to call them caricatures so easily. They’re really just a laidback gang of adults doing their job in a mostly routine manner, some of which have slightly more going for them but aren’t exactly possessing a ton of depth. Why is that wrong? I don’t think it is.

    In any case, I always found something interesting, entertaining or simply amusing about each of the episodes. They weren’t all that rushed, in my opinion, by and large. The final one was, in fact, one of the better episodes in terms of providing simple enjoyment in my opinion. Regardless of Mythos himself not being a particularly interesting individual, I felt the situations developing around him were still fun to watch.

    It’s a real shame that, of all the things explaining the unpopularity of the show, I think it all comes down to being misunderstood as a Patlabor successor while Active Raid actually belongs to a very different genre, one that simply wanted to provide some relaxing weekly entertainment rather than trying to be the “next big thing” like so many other current productions.

    • Thanks for commenting!

      I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree.

      We never outright said Active Raid was bad, or awful, it isn’t. But there’s a lot that could’ve been done better. Even if we compare it to the likes of Power Rangers or Kamen Rider, Active Raid fails to introduce elements to the story at appropriate times, often leaving explanations for things until the last possible moment, undermining the dramatic impact by leaving the audience in more of the dark than it needs to be.

      Sure, the characters are light hearted, and indeed much of the show seeks to be whimsical, but we rarely go below a surface level understanding of any of the characters, making most of them feel like no more than the basic quirky nature they began the show with. Even shows that are light-hearted in nature can deliver characters that feel like more than just an outline.

      I’d like to make it clear we didn’t expect this show to be dark and brooding, nor did we want it to be, and we actually greatly enjoyed aspects of it when it was indeed more light hearted and silly. But I don’t think that light hearted nature excuses it from criticism with the way it works through its characters and delivers information to the audience.

      Finally, We’re aware there’s going to be another season, but the Logos arc is concluded, as are the introductions to the characters, so while not every issue need be addressed, there’s plenty a show should complete before moving onto its 2nd season and expecting the audience to follow.

      That said, your post is awesome, and a great boon for others who’re able to look at and enjoy the series for the elements it brings over from Tokusatsu genre. Tokusatsu wasn’t a group I’d considered, and while I’m not necessarily convinced that’s the intended audience, perhaps there’s a place among those fans for this show.

      I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the show though! Here’s hoping the second season is as enjoyable for you as season 1 was!

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