Active Raid Review — Actively Irritating

It’s like Rolling Girls, only somehow even more annoying.

Okay, before we get started on this hatefest, I want to bring something up. A number of people have been responding to my complaints regarding Active Raid by stating that it’s supposed to be a satirical parody/tribute (which is starting to become one of the cheapest excuses in anime ever). And fine, you can say that, but you also have to remember that Last Action Hero, Scream, and current-day Simpsons are parodies as well, whilst the Expendables is also a tribute to 80s/90s action films, so it isn’t an all-purpose excuse. Last I checked, satires are supposed to provide something insightful about their subject matter. They’re supposed to bring up questions. Even if you don’t have a plan to answer these questions (and again, I don’t understand why people are so rough on this because anime guys aren’t exactly Doug Walker when it comes to being in a position to do so), you have to at least bring up why this problem still persists. And hopefully, you’ll be funny in the process.

Also last I checked, tributes (or at least the good ones) are NOT supposed to solely fanwank over their cliches. They’re supposed to subvert them. Bring up how weird it is to do this sort of shit by present-day standards. Not wallow in the past like that taxi cab driver who refuses to acknowledge that his glory years are gone. And when you’re name-dropping writers, don’t bring up the guy who’s writing that mediocre Garo adaptation. I think it’s clear at this point I’m not a fan of his stuff.

If you don’t have any of that, you’re no different from that asshole in Bully who punches you in the face and rapes your girlfriend whilst then stating “I was just kidding dude. Relax” (paraphrasing, as it’s been years since I’ve seen that film). It’s why Blood Blockade Battlefront sucked. It’s why Rolling Girls sucked. It’s why anything written by Fumiaki Maruto/Romeo Tanaka/”any visual novel writer ever with the possible exception of Gen Urobuchi” sucks. I’m not seeing anything required for a good tribute/parody in Active Raid. Therefore, I’m just going to review it like every other bad anime I do.

And one more thing. FUCK mecha masturbation!

I don’t really like it when somebody tries to impress me by copying my favorites. After all, I could just interact with my favorite again if I wanted to, and it doesn’t help that a lot of the times when something copies what I enjoy, it tends to miss the point entirely and thus we get a thousand Boondock Saints and five hundred Boondock Saints 2. Every once in a while though, you get one that gets what’s up, or takes it in a direction you didn’t know you wanted. As such, I was kind of looking forward to Active Raid despite it looking like a shitty Patlabor-ripoff because although he wasn’t actually directing the thing, I was interested to see if Taniguchi would do anything interesting with it – and more importantly, make us remember Production IMS for something besides shitty light novel adaptations and arguably Inari Konkon.

Well you can throw away that pipe dream, because Active Raid sucked dinosaur-sized dick so much to the point that few people even remembered it existed by the time the third episode came out. Whilst the idea to make a modernized Patlabor with tokusatsu/sentai elements may have seemed promising on paper, the resulting anime we got is a complete and utter mess. Not only does it fall under the common problem of trying to do too much to the point that nothing stands out, but it somehow manages to fuck up giving me a reason to care about what’s happening in the first place. The first episode alone has the lead female join Unit 8 eager to prove herself, only to rush her into a random case without any preparation, getting proven wrong in order for two guys we don’t get properly introduced to to show her up, and causing a lot of property damage in order to catch a completely unthreatening throwaway villain we don’t know and will never care about after the episode ends. Basically, a poor man’s version of the introductory episode of Psycho-Pass, and it only gets worse from there.

One common criticism I’ve read regarding Active Raid (besides the Power Rangers one I mean) is that it doesn’t have a main character to either relate to or push the show forward at all. Although the show first opens with Asami as the newbie we’re apparently supposed to project ourselves onto, it rapidly starts treating her like a side character as we focus on the two male leads, the female boss who looks like a middle-schooler, and a bunch of other one-note characters whose only job is to deliver one line and that’s it. Not only that, but there are many scenes that don’t involve Unit 8 at all, choosing instead to look at the very government they protect as they spout boring political dialogue that does nothing but establish what’s at stake whilst the main bad guy stares at his screen with his little girl servant, delivering a stupid monologue that no one in their right mind would find charismatic. And that’s if the dude shows up, because a good chunk of the episodes are centered on one-off characters who have practically zero chemistry with Unit 8 and when they do, it’s too cartoonish to take seriously (love of trains? WTF?). If the main characters have no personal involvement in any of the show’s conflicts, then why should I care when it occurs?

