RErideD is a terrible failure and I love it

Derrida, Absurd

Yes, to the man holding a coffee cup from the top.

Oh, how to review RErideD: Tokigoe no Derrida (RErideD: Derrida Who Leaps Through Time)? The title alone makes no sense. What the heck does RErideD mean? Red… Ride… Ride again… D, past tense… an incomplete anagram of Derrida? The French philosopher? What?

I’m already off topic, but that’s okay because it’s a running theme in RErideD. The show is an absolute narrative disaster. But oh my god, it’s so funny, in the tradition of disasterpieces like The Room or Mirai Nikki. I don’t want to sound cruel mocking a bad thing though; I love RErideD. It’s a real diamond in the rough. Just a really, really ugly diamond. Despite the uncountable flaws though, it feels like genuine, earnest effort went into the series (and maybe even a touch of misguided inspiration). It tried. And wow, did it fail.

First, a quick plot teaser to establish the premise:

The implausibly young super-scientist Derrida Yvain discovers a bug in a new line of autonomous killing robots. Of course, his ~evil~ corporate employer wants to sell the robots (bad robber baron! bad!) and the ~evil~ conspiratorial government wants to start a war (bad shadowy cabal! bad!), so Derrida must flee from an arbitrary series of hitmen and assassins. He escapes to the future via cryofreezing, but discovers a post-apocalypse populated by the robots, now turned into rampant zombie husks that murder humans on sight. With the help of a childhood friend and a tough mercenary father-daughter pair with their loyal dog self-driving AI car in tow, Derrida sets off to find Mage, the one girl that holds the key to fixing the bug and restoring the world.

There’s also something about time travel. Remember, it’s a real mess.

Maybe I should start with a few production trifles like animation and sound quality before digging into the real meat of RErideD’s hilariously broken narrative. Usually, I never care much about production quality unless it becomes so bad that it distracts from the rest of the story. However, RErideD clearly ran out of time or money, resulting in a wonderful parade of “funny-bad” problems.

On animation, the show slowly disintegrates as the series progresses. Though it starts out well enough, with few complaints other than some uncanny-valley CG effects, by the end it practically freezes. Several dialogues consist of nothing but a flat still image, with no movement except for the character’s mouths and weird off-model twists to their face. This abbreviated style even bleeds into the action scenes, which have the exact same problem. In the last few episodes, “action” passes for still pans over a zombie horde of robot-zombies flashing tracer rounds at what I can only guess is one frame per second. I have no expertise in animation, so I’ll stop there. However, it’s absolutely worth a good chuckle to flip through some clips to catch a few shortcuts for yourself.

Derrida, Frozen still

I do not exaggerate: they talk for ten seconds across this still. Only mouths and Derrida’s shoulder move. Yuri is completely frozen like that.

The sound doesn’t do much better. It’s mostly unnoticeable mediocrity until, again, the final few episodes. I don’t know how to write about sound, so consider a single glorious, glaring capstone of a failure. In episode 8, the show uses an absolutely awful explosion effect that sounds like a discarded dubstep drop deemed too dissonant for even that genre. It goes something like this: BBBFWOUOUOUZZZ. It was so loud that I thought that my laptop had broken. I had to rewind the playback a few times just to make sure that my speakers still worked (I’ll even swear that I smelled smoke streaming off melted plastic!). Oh, and the best part? The show uses the same sound effect more than once. Don’t watch this show with headphones.

For all that though, RErideD’s production problems are just a fun sideshow. The real comedy comes from the barely comprehensible story strung along by a series of inexplicable plot conveniences (RErideD is approximately as confusing as the postmodern(ish) French philosopher that it borrows a name from… unless the writers wanted to make a point about narratives collapsing under critical scrutiny. Ha!).

