The final battle, or I should say Rin’s performance in the finale of RideBack is a virtuous conceit. It’s a conceit because it had completely divorced itself from realism¹ in order to portray what would have been a brutal fight into an uplifting ballet. It is virtuous because it made me remember love for a fight that astounded me with its brutality.
What did this performance, this dance remind me of? It reminded me of Soryu Asuka Langley’s desperate fight against the mass-produced Eva units in End of Evangelion. What I mean by ‘it reminds me’ is it did in the way a reference or shoutout in a show/manga reminds me of how much I like the source work, or, how these guys remind me of Macross: Do You Remember Love; lovable in their own way and in no way supposed to transcend the original.
Now that I’ve cleared that up, here’s how the finale evokes Eva.
The idea of synchronization. In Eva,
An abbreviation for Synchronization Ratio. It is a numerical representation of the level of synchronization between an Evangelion Unit and it’s pilot. A higher Sync Ratio allows for better and more accurate control during combat, but since physical damage to an Evangelion Unit is felt by the pilot as physical trauma/pain, a higher Sync Ratio also leaves the pilot more sensitive to any damage the unit may sustain.
For much of the series, the highly-trained Asuka Langley Sohryu maintains the highest Sync Ratio [...]
-From The NERV Archives
The actual term is never used in RideBack, but throughout the narrative it is heavily implied that Ride Backs ‘choose’ their riders. Certainly Fuego and Ogata Rin have an affinity that allows her to do stunts that others can’t, and neither can she on other Ride Backs.
The pilots of the Evangelions are selected primarily, by their potential to synchronize with the Eva units.
An advisory body of 108 corporations established by the Human Instrumentality Committee to oversee the identification and selection of children suited to be Evangelion pilots. It is however a mere dummy organization with no actual body, and NERV itself had been selecting the pilots.
-From The NERV Archives
The concept of synchronization, in both shows establish that a pilot and a particular mecha are optimized when they have a high level of sychronization. Asuka does best with Eva Unit 02, and pilots no other mecha in the series. Rin is able to do special things on Fuego, that she finds much harder to pull off while riding different units.
But enough about synchronization. The real similarities show up in the finale itself. Take a look at the mass production Evangelions, and how they are presented in the show. Then note how the Grimoires in RideBack show up.
The battles themselves are composed very similarly. Both pilots are young females, wearing red (Asuka’s plugsuit, Rin’s skirt), riding red mecha, and surrounded by white automated monsters.
The temperament of the characters are very dissimilar. However, in the presentation of the battles in the respective shows we can see how similar their ‘war faces’ are portrayed, in the calm just before the violence erupts:
One of the truly striking things about this fight sequence in End of Evangelion is the choice of music that accompanied it. J. S. Bach’s ‘Air in G’. It seems such a somber, pensive piece though on the happier end of the spectrum of melancholy. It certainly provided a stark contrast with the brutal violence that was ongoing.
Similarly, and in fulfillment of the conceit of staging the final battle as a ballet, Rin dances to a piano piece that I haven’t identified. For now I shall call it ‘Requiem for Suzuri-chan,’ in memory of Rin’s friend and biggest fan who struck dead by a GGP ‘White Ride’ having been misidentified as Rin during a citizens’ demonstration gone awry.
While in End of Evangelion it’s very very clear how the fight is being won and lost due to the graphic nature of the violence, Rin’s dance only vaguely illustrates how the Grimoires are being smashed one after another by some kind of ballet-fu. This is the culmination of Rin’s story – finding her art again after losing it to injury. And as much the Fuego itself is vehicular to the fulfillment of this goal, the fighting itself is merely a facility for Rin’s art to be portrayed as rediscovered and performed.
In both fights, the mecha lose power (i.e. they stop functioning). This is disastrous for Asuka, as it serves as the exit of Eva Unit 02. The umbilical cord power supply system in NGE has served as an exciting dramatic device throughout the series. There’s something thrilling at how the dread of watching the timer count down actually led to a tragic end after all the near misses during the TV series. Rin coaxes Fuego back to life, like a mecha whisperer if you will. This is another conceit that I’m willing to forgive as it merely serves to heighten the drama that leads to the grand jete Rin pulls off that somehow ends the battle as well. The images that follow portray two exits:
Throughout their respective fights, both girls were conversing with their dead mothers. In Asuka’s case, she was desperately seeking to win her approval. Rin on the other hand, was trying to recall and follow her mother’s advice. This is interesting with regards to the role of the mother in the Evangelions themselves.
Evangelion Unit-02 possesses the Soul of her mother, Kyouko Zeppelin Sohryu. Kyouko was also heavily involved with NERV, but suffered an emotional breakdown following a contact experiment with Evangelion Unit-02. It is implied that she was left an empty shell following the experiment, and committed suicide shortly after.
-From The NERV Archives
Now there is no direct hint in RideBack, no apparent clue that implies that Fuego is similar to Eva Unit 02 in this particular way. However, consider the following image:
The last image you see in the Ed, and the last image you see in the whole series: look at how the child Rin holds on to her mother’s shoulders, as if she’s riding her back, as if she was holding on to Fuego’s handlebars.
¹ While the Grimoires are supposedly out of control, there was no strong reason that explains why they completely avoided the use of firearms (some units still fired their guns, though never at Rin). Had they done so, Rin would’ve been killed easily and the ballet fight could naver have been staged.
A note that I couldn’t fit in the main body:
RideBack was a let-down for me. I had expected a lot more from it, given how interesting I found the first episode. My main gripe is how uninteresting the political conspiracy elements of the story were, compared to let’s say how FLAG OVA did it. Furthermore and more damning as I see it, is the way Suzuri-chan’s death was very weak. She had no reason to die, given how the White Rides were given specific instructions to arrest her and no kill order was given. The White Ride who struck her down could have easily struck her mount or merely incapacitated the rider, but instead delivered a fatal blow. This serves as a catalyst for Rin, but it could’ve been done much better.