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Real Drive review

March 26, 2009

“Real Drive” (RD 潜脳調査室 Sennou Chousashitsu) is an anime series originally spawned by Masamune Shirow of “Ghost In The Shell” fame.

Both series share several common interesting themes. Like “Ghost In The Shell”, “Real Drive” takes place in a futuristic society with advanced technology where humans, androids, nearly everyone and everything is linked through a global virtual network.
In “Real Drive” this cyberworld is called the ‘meta real network’ or simply ‘the metal’, it is usually portrayed as an immense ocean of sorts, sharing similar traits to the earth’s seas. A trademark element of “Real Drive” is this celebration of the sea and aquatic life.

Cyberworld of RD Real Drive

In typical Masamune Shirow style an intricate plot rife with mysteries and philosophical pondering comes together to bring the story to where it forms a bridge between the digital world and nature, a more novel approach that elevates this series a bit more above average.

The full title of the series seems to mean something akin to ‘room where inquiry into the human consciousness is done’, which references not only to the ‘meta real’ network that links humans to each other and the overarching network, but also the voyage the characters undertake into understanding humanity and our planet’s nature.

“Real Drive” differs from “Ghost In The Shell” which paints a more grim picture of mankind’s future and is a series filled with espionage, political intrigue and action. By largely lacking those genre and plot elements, “Real Drive” is able to take on a different approach on themes like cybernetics, artificial intelligence, what it means to be human and how humans interact among themselves and with artificial beings.

This is most evident in Holon, the android meant to support Haru who slowly seems to develop a personality of her own and starts to cross the bridge to what it means at its core to be human. We’re also shown how Holon’s growth affects those around her, especially Souta, who in time no longer sees Holon as an android but comes to regard her as a real woman he eventually develops feelings for.
Not only does it raise questions as to what it means to be alive and human, it makes implications as to how machines with artificial intelligence can gain self awareness and evolve into something akin to being human.

Next to artificial intelligence the extensive use of cybernetics and most people having cyberbrains (through injection with nanomachines at an early age) is commonplace in the era of “Real Drive”.
These aspects are also quite satisfyingly explored, such as in the episode about Amy, a girl born blind who receives cybernetic eye implants but has trouble adjusting to this new world where she can now see. Amy’s experience also ties nicely to Minamo’s, as Minamo is also considered different, having no cyberbrain like the others.

Cast of RD Real Drive

Throughout the series we see the female lead Minamo blossom from a school girl into a young adult, yet she retains her uplifting spirit and natural positiveness that makes her stand out compared to the other characters.
Being the only one without a cyberbrain, Minamo provides us with the refreshingly different view of how a completely natural, unaltered person sees the world of “Real Drive” and how she interacts with its people who are continuously connected to everyone else with their cyberbrains through that global virtual network, something which she cannot experience in the same way.

That Minamo is the positive ray of light, emanating a continuous spark of joy and hope among everyone could be interpreted that in such a cybernetic world where networks connect everything, real spontaneity, hope and positiveness is something lost when being wholly natural and our link to nature is replaced by the link to a cyberworld.

Minamo’s growing attachment to the elder Haru is well paced and expertly written, as the series progresses she is clearly feeling affection for Haru but it never is explicitly hinted at being something that could be considered inappropriate due to their incredibly age gap.
Rather, even though she has no cyberbrain Minamo sees something inside Haru, feelings only reinforced by the fact he becomes a source of inspiration to her that spurs her on to grow and mature.

Nonetheless, Haru is never portrayed as a surrogate (grand)father to Minamo. When all of the characters start to move onto their own paths as the series progresses and Haru once again regains the ability to walk, even though she supports him, Minamo is clearly torn inside at being separated from him.

The short epilogue after the final episode ending credits does offer a scene that can be interpreted as a happy conclusion with implied romantic love. Miraculously rejuvenated by the power of the sea and the ‘metal’, the once again young Haru and Minamo find each other when she spots him at the beach emerging from his last dive. Minamo runs into the water towards Haru to what seems like a heartfelt embrace.

In that aspect it was similar to the epilogue of “Kanazuki No Miko”, where years later on a crowded street crossing Himeko and the reincarnated Chikane find each other by chance and are at last reunited.
One could say it’s a bit far fetched or sugar-coated with Haru being young again and Minamo finding him like that by chance, but in a series that is as a whole more positive and upbeat than Shirow’s other works I think it’s a fitting scene.