Stuff just happens. I’ll borrow an example from episode one that I originally wrote for my discussion of technobabble in science fiction:

…the protagonist runs through a forest to escape a corporate hitsquad that for some reason does not pursue him (?) and then happens to fall into a ventilation shaft hidden in a forest (?) into an apparently abandoned (?) cryofreezing facility (?), where he inexplicably decides to lay down in an automated (?) cryotube for a quick 10-year (?) rest. It all occurs in the space of maybe five minutes.

As the series progresses, RErideD only becomes more disjointed, until that early sequence begins to seem coherent by comparison. Every scene rushes along at such an inexplicable pace that I never quite knew what was happening. The last few episodes practically flash by in an impressionistic blur. However, instead of taking the plot-convenient teleportation and seemingly random character decisions as points of criticism, I took them as cues to laugh. RErideD’s narrative is so hilariously, unintentionally funny. Just laugh!

For example, characters will sometimes stop to have conversations during apparent action sequences. In episode 9, Derrida and pals stop to have a chat while the robot-zombie horde surrounds them. Except the robots do nothing. They just buzz and stare with menacing red eyes (red means low battery, they’re ~hangry~) until the dog self-driving car bursts out of nowhere to whisk them away. This issue stuck out most in episode 5, when Derrida’s bodyguard fights an assassin while Derrida himself wanders off to explore a museum and piddle around in the past. By the end of the episode, the director seems to have remembered that a fight was happening in the next room but realized that he didn’t have enough time to properly finish it. The solution? Ehhh… I dunno, just toss a grenade and run away to the next plot point. It’s stunningly sudden. I laughed.

Oh, but that’s an end! I’m forgetting the beginning! What contrivance does RErideD use to launch the plot? Derrida entrusts a memory stick containing the fix for a literal world-ending software bug to an eight-year-old girl named Mage. Predictably, the girl does not deliver the data and the world ends. I’m already laughing, but who is Mage? Why, nothing but a human macguffin that holds the secrets to repairing the world and fixing Derrida’s mistakes, of course! After the first episode, she appears on screen for maybe, maybe a minute until the last episode, when Derrida saves her princess-in-tower style before time traveling one last time. With the world restored, the two become a romantic couple after another time skip. Yep! And eight-year-old girl and some guy in his mid-twenties. Nothing strange here! Just laugh and move along.

What about the other protagonists? Mage’s best friend Yuri (she’s so cute) helps initiate Derrida’s quest by helpfully appearing in an abandoned residential district because the plot needs her there to progress. But afterwards, she doesn’t really do anything except become a useless damsel in distress with a photography hobby (pretty cute damsel though). By the end of the show, she gets maybe 30 seconds of emotional payout to settle an unrequited romance with Derrida that the writers never really bothered to explore. Poor (cute) girl. Cue laughs.

Derrida, Damn

Yuri in her natural habitat: standing behind Derrida doing nothing.

As a spindly computer / robotics / time travel scientist, Derrida also needs a buff, gruff man’s man to protect him in the robot-zombie wastes. Cue Vidaux, a good-cop-gone-bad that works under a specific (but never elaborated) mercenary code of justice. He also drags along his daughter Mayuka, who has literally no narrative purpose, and his dog autonomous AI car that amounts to a lazy cross between Knight Rider and the motorcycle from Kino’s Journey (I only call the dog car a dog because he shares a name with my family pet growing up: Graham). By the second to last episode, the writers realized that Yidaux and his daughter still existed despite having no relevance for the conclusion. So, like they did with every other half-baked plot, they gave them a thirty second sacrificial goodbye and raced on to the next conclusion.

The funniest part about the supporting protagonists is that even Derrida declares, repeatedly, that he doesn’t need them. He tells Yuri to stay safe at home while he saves the world, because he’s too much of a brick to realize that she loves him. In episode 9, he even suggests that Vidaux should give up after taking a severe wound. Derrida practically seems to say “Oh, you saved my ungrateful scientist ass a dozen times already? Nah, I don’t need your help anymore.” To add insult to injury, he even has the gall to suggest that the mercenary’s parenting style is reckless (“stay with the dog car honey, daddy’s gotta fight a cyborg super assassin”). The dismissal of the supporting cast makes Derrida such a comically unlikable hero.

