No really, I do. Ride Back is a half-decent show with interesting themes, a likable lead, and cool mecha designs. It just doesn’t work.
For the first few episodes, my thought was “I kinda like this”. At the time, it was still really just about Rin getting on the Ride Back and doing acrobatic moves. During previews and whatnot though, I had read that the show was also about civil rights, so I was getting a little antsy since I was eagerly awaiting that part to begin. Even after reading what Evirus said, I was still willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt. And to an extent, I still am because I really don’t want to drop it. Well, culminating with episode six, I really have to agree with his complaints.
Last week, a student group decided to “occupy” the student union at my alma mater, NYU. I was pretty sympathetic to a lot of their issues, like budget transparency, tuition costs (NYU has some of the highest tuition and lowest student aid in the country), the endowment (which lost at least $25 million to Bernard Madoff), and grad student unionization. Their problem was that they failed so incredibly spectacularly to control the popular representation of themselves and NYU administration to the public.
The ubiquity of video was supposed to democratize decision making and hold authority accountable. A great recent example of this is the biker who was attacked by a cop during a Critical Mass bike rally. I’ll normally give the NYPD the benefit of the doubt, since they take a lot of shit despite being one of the more disciplined police departments in the country. Unfortunately, the video is damning:
Unfortunately for Take Back NYU!, their videos ended up having the opposite effect. It’s not only the content of the video itself, but the connotations of the video. This “revolution” wasn’t televised, but it was liveblogged, Twittered, and streamed using Macbooks. Sadly, these are symbols of effete, indulgent children of the bourgeoisie, not of oppression and legitimate political grievances. I will now present nine minutes and twenty-three seconds of almost painfully hard to watch unintentional humor.
So what does this have to do with Ride Back? Well, episode six tries to get us on the side of the oppressed. Militarized police attack Rin’s younger brother, and she realizes the horrors of her world. There’s just that eensy problem of how what we see doesn’t jibe with what we’re supposed to see.
My first problem is with the massive amounts of symbolic weight that the show tries to foist upon the ride backs themselves. They’re cool looking, and it’s kind of cool when Rin does acrobatic maneuvers on them. But…that’s it. There are two culprits here. The first is the show’s realist tone. They’re stuck because they really can’t endow those bikes with AWESOMENESS and still maintain the realism that they really do need in order to work with concepts like political resistance.
Compare something like Gundam 00 to The Battle of Algiers. Kataron gets mobile suits and space battleships and crap, while in The Battle of Algiers, the FLN give the famous line “Give us your bombers, and we will give you our ladies’ handbags.” Or, the almost stormtrooper-level shooting from the elite counterterrorist soldiers is the exact opposite of something like Generation Kill, where the elite marines find out that the insurgents are the ones that shoot like stormtroopers. When we’re trying to work in that kind of context, you have to give the Evangelion response of “That’s hopeless…” rather than the GaoGaiGar response of “WITH COURAGE WE CAN MAKE IT ONE HUNDRED PERCENT!” when told that the chance of success is less than one percent.
Along with hurting the realist tone, it hurts the background for the show as well. If even the elite military police on advanced prototype ride backs (and again, the failure to imbue the ride backs with mythic significance makes me roll my eyes when characters act almost offended that the military would create combat ride backs) can’t even take down a rookie in Rin riding a pretty standard ride back, then how did this occupation even succeed in the first place? Imagine if people actually seriously fought back!
On a similar note, part of the reason that I have trouble thinking about ride backs as this force of liberation is because of the fact that the images that we are seeing are drawings of something that’s been invented for the show. There’s no grounding in reality for the ride backs, so it’s hard to be that impressed with what Rin does on it. I can’t tell for myself if what she’s doing is extraordinary and have to rely on the characters to tell me that it is and not to trust my lying eyes. I feel kind of like how Quentin Tarantino felt when he watched Matrix Reloaded and was unimpressed by the car chase in oncoming traffic since To Live and Die in L.A. had one, and they did it with real cars rather than computer graphics. I think this was also when he made that “If I wanted computer graphics, I’d stick my dick in a Nintendo” quote.
Then, my second problem comes from what the camera reveals about the biker gang. Episode six has Rin’s brother going wilding with a biker gang. While riding, they bash a man’s head in and throw a flare into a police car that’s chasing them. Until the cops stepped out of the smoking car unharmed, I had assumed that they died gruesomely, which would have made sense realistically. Therefore, despite the fact that the show wants us on their side, what it shows us about them makes me entirely unsympathetic to them. They cold-bloodedly murdered a random truck driver and (realistically should have) killed a pair of cops. Of course the police would come at you with lethal force! You just killed cops and a civilian!
But of course, I still WANT to like the show, so until it does something mind-bogglingly stupid, I will keep at it.