My view of RideBack
(Warning: non-specific spoilers.)
I'll begin by saying that RideBack is one of those interesting animes that I think is good but that I'm not sure is enjoyable.
RideBack starts out as a goofy but promising sports anime with some implausible things lurking in the background, such as the conquest of Japan by some new trans-national military organization. But after a couple of episodes it becomes evident that its real focus is not the sports plot (that was just to introduce us to the characters), but those background things.
The show's strength is in its unflinching and sometimes brutal depictions of what happens to real people who get in the way of power structures and authorities, which is what most of the show is about. It did not pull many punches, and so this was not necessarily a very pleasant experience. During this, the core characters feel like painfully real people; they make mistakes (sometimes terrible ones) and have complex real reactions to what happens, reactions without easy pat answers. All of this is necessarily weakened by the last episode, which delivers the inevitable yet implausible happy ending instead of crushing everyone into paste.
(Mentioning this aspect of the ending should not spoil anyone who is awake; 'rocks fall, everyone dies' is, shall we say, not a popular choice in anime endings. RideBack's happy ending does stay true to the characters, which is most of what I could ask for.)
Apart from its genre, RideBack's major weakness is the huge amount of implausible things that you are required to swallow. But once you've done that, I think that it's a quite well executed show, and it avoids predictable cliches; I expected any number of obvious things, none of which happened. The show also consistently surprised me with its choices, including at the ending.
(And I certainly found that it was one of the shows that I compulsively had to watch this season.)
All of this leaves me feeling ambivalent. I think that I would have preferred to watch the goofy sports anime that RideBack seemed to be at the start, the story of an injured ballerina who discovers that her skills can be applied to RideBack races and blossoms as a result. But it would have been an ordinary show, one that was ultimately less interesting than the RideBack that we actually got.
In the Author style:
Liked: probably. I certainly don't regret watching it.
Rewatch: are you kidding? No.
My overall view of Toradora! (and some thoughts)
I've been mulling over this for long enough, so it's time to actually write something (warning, some spoilers):
Ultimately, I think Toradora! is a good series overall but not an exceptional one. In hindsight (and after Author spurred me into rewatching the first two episodes), I feel that it had a strong beginning, a good but relatively ordinary middle, and ended very strong with a powerful ending, partly because it was willing to have its characters grow and change and partly because it is willing to be decisive. In this it managed to be that rarity, an anime show that gets much better in its final stretch (I would say the last three episodes).
One of the interesting things about Toradora! is how atypical and oddly structured it is. There are no romantic complications that show up (Ami does not count, because everyone else is oblivious), and part of its strong and fast start is how it decisively disposes of the Taiga/Yuusaku issue in the second episode. In an ordinary romcom, I would have expected at least one romantic rival and for it to take ages before Taiga approached Yuusaku.
Another thing I noticed (due to rewatching episode 1) is the difference between the narration that opens the first episode and the narration that closes the last one. Based on the final line, it seems that over the course of the show Taiga and Ryuuji have gone from thinking of love as something that is found to thinking of it as something that is created.
(This fits well with their overall growing up and especially their decisions in the final episode.)