A cute Minamo from RD Real Drive

Haru was another interesting character, not only due to his intricate bond with Minamo, but also due to his unique view on their world. Not only were we offered a different angle with the all natural Minamo, but Haru due to his age and background also had quite an interesting view on the ‘metal’ network and the world of “Real Drive”.

The first episode shows us how a young Haru, who is a genuine sea diver with a deeply felt connection to nature, he is involved in a life threatening accident and spends the next decades bedridden in a hospital. Implanted with a cyberbrain while in coma, Haru awakens to a world that is completely different.
Where before he had stood at the eve of change, he now awakens to a world where so much time has passed it’s almost become unrecognisable to him.

Unable to walk or make great physical efforts at first, the ‘metal’ offers him an entire world he can dive and explore in and where his intuitiveness serves him well.
Haru’s outlook on the events in “Real Drive” prove as interesting as Minamo’s and offer two unique perspectives on that world that does differ of how the regular people that live inside it see everything.

Another interesting view of the future shown in “Real Drive” are the Aoi family dynamics.
Minamo’s parents are both prominent researchers who spend most of their time working away from home. While this leaves Minamo in the care of her brother Souta we do see that while all family members have very independent lives, they immediately feel as a tightly knit family group the moment they meet again because they are always connected and in touch through the ‘metal’ network or other modern means of communication.
Perhaps this is where our society is fast heading to?

Who Minamo holds dear

“Real Drive” is animated in Production IG’s typical style, with a good blend of 2D animation and 3D effects, especially the cyberworld and lush nature scenes of the ocean and tropical island are very well animated and a visual treat.

A remarkable difference compared to other series or projects done by Production IG or Masamune Shirow is the visual style of the female characters. All women, including the younger girls like Minamo look strikingly different compared to other anime series where most females receive idealized yet physically disproportionate bodies.
In “Real Drive” they are not unhealthily thin or combining very large bosoms with tiny abdomens but they are all shapely, even plump. One could almost have the impression of watching women with shapes inspired by the paintings of Rubens.

Regardless, while we may think female characters like Minamo are plump, they are in fact realistically rendered when compared to real life female anatomical proportions. This is clear when seeing Minamo’s friend Yukino, who is a plump young girl and one can’t help but applaud Production IG in animating her so realistically and spot on.
Surely it will not be to all of the viewers taste, especially considering the style breach compared to the majority of the other anime series out there, but I can appreciate this different design and realistic animation effort.

Production IG is also one of the few animation studios that can render realistic elder characters, Haru looks believable and authentic as an elder person and not like some sort of failed caricature.
Animation quality throughout the series remains high, so viewers will be in for a treat.

The soundtrack of “Real Drive” is quite good, with opening and closing themes in hard rock music style, quite the difference from the electronic music and chants from “Ghost In The Shell”.
The other background music serves its role well of accentuating what happens on screen, from helping build suspense, a sense of urgency, drama to offering more relaxing tunes.

Though the soundtrack created by Hideki Taniuchi and Yoshishisa Hirano is quite good and values being enjoyed and listened to in its own, it does not quite reach the same level as the soundtracks made by Kenji Kawai for the “Ghost In The Shell” movies or those made by Yoko Kanno for the “Ghost In The Shell: Stand-Alone Complex” series.
But it remains a solid soundtrack that can be a nice addition to anyone’s soundtrack collection.

Fans of Masamune Shirow’s work will certainly enjoy “Real Drive”, although the atmosphere clearly differs from his usual work.
Those that are looking to watch a more intriguing show that is more out of the ordinary and intelligent than the average anime series, I would certainly recommend giving “Real Drive” a try.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. anonymousobject permalink
    March 27, 2009 5:45 pm

    Looks interesting. I did enjoy the GITS series, so I might check this out. ^^

  2. elianthos permalink
    February 21, 2011 1:46 am

    Excellent review. I’ve watched the series recently and you just stole the words from my keyboard (down to the Rubens connection. It’s uncanny. Or appropriate, given the series’ themes XD ) .
    I really enjoyed the settings and the characters, it was a refreshing experience and – in comparison to GITS SAC – an overall more enjoyable one for me thanks to the better empathy with the cast here and to the ecologist nuances ^^.

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