Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Final Thoughts: Real Drive 25-26

Real Drive, for all its randomness, is deceptively slice of life. You'll find that even the random stuff make a whole lot of sense and contribute to the overall scheme.
EPISODE 25: Last Dive - 1^2 = -1
More Screencaps from Real Drive 25

Kushima has left one last card for those he left behind: a deep-sea diving suit specifically made for Haru, enabling him to dive into the ocean while broadcasting signal directly into the Metal. As Haru prepares for this quite possibly last dive of his, Minamo makes the first major adult decision in her life.
EPISODE 26: Real Drive - I
More Screencaps from Real Drive 26

The Earth Order. Jennie's meteorological nanomachine plants are completely destroyed as heat waves spread across the surrounding waters heading fast towards the Island itself. As Denriken Acting Director, Souta has a tough decision to make: will he close down the entire Metal in order to save the people on the Island? Meanwhile, Haru is still inside the Metal, looking for Kushima's answers.

I started with this series having really high hopes and high expectations. You see, I just finished watching Ghost Hound and Seirei no Moribito at the time and was thoroughly impressed by how both series from the same studio came out excellent in almost every aspect. Most especially, I was impressed by Ghost Hound and by its creator, Masamune Shirow. So when I heard about Real Drive, I knew I was in before I even got an idea of its premise on the promo.

Then I saw the first episode and I was totally gobsmacked. Production I.G. certainly pulled out a lot of aces in production values to give me one of the best-looking first episodes of the season. Not only that, but the STORYLINE got me. Sure, it was confusing and half of the time it made me go "huh?" by the liberal sprinkling of scifi-geek words, but that's exactly what hooked me in the first place. What can I say? I love my nonsensical-in-a-good-way, subtly psychological, starkly philosophical, cerebral animes. And for a while, that's what I got from Real Drive.

Episodes 1-4 takes you on an episodic joyride through the Metal and the Artificial Island, the entire system of which is dependent on the Meta-Real, and the tour guide is none other Aoi Minamo, the token cute school girl in a mini-skirt for this series.

I suppose I should have considered myself warned the moment she appeared. (No, she is not an unlikeable character. I am -- I'm ashamed to admit -- NOT immune to cute school girls. Even if said cute school girl does have a rather healthy girth and err, thundger thighs.) Because Minamo took the focus from the sci-fi part of Real Drive and all its dark, twisty repurcussions and instead distracted us with fat girls running around and eating sinful desserts, a combat android who is ridiculously named Arnold Schwartz, freaking ghosts and nature trips to a jungle island.

Everything else that I wanted to see -- the budding romance between Souta and Holon, the political tug-of-war between the Secretary-General, Kushima and Jennie, the strange and mysterious stuff happening in the Metal and its effects on the Island, Haru's memories, indeed the entire plot -- happens in the background. So if you don't look hard enough or pay the slightest bit of attention, Real Drive can fool you into thinking it's nothing more than an account of the daily life of one silly but cute girl who doesn't have a cyberbrain and has to wear a funny-looking helmet to make up for it. That or utter randomness.

And speaking of random, Real Drive has this one in spades. To be very honest, I take issue in this manner of telling a story. Unless of course the series is light-hearted to begin with. Slice of life is more aptly suited to comedies. So to do this with a series like Real Drive that has real potential for depth (and real potential for muddling your brain) seemed kind of an odd take on the whole matter. A straightforward storytelling approach would have been less cumbersome. As it is, this series expects much from its viewers and make them work hard at taking what is offered in good light.

Not that I don't appreciate it. I did enjoy Ergo Proxy for precisely the same reason. But I said it before and I'll say it again. The problem with slice of life in a sci-fi mystery series is that it makes the show lose its focus somewhere in the middle. Real Drive starts off as really interesting. But as the randomness progresses, you begin to forget what the whole point was in the first place and start to wonder where the plot is going. It only really starts to pick up when there are only a few episodes left. I hate it when this happens to a good series, because that usually means cramming every last little tidbit of information necessary for a plausible ending in the last couple of episodes. I hate it because cramming only results in two things: plotholes and unanswered questions.

Fortunately for Real Drive, the slice-of-life approach helped. Not by much, but a little. And since I can have low standards, in this instance, a little is enough. Real Drive's real saving grace is its ability to connect some of the more major points in the end. You know what's said about writing a story. Each statement must do either of two things: develop character and advance the plot. Real Drive -- amazingly -- does both. Kushima's past as a violinist, for instance, turns out to be not merely fodder for his character to have some depth but later on becomes an important clue for Haru to understand him better and therefore make better progress in finding him. The problems that Haru encounters in his job as a cyberdiver actually hints at the bigger problem in the end. And all the little seemingly random things that happen every episode bear significance in the final moments of the series.

Production values are pretty consistent. You won't notice any obvious downgrade as the series progresses. Of course, no other episode can top the beauty of the first but the final episode comes very close.

Best of all, I like that the series really concludes itself. Open-ended and yet does not leave you wondering what's going to happen to the characters now. That's probably due to the fact that the series has spent considerable amount of time developing the main characters and revealing multiple facets of the side characters enough to make you understand them and know what drives them.

In my first impression of the series, I called Real Drive a "delightfully mind-bending, highly speculative, and wildly imaginative anime." I wasn't too far off-tangent.