In a futuristic, post-disaster Tokyo, the "Special Public Security Fifth Division Third Mobile Assault Eighth Unit," or "Unit Eight," is a police unit specializing in handling criminals who wield dangerous wearable technology called "Willwear." Equipped with Willwear of their own, the squadron is often criticized by the public for their carelessness and disregard for protocol.
Sent in by the government as an undercover agent with special instructions from the higher-ups, Asami Kazari is Unit Eight's newest member. Determined to straighten out what she expects to be a group of incompetent fools, she instead finds a team of well-intentioned experts who use very effective—albeit unorthodox—methods, hindered by strict regulations. With their newest member by their side, Unit Eight fights crime and overcomes unexpected adversaries in Active Raid: Kidou Kyoushuushitsu Dai Hachi Gakari.
Thunderbirds meets Gundam meets Power Rangers/Super Sentai. That's the most apt description I can think for this series.
This is the updated preview -> review, and I think the scores hold. The last 2 episodes are better than the others, but don't do enough to pull the overall score up.
Possibly the weakest link of the series. The story revolves around a team of police officers who operate from a mobile train base, and utilise Willwears, powered suits of armour, to fight crime. Sounds pretty exciting, right?
The problem comes from a complete lack of focus; only late in the series does Logos truly come into play.
I realise in retrospect that this is because it is leading into the next season. However, this approach is not particularly appealing to new potential watchers.
As a mostly episodic series, the appeal of each episode must come from the theme; whilst some of the characters hit high notes in some episodes, the plot itself doesn't really hold up.
Fair. The animation is quite proportional and fluid, and the CGI is not the worst I've ever seen. The Willwear assembly scenes are very well done, and generally quite a pleasure to watch.
Fights are well choreographed and action is fast paced. Lines are sharp, though sometimes there are disfigured characters due to lack of perceived importance.
There's a seemingly shameless amount of fanservice, as one might expect from a modern anime series, but I shall leave this to ones own tastes.
The OP for this series is majestic and energetic, and reaches some, if you don't mind me saying so, aurally orgasmic notes.
The OST is a okay. Nothing in particular stands out, and it barely adds to the ambience of the scene, but it serves its purpose.
The dialogue is of fairly standard quality, and the seiyuu do a good job of characterising each individual.
Easily the best part of the series is the diverse and interesting, both design wise and look wise, cast of characters.
Each character is distinct, has their own personality and theme/quirk, as one would expect, and hope for, in an anime. A bit cliché at times, but better than bland.
The side characters get fantastic character development, such as Funasaka, the giant robot otaku, or Haruka, the railfan.
Logos members seem to have their own agendas, and constantly scheme against one another, or so it seems. Hopefully we see some more character interaction in the second season.
If I have a qualm, it's that, as of the end of season 1, the three main characters themselves have been criminally underdeveloped.
It's a fairly fun watch. I wasn't particularly impressed with the story or thematic episodes, but the fights were extremely well choreographed, and passably animated.
Worth your time if you're into cheesy, episodic content like Super Sentai. Perhaps lay off if that's not your style.
That being said, I will likely look into the second season when it is released.
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.
Wait...doesn't this premise remind you of Patlabor or Psycho-Pass? A little, but only on the surface. In practice, it's a lot closer to a newly self-aware entry in Toei's old Metal Hero series. Think Winspector meets Dekaranger, except guest starring Bonzi Buddy. Or just Power Rangers. That said, Active Raid was a hard sell right out of the gate. It isn't really innovative nor sophisticated, but in the end it can still provide some lighthearted fun for those who can sit back and relax without overthinking the material. Even Goro Taniguchi, who is one of the two directors involved, cautioned that this show wouldn't be
anything like his previous projects.
Active Raid does not revolve around the life of a central protagonist or singular character. The story centers on the team as an ensemble cast. This show follows a rather old-fashioned storytelling approach, aiming for audiences with a nostalgic fondness for silly and formulaic Tokusatsu or Super Sentai series without a ton of depth nor intellectual pretense. Instead of a modern take on Patlabor or a dramatic sci-fi police procedural like Psycho-Pass, what we actually have here is a much less ambitious production. The misfit cops of Unit 8 have to deal with an uncooperative government bureaucracy in order to overcome wacky episodic threats through the use of power armor (Willwear) and ultimately face a juvenile mastermind. If that doesn't sound like something you would enjoy, then the series probably isn't going to work for you at all.
