By the late 21st century, the internet has evolved into something more advanced- the Metal (“Meta Real”), an ocean-like virtual reality filled with the thoughts and emotions of all the people who use it. Awakening into this new reality is Haru Masamichi, an ocean diver who spent 50 years in a coma after an accident, and who now turns his natural talents to diving into the Metal and unravelling its mysteries. Assisting him is high school student Aoi Minamo, who, despite lacking the cyberbrain that most people use to connect to the Metal and each other, proves entirely upbeat and determined in her efforts to support Haru any way she can.
When the mind behind Ghost in the Shell turns his hand to another tale of a future where the fusion between humanity and technology has gone to the next level, you might be forgiven for thinking he would know what he was doing. You might also be forgiven for expecting something in the way of quality when he has the old team from Production IG backing him all the way. Unfortunately, despite the credentials of its creators and production crew, Real Drive turns out to be thoroughly disappointing from start to finish.
After a confusing start in which you console yourself with the fact that these things always take time to understand, Real Drive slowly becomes more transparent- but what it reveals hardly seems worth the wait. Instead of taking the opportunity to tell high concept stories, chilling morality plays or poignant character pieces, the series flounders around with tales so pointless and shallow it seems hard to see that a real plot will emerge at all. Imagine, if you will, an entire episode devoted to the idea of a dog internet, in which canines with connected paws get to dream about chasing cats and sniffing each other’s backsides. Or, if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, what about an entire twenty-five minute instalment dedicated to the process of discovering the perfect recipe for beef stroganoff? And if you find the pace of that all a bit too exhilarating, fear not, because there are two excruciatingly detailed flashback episodes to help you catch up!
All in all, the result of so much dithering is inevitable- on the rare occasions something plot-related does happen, you’re just too apathetic to really care any more. Couple that with the fact that the so-called ‘main plot’ really isn’t up to much anyway, tack on a half-hearted ending that makes no sense, and the result is that the entire ‘story’ of Real Drive is completely underwhelming.
With all this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the characters are equally unexciting. The relationship between eighty-year-old Haru and fifteen-year-old Minamo cannot help but be somewhat creepy- and this isn’t helped by the fact that his lengthy coma means Haru still has the mind of a thirty-year-old. The rest of the cast is equally uninspiring- Minamo’s older brother is a bland authority figure, Haru’s old friend Kushima is the obligatory scientific genius, whilst Minamo’s friends are as shallow as they come. The most promising of the bunch is sexy android Holon, and even she is basically a standard character.
Also worth a mention is the concept of the Metal itself- a futuristic internet which resembles a giant ocean. Given that one has to mentally dive into the Metal, and that those without cyberbrains are forced to trawl it in a giant diving bell (one of the many inconveniences they have to put up with in order to keep abreast of their wired up friends), it makes for a bleak future- I prefer a world where ‘surfing the net’ isn’t quite such a literal reference to water-based activities!
Visually, Real Drive has a clean, technically sound look; settings and backgrounds are well done, but characters have something of a bland and generic look- in keeping with the tone of the series, but not particularly noteworthy otherwise. The music is one of the series’ strong points; whilst the opening theme is a surprisingly catchy rock theme (shame about the vocals), the background music runs along grandiose classical themes.
Despite the big names behind this title, ultimately Real Drive proved itself unfit to be considered the sibling of Ghost in the Shell, sacrificing true plot and character development in favour of storylines that one can only imagine Shirow must have scribbled on a napkin during his lunch break. Even dedicated Production IG fans have to admit that this one is, quite simply, an utter flop.