Go Go Active Raid! Wait a minute, this isn’t Power Rangers! (That would actually be a massive improvement.)
What’s the Story?
In the near future crimes are escalating thanks to the misuse of recently developed exoskeletons known as Willwear. In response to this police forces around the world have started using their own armoured suits to defend the public and serve justice. Our series follows Unit 8 who have a bit of a bad reputation for being reckless and destructive, and Assistant Inspector Asami Kazari is sent in to either save or shut down the unit. Can she get this bunch of goofballs and idiots into line before the master plan of a mysterious hacker puts all of Japan in jeopardy? Probably not, but let’s give it a go.
Active Raid is kind of a hard anime to review. It’s decidedly average in pretty much every way, it’s not bad, but it never rises to greatness either, most of the time it just coasts along as a fairly light-hearted and fun series without much of a care in the world. That’s fine and all, but it doesn’t really leave me with much to talk about. Well, let’s give it a go anyway.
I think the main problem that holds this series back is its lack of focus. From the ‘What’s the Story?’ section and the first episode itself you’d be forgiven for assuming that this is the story of the uptight, career-driven Asami coming in to sort out these oddball cops, but eventually coming to appreciate them and defend them against the mean old bureaucrats that want to shut them down. That does happen, but with more of a whimper than a bang. I know that story line is riddled with clichés, but I think I’d prefer that to the way it just kind slips under the radar in the series. Asami is pretty much forgotten after the first couple of episodes, she’s still there in the background but she doesn’t do much even when she actually puts on her armour to fight. It’s not until the end when the anime has to go through the whole ‘We’re shutting Unit 8 down!’ plot that it remembers Asami and even then she doesn’t put up much of a fight. Asami never gets a moment to shine or show how much she’s truly changed, heck she doesn’t even feel like a threat to Unit 8 while she’s spying on them.
This entire series is strangely lacking in tension and drama. You’ve got a mysterious group of hackers orchestrating random Willwear crimes in the build-up to some master plan, but more often than not they’re just there to set up the villain-of-the-week that Unit 8 will be fighting. You’ve got the press and the higher ups slamming Unit 8, you’ve got Asami spying on them/trying to straighten them out, you even have the military making their own exoskeletons, yet not one second of this feels threatening. There’s no sense of danger as our heroes come closer and closer to being disbanded, their no sense of joy as they overcome all the odds to prove their worth. Instead we just have the character goofing around and accidentally blowing stuff up.
I get that this series wants to be light hearted, but you can be a fun adventure series and still do dramatic storylines, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s not easy, sure, but it can be done it’s just a matter of finding the right balance. The light hearted side of this anime isn’t all that great either. There are a few funny lines and ideas, but nothing that consistently hilarious, so this side of the anime doesn’t exactly grab me either.
Even on the character front the anime struggles to drag an emotion out of me. The characters all have unique designs that look pretty cool, there’s nothing mind-blowing, but not bad. They have decent personalities; they each have a quirk without feeling like that’s the beginning and end of their characters and I guess they’re all pretty likeable. I say guess because truth be told, I don’t really care about a single one of them. The story gives me no reason to believe that any of these people are in danger and the character’s themselves don’t offer up anything interesting about themselves that would make me invest in them. The anime does try, most of its villain-of-the-week episodes tie into the back stories of one of the characters in one way or another. I do get the feeling this damaged the anime more than helped it though. If they’d spent less time on these one off stories and more on building up the actual threat I might have cared.
On the animation side of things Active Raid continues the trend of being average. It does what it has to, it’s colourful without being garish and the characters move well enough when they have to. The CGI is fairly nice, I mean the armoured suits do stand out a fair bit, and you’re always aware that it’s a different animation type than all the backgrounds, but I’ve seen far worse. They move well enough and the assemble scenes for each armour is well done. The armours themselves are probably the best bit of the anime. Each one has a unique look and the bad guy’s armour have some interesting if strange special abilities.
In the end, Active Raid is just a little too light-hearted for its own good. It lacks any real sense of threat for our heroes and thus it’s a little bit lacklustre when they overcome the obstacles in their way. Unfortunately the characters aren’t interesting enough or the jokes funny enough to make up for this. There are some interesting armour designs though and a couple of cool ideas floating around, but all in all it’s not enough to save this anime. There’s nothing really bad though, so if you’re inclined to watch it give it a couple of episodes, but I don’t think I’m going to be recommending this anyone anytime soon.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday (most of the time).