Not that the show is any better when it does focus on them, as most of the individual members of Unit 8 aren’t the least bit interesting. Rin’s concept is entirely nonsensical considering I don’t believe for a second that a woman that dumb and that young-looking can lead anything (and I’ve seen Full Metal Panic), and Unit 8 as a whole is completely impossible to root for given how much property damage they do to take down villains who are about as threatening as my own farts, along with the constant sexual harassment that’s dealt towards Asami because apparently we’re not out of that mindset that being self-aware of your offensiveness doesn’t make your actions any less offensive. And Asami herself isn’t exactly a sympathetic, fully-fleshed out character that you feel bad for whenever she’s made the victim of her co-worker’s incompetence. It’s just that she’s a better character than Rin. Or Madoka, a female member that’s so far in the background you won’t even remember who she is when she gets her own episode that fucks with every single rule of poker you know.

For the majority of its first cour, Active Raid takes an episodic approach to its premise, focusing on Unit 8 as they solve a various crisis committed by its retarded villain in their own way each week rather than establish an on-going story. Even when compared to shows with a similar format like the first halves of Ushio & Tora and Gun x Sword, or the new Lupin anime, Active Raid is absolutely awful at utilizing it in a way that’s engaging. Too much of the run time is spent on trying to be funny (which in anime terms, means it’s not funny) to the point that there is absolutely zero tension in any of the scenarios, not helped by the fact that all the villains are throwaway 80s cliches that would have embarrassed He-Man’s creators if they ever watched this show. Some of you are probably aware of the statement made before the show’s start by the show’s creators that it’s supposed to be a lighthearted barrel of fun that you’re not supposed to take seriously. Well Active Raid follows that stupid smug “we’re not taking ourselves seriously so we can do whatever we want” logic to the extreme, having the police distract criminals with dancing robots for no reason, which is pretty much the anime equivalent of that one horrible musical number from Tank Girl. Or those rapping kangaroos. God that was a bad movie!

And the worst part is that once you get rid of the humor, there’s nothing left. Unit 8’s incompetence has virtually no effect on what goes on, and the actual story boils down to one weak moral: government is corrupt. That’s it. That’s where ALL the goddamn conflict in this show comes from. In an age where we have many products that examine the intricacies of the world’s political system with lots of nuance (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Batman v Superman, and Patlabor 2: The Movie did it well over two decades ago), Active Raid is several decades too late to the party. None of the events that happen are representative of anything resembling real Japanese history (yes, this IS a requirement to be entertaining satire), and not a single person on either side has anything resembling moral ambiguity. I mean don’t those government guys have any interesting points at all? What are they villains from a Robin Williams movie?

On a side note, I know the producers and stuff don’t read this blog and thus didn’t listen to me when I said way back in my Rolling Girls review that they weren’t allowed to base every concept of their show on wacky nonsensical humor, but I’m going to repeat it again anyways: DON’T BASE EVERY CONCEPT OF YOUR SHOW ON WACKY NONSENSICAL HUMOR! It’s not funny and it’s fucking boring to watch in long stretches! You think Mind Game is good just because it was Yuasa being Yuasa? No! Mind Game is good because underneath all the wackiness (well actually, it’s more because of the wackiness) is a story about following your dreams and how even though you never know what’ll truly become of it, you’ve got to try because it’s better than being a loser forever.

I could go on about everything else wrong with this show. Like the constant breaking of its own internal logic. The actual (and piss-poor) reason why the bad guy wants to take down the government in the first place – along with the insultingly anticlimactic resolution. The LARGE amounts of blatant exposition whilst the camera pans over nearly still frames. But there’s a second cour coming soon and I’m dead set on reviewing it because everyone seems to like it when I review absolute trainwrecks and no one with a passing interest in reality would bother defending this show anyways (aka the people who legitimately say Cross Ange is good without irony), so I should save some ammo and sum it all up in one line: this show is junk food. And unlike real junk food, anime/movie/visual medium junk food is NEVER tasty. Even if it had fixed all its technical problems, the show still would have been bad because it had no interest in telling a story or thinking through its comedy. It actively wants to just be as crazy as possible with its tokusatsu elements in the vain hope that somehow it’ll be entertaining, which just makes it come off as a desperate kid struggling for attention.

What could have been a fun 80s throwback as well as a chance for Goro Taniguchi to return to the limelight has ended up as a poor mishmash of tokusatsu cliches and mecha masturbation with low ambitions for its story and characters who aren’t even attempted to be made interesting. Even the mecha action is crap, either being shot too close to the camera to make sense of it, padded out with too much dialogue, or shot so cartoonishly it sucks away all the tension. With this, Iron-Blooded Orphans, and pretty much every mecha anime made in the last decade or so, I think from now on, whenever you see a show has robots in it, we should automatically mark it as a lost cause. Now if you excuse me, I’ve got some PA Works shit to see.