Which means I cannot really praise the overarching narrative of Active Raid. Even the political elements are there to serve as either satirical gags or temporary obstacles through the use of hyperbole, rather than serious explorations of conflict. In the end, the underlying story is going to be predictable. However, one of the potential virtues about the episodic structure is that each week can be very different from the previous one. New elements will come and go, providing small surprises, inside jokes and quite distinct sources of amusement thanks to the rotating focus between the various members of the cast. If you didn't like a given episode, perhaps you'll enjoy the next. Or the one right after that.
The episode previews do a good job of providing both explicit and implicit self-awareness about the inherent silliness of the show as well as various degrees of teasing concerning future events, although they usually tend to be a little misleading.
If you didn't care for the first episode because it was trying to do too many things at once and the characters used some jargon, both of those particular concerns go away rather quickly. The specialized terms end up being mostly self-evident or irrelevant, generally used either for token procedures or to illustrate how police work is supposed to work. In other words, this isn't the kind of show where you really need to go look up a dictionary or glossary if you don't care about the technical details. Simply put, Active Raid isn't a show that takes its science or physics seriously, nor does it even try to present a game like poker in a remotely realistic manner.
I would argue the single best episode of the show is the sixth one. That's Active Raid at its most effective. It deals with nostalgia for outdated giant robots that are no longer necessary in this fictional universe due to their fuel inefficiency, combining both a few goofy in-jokes for old-school fans of Super Robot anime as well as a couple of genuine emotional beats and an impressive use of 2D mechanical animation. If only the show had more episodes like that one, the resulting experience could have been a lot stronger rather than merely satisfactory.
When it comes to the characters almost all of them were technically adults, which is rather unusual (and welcome) compared to most contemporary anime. However, these are not exactly a bunch of serious professionals. Their way of dealing with crime, while sometimes surprisingly effective, was often only superficially following the rules and could directly or indirectly cause lots of property damage. The government doesn't think too highly of Unit 8 and, frankly, neither should the viewer for a start.
As expected when it comes to such a goofy and unrealistic production, the show doesn't provide vast amounts of character development. Sure, there are a few situations which do give valid characterization to various members of the cast, such as the episode about the relationship between Sena and his former girlfriend as a notable example, but these are the exceptions. As much as it can be a double-edged sword, the series wasn't too interested in trying to handle powerful emotions or complex character arcs. That's not the name of the game here.
Instead, it's simply more about how the individual displays of charisma, gimmicks, quirks and interactions create a superficially amusing dynamic between the members of the team and anyone else involved at any given time. That is most of what the show expects to offer its target audience and, if you can accept this, it is actually quite possible to develop a very basic liking for these individuals. Not every gag or quip is gold, to be sure, but that ultimately depends on your personal sense of humor.
Let's take a quick look. Asami, the rookie cop, initially hoped to reform Unit 8 and turn it into a more disciplined outfit. As much as the random bits of Engrish in her dialogue might annoy certain viewers, they were also a pretty amusing quirk to other sectors of the audience. That is the sort of thing one must either take or leave when watching this show.
Now, you might be tempted to expect the series to ostensibly focus on her dilemma and try to turn it into a Psycho-Pass style conflict of ideals. But that's not what really happens, further revealing the huge differences between how both series operate. Early episodes did establish this tension, yet they also started resolving the issue at the same time. In particular, the second episode already had Asami implicitly accepting Unit 8's methods. After that point, the rest of the team essentially keeps handling things in their own way and, effectively, ends up absorbing her in a gradual manner. Which is also pointed out near the end of the season, thus completing the process.
Are these people just caricatures then? Not completely, since a few of them do have extra traits and occasional personal issues, which emerge after learning a little more about their lives or just by seeing them in action. In fact, I would have to say that Rin (the "Boss" of Unit 8) and old man Funasaka were arguably two of the best characters in the show at the end of the day. Not great ones, but decent. The episodes focusing on them were pretty good in this respect, and they still manage to get other nice scenes later on. Evidently, you do need to accept how someone like Rin will look young for her position. But, as a matter of fact, she does consistently behave like an adult. The same can't always be said about everyone else in Unit 8.
