The battle for the Howard Resort gets far more personal as Rio's past is revealed.
What They Say:
Episode 8 - 'Ace'
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Cartia's attempts at screwing over Howard with his resorts and the like has a decidedly personal tone to it. Her way of pushing Rio further and further along as she's being strained by the various battles makes sense but it lacks the common civility of the earlier matches we saw. With this one, Cartia makes it even more personal after capturing Rina, knocking her unconscious and bolting her down to a game table where Rio gets to do a coin toss gate battle with Cartia's chosen opponent for her. It's simple and almost comical in a sense, but there are the continued dark undertones from Rio's past the surfaces in the midst of it that makes it all very important to her beyond the obvious things we see.
The match has a whole air of silliness about it once it gets going, especially when its revealed that the guy is saying everything he's thinking which reveals his less than honest trick about the thing. The match has a really weird sense about it, especially as it's at the start of the episode and relatively brief overall. It does open things up for the next phase against Cartia though but even that feels a little off since she hasn't exactly been all that interesting of an opponent and the flashes of serious material with Rio's past isn't helping the show other. What is fun is that a videogame comes into play briefly called Star Force which reminded me heavily of Xevious, a game I played far too much as a kid. Sometimes it's the little things in a show that can make you grin and enjoy a moment more than you would otherwise.
This episode does finally start to really get to the heart of the matter of things when Cartia makes it plain what she's been doing all this time. She's forced Rio into numerous battles since the start of the series to build up her strength so that her true superior opponent can take her down for revenge. That revenge is with Rina as she's being manipulated by Cartia all this time over issues of parents, affairs and relationships in the past that ended with Rina's mother dying. It's a sticky situation and one that Cartia has worked all too hard to accomplish. The result of Rio and Rina facing off against each other is a culmination of it but even there it's hard to say what her true goals are as she's continually manipulating things for her own mysterious ends. It's not complicated, but it feels like it's too convoluted in how it's all being laid out and still something wholly unnecessary in the series.
Rio's darker angle in the last episode and this one are areas that I still find to be out of place in the show, even with the explanations given by Cartia. It's a series that I really didn't expect to get too serious as it progressed towards the end, but I did figure it would introduce something to add a little tension like most fanservice shows do. What we get here is darker than normal and I don't think it fits well at all. There's a pacing issue as well, especially with this episode, and so many little manipulations that it comes across as just too much overall. Especially when you bookend it with such upbeat and fun opening and closing sequences. Rio's past is rather well explored here but with Cartia involved, there's only so much truth likely to be in it and that keeps you from getting invested in it at this point. Not that Rio was ever a show that needed much vesting.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Dell 10.1 Netbook via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.