If the protagonists are bad, the antagonists fare far worse. As I’ve joked already, the killer robots function about the same as zombies and don’t leave much up for discussion. But what about the real characters?

The primary antagonist is an awful Donald Trump look-a-like who hires an assassin to kill Derrida. His entire motivation is just “I got the money, see” because capitalism is evil, right fellas? After his death, the show replaces him with a similarly evil-for-no-reason government official with bizarre sadistic, homoerotic undertones (what’s he doing to those metal balls?). He apparently dies when the dog car crashes into his gunship. But nah, he reappears no problem-o, while his unscathed henchmen helpfully teleport into the path of the protagonists to stop them at the last plot-convenient minute. Then he just disappears from the show entirely. Where’d he go? I dunno, it’s just another unfinished plot line. Laugh.

(An aside: the functionally faceless government henchmen even get character introductions on the promotional webpage. Why? I dunno, but I laughed.)

If you stop to question the setting, the antagonists make no sense. How does the businessman make money in a post-apocalypse that lacks any industrial capacity because of the zombie-robot problem? For that matter, how does the government official hope to expand his tax base by starting a mutually assured destruction war of oblivion? Why does the assassin betray them both at the end to save Derrida? Why- no. No, stop asking questions. Just laugh.

I could keep going (I haven’t even touched Ange and the “Trout Theory” time travel mess!), but I think I’ve made my point. Just about every scene and character in Derrida has some hilarious, glaring production error or criminal plot convenience. So, I’ll give just one more example: a case study on my favorite hilari-bad character, the evil assassin Donna. Bizarrely enough, it manages to become one of the most compelling and well-developed stories. Except given RErideD’s general …incoherence… that’s a pretty low standard. Let’s lay it out chronologically, because RErideD’s out-of-time flashbacks make it difficult to follow in series-sequence.

Scene: a scientist named Angelica sits down for a talk with a sentient robot named Donna in a secure research laboratory. Their conversation something goes like this:

Angelica:    Hello, I am Angelica. Your name is Donna.

Robot:        Hello, I am Angelica. Your name is Donna.

Angelica:    No, I am Angelica. You are Donna. You are a robot.

Robot:        No, I am Angelica. You are Donna. You are a robot.

Angelica:    *in tears* Am I really Donna? Am I really a robot?

Robot:        Yes.

Angelica:    I AM DONNA. BEEP BOOP. KILL ALL HUMANS.

Angelica proceeds to attack the robot (why? is her ego that fragile?) and apparently kills it with a pair of scissors despite her soft, sedentary scientist’s body (how is she strong enough? for that matter, how are the scissors strong enough? how do you stab something made of metal?). Meanwhile, the other researchers and laboratory guards do nothing (why?). Then Angelica kills them (why? how? with the scissors again?). Then she adopts the name Donna (why?). Then she becomes a superhuman “Destruct” assassin that thinks she’s robot (what? why? how?). Or maybe she becomes a cyborg with a robot arm, or… …something. If my rapid overuse of “then” doesn’t make clear, it’s all very confusing.

Flash forward ten years, and Donna receives an assassination contract to kill Derrida from the evil corporation man. She tries, and fails, a few times in a series of disjointed fight scenes that become more and more comically broken as the series winds down. Then she decides to kill her employer (why?). Then she has a quasi-religious monologue in a church (?) about wanting to kill her creator (what? why now?). Then she tries to kill Derrida again, but gets stunned by some robot jamming plot armor (what?). Then she appears at the last second (how?) to save Derrida (why?). Then she has an epiphany after Derrida does his own monologue about humanity and science (what?). Then she dies. Then…

…oh wait, the crazy sequence is finally over. If you prick a human that thinks she is a robot, she bleeds. Surprise! Welcome to the end of that inexplicable character arc, because RErideD is already on the last episode and Derrida hasn’t even found “Macguffin Mage” yet.

