Active Raid

3 out of 5

Directed by: Gorō Taniguchi (chief director), Noriaki Akitaya

covers season 1 and 2

A surprisingly complex and character-driven mecha anime, Active Raid initially comes across as a mess of cliches before settling into an impressive run of building plot points that culminate in a gripping season one finale.  The second season, for better or worse, repeats the same trick but with more characters and a more widespread approach to genres, weaving in relationships and crass, meta comedy; it is ultimately unsuccessful in making this wider scope a smooth viewing experience, as well as suffering from the feeling of repetition of season one.  The season (and series) finale is again a blast, but the build up isn’t nearly as rewarding, humbling the rating of the show as a whole.

‘Active Raid’ describes a government unit of “Willwear” suited protectors: Voltron-y suits specialized to their wearer that are rocketed into the middle of the crime and monitored by a central team.  Video game special movies are applied; CGI-brushed robot battle scenes are to be expected at the conclusion of each episode.  But although the show follows a predictable episodic flow throughout, wherein a crime occurs, an investigation follows, and the perpetrator is Scooby Doo revealed during the climactic battle, the writers continue to wind in not only political intrigue – light social commentary that touches on the need for the Willwears and the money- and power-driven decisions that prevent the team from being more effective – but a clever background plot that seemingly suddenly emerges as the end-all be-all and actually results in some pretty gripping stakes in the back half of the first season.  Similarly, the characters on the team all slot into normal tropes – the strict one, the computer one, the funny one, etc. – but these roles are filled in with more background than could be expected, which ends up making their personalities and interactions much more involving, and especially rewarding when those interactions pay off emotionally.

The second season does its best to double down on the action and intrigue and maintain the character / plotting work, but it’s too much to juggle and leans into being silly and harmless more often than exciting.  Which is plenty entertaining – the time you’ve spent with the characters pays off – just much more representative of an average show than the above-average that the first season represents.

Good action and acting throughout, with a notably intense first season definitely worth a gander.