While I was fine with all of that, I believe one character-related issue did admittedly tend to directly detract from the show, at least in this season: the main antagonist, Mythos.
Mythos lacked presence, his personality was boring and the revelations about his background were not effective in creating much sympathy. Frankly, glorified computer hackers don't seem that much of a threat even as a concept. The single best thing you could say about him and the "organization" he created, Logos, is that they contributed to creating various entertaining situations.
It's true other enemies, such as the ones known as "Dog" and "Bird" (rather silly codenames, of course), were slightly more fleshed out during the late stages of the season. But if there is one key thing that Active Raid absolutely needs to improve for the next series, it would be providing better villains and giving them more room to breathe. In fact, it would be easy to speculate about how such a positive change could also help expand the characterization for the heroes from its currently basic state into something more traditionally solid.
In short, if you have come to Active Raid expecting much more than that, or as someone who needs very compelling characters as a strong anchor to hold your interest, then you are most definitely looking in the wrong place.
In terms of art and animation quality, Production IMS did some relatively consistent work by their own standards. The illustrator known as Tosh made everyone pretty when it came to the character designs and the production itself didn't collapse all of a sudden, unlike some of the worst IMS projects. The eventual physical release of the series will include fixes to the artwork and animation, but the broadcast wasn't too impressive.
That said, I would argue the various animation changes to the opening and ending sequences over time were quite welcome. In particular, the ending had some amusing additions towards the final part of the show which contributed to the amusement value of the experience.
The 3DCG Willwear suits were animated by Orange, one of the better studios in the anime industry for this kind of work. The actual designs have uneven visual appeal, but they do show variety (different in-universe companies produced them) and blend in quite well. In general, most of the mecha action sequences were well animated and merely competent rather than particularly exciting, often being employed as another part of the surrounding jokes rather than trying to be too intense.
As for the OP/ED songs themselves, Akino and Bless4 were involved. They were alright. But what I liked the most was the background music by Kotaro Nakagawa. He gave the show's soundtrack the right kind of retro cheesy yet energetic vibe, which was a good fit for something like Active Raid that owes a lot more to the traditions of Tokusatsu and power armor heroes than to anything else.
So, what would be my final word on Active Raid? It's fun and watchable with low expectations, but not for everyone.
The first season isn't very appealing to modern anime fans. In addition, it has long been established that most of the real anime moneymakers come out in Spring and Fall. Active Raid is just a transparent throwback piece - not a product of innovation and great creativity - made by a bunch of creators who were basically chilling out during an off-season. Everything suggests they wanted to create something primarily for those who share a certain amount of nostalgic amusement for this specific type of material.
Which is why I doubt Taniguchi and Arakawa, or the rest of the team for that matter, aren't thinking about more ambitious projects in the meanwhile. Objectively speaking, this is simply a lightweight product. Neither serious enough to provide a compelling dramatic core, nor nonsensical enough to appeal to fans of complete insanity. If that sounds boring or offends your sensibilities, you would be better off watching something more substantial. Otherwise, feel free to check it out.
Active Raid, while having a set plot in mind, felt like a hodge-podge of elements thrown throughout each episode, making me question what kind of series it wants to be.
The story has your typical futuristic setting featuring authoritarian and political plot lines with mechas thrown into the mix. Personally, I've always found it difficult to comprehend all of the futuristic jargon being delivered, but it just might just be I'm slow when it comes to stuff like that. The structure of the series is simple: early episodes are one-shots until the last few episodes where the "big picture" is finally put into play.
Our main set
of characters (those of Unit 8) are unique in their own way, which shows their individuality. We also have episodes that focus on a particular character, so they get their time in the spotlight. However, in the end, some characters are fleshed out more than others.
The animation, when it wanted to, could be pretty decent. Aside from a couple of episodes that showed some lacking, overall it was alright.
Like any original series, I gave Active Raid the benefit of the doubt hoping something good came out of it. With that, it was nothing all that great, but it wasn't bad in any way. Supposedly, there will be a second season, and I will more than likely watch that when it comes out.