I want to emphasize that I am barely mischaracterizing the story here for comedic effect. RErideD is just that incomprehensibly hilarious. Donna’s origin as Angelica makes no sense. Her sudden betrayal of her employer makes no sense. Her turn to hate her creators, her final appearance, and ultimate sacrifice make no sense. Her dialogue is nonsensical, and her sudden identity-crisis-cum-psychotic-rampage comes out of nowhere (if a robot told me “I am you,” I would say “sucks for you, pal”).

But wait, but wait! I promise it’s not all bad!

If I zoom out real far and squint real hard to reduce the narrative down to the straight-line plots and what few smudges of character color RErideD could muster, I can see a neat little story here. I even get a whiff of religious commentary out of the awkward, rushed monologues. Of course, it’s horribly out of focus, and out of time, and probably out of production money to boot. But still… I get that barest impression of a feeling: “this is kinda neat.”

Donna’s story has something interesting to it, even if the execution failed every time. A robot seeking revenge on its creators? That’s pretty neat. Or a mad scientist made sympathetic to the robots, seeking to punish humanity for the sin of creation? That’s pretty neat, too. A dejected revolutionary chasing a creator that no longer exists, only for that creator to suddenly reappear? Sure, cool premise. All of this while trapped in the cynical day-to-day living of an assassin cursing all creation and despairing existence itself? Alright, you got me. Yeah, I’d watch a show about this.

…except for RErideD’s biggest problem. Donna’s story is just a side plot that receives maybe 40 minutes of weak exploration in the last few episodes. RErideD has good ideas. It just has far too many of them to fit into a 12 episode series. Donna has to share the spotlight with all of the narrative-essential plots like the comic-evil corporate conspiracy, the comically-evil-er government conspiracy, and all of the time travel weirdness that I haven’t even written about. And all this before considering the other side plots like Yuri’s unrequited love story, Vidaux’s conflict between mercenary justice and police procedure, and even the stupid repair and sacrifice arc for dog / self-driving car. With so many competing plot threads, it’s crazy that the show even set aside the time to give Donna a backstory.

I think I like Derrida because I can see the story the writers wanted to tell, before they ran out of time or money. It’s such an earnest effort! Of course, it failed every single time. But it really did try. I like that. I can’t identify a single thing Derrida did right. And that’s okay, because I haven’t laughed so hard in a long, long time. That’s a real accomplishment, even if an unintentional one.

I don’t know what else to say at this point, so let me return to my metaphor in the introduction:

I wanted to call RErideD “like a shattered jewel” until I realized that a shattered jewel must first be a jewel before it can have the sad, beautiful dignity of shattering. Instead, I think a better metaphor would be an incomplete gemstone. RErideD is badly cut, at all the wrong angles, and then rounded down into a weird oblique lump with rough natural scabs where the gemcutter forgot to polish. And afterwards, it was forgotten altogether, left in a soft pile of its own shorn, sanded dust that no one bothered to blow away.

That’s about as ugly as I can imagine a gemstone. But hey, it’s still a gem! A real rough diamond in the rough, but still a diamond! No matter how hard you squint, it will never look beautiful and I’m sure if someone tried to critically examine it, they would find hidden cracks and chips and bruises that distort the light in new insane ways. But it’ll surely catch your eye, better than whatever cynical, synthesized zirconia trinkets share its seasonal display case.

RErideD: Tokigoe no Derrida might be my anime of the year. No, seriously! It’s an awful mess that probably deserves worse than the five-point-whatever score it has on MyAnimeList right now. But despite the low quality, Derrida feels genuine. It isn’t just some cheap shovelware trying to cash in on a hot genre or some lazy sex appeal. It took an interesting risk, likely ran out of production resources, and crashed hard. I can’t fault it for that. For all of its unfixable flaws, I really do love the poor thing.

RErideD failed. But, hey — it tried.

Derrida, Yuri sad

And hey, at least Yuri is cute

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