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Active Raid
Episode 5

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Active Raid ?
Community score: 3.4

We got another episodic adventure this week, this time focused on providing context for another member of Unit 8 - Madoka, the soft-spoken girl who always seems a little out of place in the team. After a flashback that established a mysterious masked gambler, this episode opened by directly addressing the existence of Logos, as the head of Public Safety informed Unit 8 that their recent missions had all been coordinated by the terrorist group. And then, after a couple easy-going scenes of the team having yet another party, the episode curved into its twin threads - what Madoka does with her free time, and what Logos is up to this week.

Jokingly tasked with tailing Madoka on her time off, Asami unsurprisingly took the joke literally, and ended up almost learning that Madoka now spends her free time in an underground poker bar. In spite of poker now being legalized, the old men of the bar seem unhappy with modern poker, talking of how the lights and cameras take away from whatever made the sport appealing. And Madoka, for her part, is very obviously Bloody Mary, the masked gambler who once made a killing in illegal gambling halls. But Bloody Mary was different from these men - she gambled to make money to feed her siblings, not just for the rush.

In contrast to that principled stance, the Logos side of this story presented Onodera, a gambling schoolteacher who was essentially holding the city ransom. Having fired off a number of missiles into the city, he promised to halt his terrorism under one condition - that someone beat him at the gambling table. To Onodera, the danger was all; gambling without danger wasn't a life worth living, and so “if I have to live another dull day, I'd rather have one last match.”

The majority of this episode played out in characteristic thriller fashion, with the section chief Funasaka first facing down and eventually losing to the talented Onodera, eventually leading to Madoka's last-minute reappearance as Bloody Mary to save the day. It is very, very difficult to make gambling dramatically engaging in the context of a thriller like this, but the show did its best. The gambling was limited to an even more simplified version of Five Card Stud, allowing for easy parsing of play by the audience, and the focus on tells and consistently incredible hands predictably turned the gambling into a far more dramatic and visually obvious activity than it truly is. In real life, gambling is an accumulation of percentages across a long sequence of hands - but that stuff doesn't play so well without either expert knowledge or strong color commentary, and so Active Raid turned gambling into a procession of full houses and straight flushes while Madoka's teammates shot lasers out of the sky. None of these tricks truly succeeded in making the gambling itself exciting (in fact, ramping up the theoretical excitement of gambling like this really only takes away its ability to create an effective dramatic exchange), but at least they tried.

As usual, Active Raid's actual episodic narrative was far less engaging than the slowly accumulating details of character and worldbuilding. Madoka herself didn't come off as the most interesting person here, but what she represented was fairly compelling. The meaning of gambling here - how danger seems implicit in its appeal, and thus many of the “true” gamblers can't find satisfaction in a world of sanctioned, sanitized gambling - made for a nice understated comment on the overall world of Active Raid, and on the process of coming to terms with the world in general. Madoka's flamboyant Bloody Mary identity seems to imply she was into gambling at least partially for the thrill, and her frequenting of an underground bar in spite of gambling's current legality supports that. But she is able to compromise with the modern world, and as Funasaka says, “keep her hobby as a hobby.” This wasn't necessarily the most dramatically successful episode, but the smart tension between Madoka, Onodera, and the facts of the modern world gave it a compelling edge.

Overall: B

Active Raid is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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