The Fall 2016 Anime Preview Guide Long Riders
How would you rate episode 1 of
Long Riders! ?
What is this?
Ami has just started her first year of college, and she's looking to make a big change in her life. She wants to be less clumsy and more like her cool-headed friend Aoi, and she decides that the best way to do that is to start riding a bicycle like Aoi does. Ami falls in love with a folding bike at first sight and blows through her savings to buy it, but her first day of cycling with Aoi doesn't go so well. After nearly collapsing from hunger, she's helped out by a couple of experienced riders who just happen to go to the same college. When they meet again the next day, it looks like the four of them are meant to ride together. Long Riders! is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Daisuki, Saturdays at 10:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
If you were to toss Yowamushi Pedal and K-On! into a blender, you'd probably end up with something similar to Long Riders. It keeps the cycling theme intact, but gets rid of the competitive elements in favor of a lightweight storyline about trying a new hobby and making friends. The end result isn't terrible, but this first episode lacks the excitement of a sports series and doesn't quite nail the immersive qualities of a good slice of life show. What we're left with is a vaguely pleasant but ultimately forgettable story about two people going on a bike ride.
The writing at least does a good job of articulating the reasoning behind Ami's decision to buy a bicycle in the first place. Her ambitions aren't particularly grand and she's a little unsure of whether or not it'll actually change her life, but that's all right. It feels like an honest depiction of the way most people start a new hobby; Ami sees something that looks like fun, so she's giving it a try. It's an easy motivation to relate to, and it helps to make up for the fact that she's not a particularly compelling heroine when it comes to personality. She's not so much annoying as she is a blank slate, and her friend Aoi fits a little too neatly into the “cool and composed” archetype. If you've watched a slice of life series or two, this entire cast will feel overly familiar.
That's where Long Riders starts to unravel for me. Unless you really like cycling and want to watch anime characters talk about the basics of the hobby, there's nothing special going on here. Ami's first ride is pleasant in terms of tone and visuals, but it doesn't really capture that “eureka” moment of a main character realizing how great this new activity is. Sure, Ami goes on and on about how much fun she's having, but it's all just a little too basic and ordinary. Unless Long Riders can do a better job of articulating what makes riding a bicycle special, it's going to have a tough time winning over viewers who aren't already sold on the idea.
It's possible this series will improve once the characters get a chance to develop, and the cycling trivia could grow more interesting once it moves beyond the obvious tips for beginners. For now, though, it's the kind of series that will only really appeal to fans of the genre, and even then only if you've already gone through the long list of better options. It's fairly earnest and mostly harmless, but that's all there is to it.
It can sometimes be hard to describe the appeal of a great slice of life show. The genre demands subtlety and finesse, and often succeeds largely on tonal strengths that can't be described in simple craft terms. But when it comes to Long Riders, I find it's fairly easy to pinpoint the show's central qualities. Long Riders is lazy, derivative, and extremely boring.
First of all, Long Riders brings virtually no craft strengths to bear on its subject matter. The show's animation is minimal, character designs simplistic, and backgrounds extremely bland. The characters aren't expressive enough to really convey distinctive emotions, and their feelings are expressed through trite lines like “if I can continue biking, it'll give me confidence. Then I might be able to change!” The characters feel like archetypes more than actual people, and all their lines stay well within their types. The show's visual design is just as bad as its writing; slice of life shows generally demand the creation of a strong, lived-in atmosphere, but Long Riders is all simple geometric suburbs and CG riding sequences. The fact that so much of its opening song's visuals are cribbed from the first episode's actual material is also a pretty worrying sign.
Secondly, Long Riders is derivative. There are major elements here that are just directly cribbed from K-On!, starting with the fact that the protagonist Ami's best friend Aoi is more or less literally Mio Akiyama, from visual design to personality. There are also a couple jokes that directly echo Yui's relationship with her guitar, except executed with far less personality or aesthetic power. And outside of those jokes, there isn't really much humor here at all - the show simply proceeds from one bland event to the next.
Which brings me to Long Riders' ultimate boringness. There are many ways to make peaceful experiences with friends enjoyable from an audience perspective, but Long Riders is just too generic and lackluster in its execution to really offer any. The show feels like a collection of spare genre parts, executed with the bare minimum of effort. I actually really like having one strong slice of life show to relax with every season, but Long Riders is definitely not the one.
I know I said I wanted a girls' sports show that wasn't as exploitative as Kaijo, but I have to admit that I was hoping for something a little more exciting than Long Riders. While it may in fact turn into a female version of YowaPeda as it goes on, this first episode feels longer than biking up a steep hill – an endless slog that leaves you kind of tired at the end. Largely this is because the primary heroine of the piece, Ami, is such a novice at cycling that I was confused as to whether or not she even knew how to ride a bike when the episode started. I'm guessing she must have learned at some point, because otherwise buying a bicycle and announcing her intent to ride it would be supremely foolish. Of course, given that she didn't know that eating before a lot of physical activity was a good plan, I wouldn't put it past her.
The result is that Ami, doubtless intended to be a character non-cyclists can relate to due to her lack of knowledge, comes off as irritatingly naïve. It also feels like a real stretch to have her fall in love with a folding bike, the kind I see boat people wheeling up the dock every summer. They're not, as I understand it, intended for the kind of serious riding Ami's friend Aoi wants them to do, and they're also kind of weird looking. I could see how petite Ami might find one less intimidating than a larger model, but it feels very forced in general. The same can be said of her waxing rhapsodic about the pleasure of riding a bike – yes, it is fun, but she makes it sound positively orgasmic. (Okay, that's hyperbole. But it feels like she's a short step away from some Food Wars-style reacting.) Of course, the way Ami reacts to everything sounds like she's experiencing human life for the first time, which gets old.
Long Riders does deserve some credit, however, for one of the more seamless “fated meet-ups” I've seen recently. When Ami hits the hunger wall, Aoi flags down a couple of other cyclists (who are wearing matching jerseys and helmets, so you know they're more serious) to see if they have any food. The girls later turn out to go to Aoi and Ami's university, doubtless members of the Cycling Club, and while we can see that coming, the initial meeting feels more natural than is usual. I also love the fact that they go to Japan's smallest dairy farm for gelato; it's just a random detail that gives a sense of place that the episode otherwise lacked.
As it gets going, Long Riders could develop into something much more than this episode. I'm not sure that I'll stick around to find out, however – Ami so annoyed me that I'm not sure I want to watch her progress from star-struck baby biker to a full-blown competitive cyclist. If you can stand her, however, this is very likely a prologue to the real story, so a few episodes are likely needed to discover if this will be a cycling story or one about a girl who fell in love with a bike.
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