Minor Quips

  • Some people have praised this thing by comparing it to Classroom Crisis. On what planet is comparing anything to that awful show a positive?
  • Where exactly is the show going to go now that the villain is dealt with anyways? The same way the Patlabor series went with its last arc? Yeah, that won’t be boring in the least.

10 responses to “Active Raid Review — Actively Irritating

  1. I believe Active Raid isn’t really a trainwreck though. It is nothing but a toy train that runs around in circles and then stops. Many considered that to be boring and yet I simply felt it was amusing enough to watch without thinking too much.

    While one could say many things about Goro as a director, I think the man was both honest and reasonable enough to predict the negative reactions. Here’s a loose translation:

    “If someone who likes the drama elements from my earlier series looks at this work, I am going to completely disappoint those expectations here, so it’s better that you stop watching (laughs). Because I am deliberately not doing that kind of thing, I have said before that there will not be such kind of enjoyment. If such people begin to watch this series, I imagine that they will go ‘Oh, I can’t stand this’ or something like that (laughs)”.

    I think the underlying divergence is actually quite simple. You started watching Active Raid by expecting to find a new Patlabor with a few Power Rangers elements added on top for flavor. That is what your description and criticisms suggest.

    Yet the reality turned out to be the exact opposite, because the series was really just a new Power Rangers show with a few Patlabor elements included as flavor. What some may consider to be a weakness (feeling like Power Rangers) seems to have been the objective all along. Which ended up annoying you, since that sort of arrangement doesn’t quite match your tastes.

    Unsurprisingly enough, I didn’t personally have any problems with the humor in Active Raid myself. Never made me outright laugh, but then again self-awareness doesn’t tend to irritate me either.

    Finally, I do not think Taniguchi was trying to return to the limelight with this work. Just like with the obscure sci-fi farce/slice-of-life manga he is currently writing (Atrail), the man seems happy to keep a lower profile (although even that manga seems like a better fit for anime than Active Raid). You don’t go to Production IMS, an obviously cheap studio, in order to make a blockbuster or a critical darling in the first place. On the other hand, I would say last year’s Maria the Virgin Witch at Production I.G was quite different. That one had more of a real effort put into making it, on all fronts, even if it also didn’t have much of a lasting impact.

    • I don’t really look at creator’s intentions when it comes to judging a product because there’d be no point in watching it to begin with if you could just ask the creator what his work is about.

      As for judging Active Raid as a Power Rangers show, I’m fully aware it’s supposed to be one, but having said that, why is the characterization so piss-poor? Fine, Production IMS is cheap and you want to be a comedy and all that, but I don’t see why you had to sacrifice getting to know Unit 8 as people in hte process. Compare this show to something like Sion Sono’s Tokyo Tribe film and it’s clear that the latter wins.

      • That doesn’t really have to alter your point of view. However, I think the intentions of creators often provide useful context for the purposes of both commentary, praise, criticism and general analysis. This is less about spelling out the themes of the work and more like a statement on its methods and the expected audience reaction.

        How many old Power Rangers series or their original Japanese source material have you tried checking out? I wouldn’t claim they have the exact same character writing as this, especially since almost always have more than 12 episodes to work with, but the moment-to-moment or week-to-week average quality of their scriptwriting is still a heck of a lot closer to the Active Raid baseline than you might think. Which isn’t surprising, since everyone on the writing team has worked on one or more of those kinds of shows.

        Well, at least the lack of episodes will be addressed. Now that they’ve completed the initial story arc, it has been mentioned that the staff are looking into changing stuff, such as where the characters are standing and so on, which could release some fresh ideas into the atmosphere. But, given you didn’t find much to enjoy here, I wouldn’t expect a radical transformation to happen. The formula will probably remain in place, just with some tweaks.

      • I’ve watched quite a bit of Power Rangers growing up, though I never finished any seasons after Space because they always lost focus after a few episodes and I was growing too old for it. I did watch Digimon Frontier – which took inspiration from sentai stuff. It was pretty terrible.

  2. All I can say is I am not going to follow Active Raid’s second season after this stint. With Logos gone (sheez, that fizzled fast), what else can this show offer?

    Yet Bubuki Buranki is a lot worse for me as long as the plot is concerned. It has more entertainment value though.

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