I’d been meaning to finish off Rio: Rainbow Gate for a while. The first few episodes were kinda lame, but once I heard that the series embraced it’s absurd premise and went all-out, I had to see the beautiful mess peeps were claiming it was.
And yeah, it was pretty awesome. But I gotta go against the idea that it’s a mess. This series seems quite deliberate in telling us that it takes place inside of an old school video game universe.
Rio isn’t just tossing out things haphazardly, it’s using video game logic. This dawned on me during the episode where Jack finally explains his seemingly absurd “my family is dedicated to disarming bombs” backstory. When I saw his “mighty power” medallion, I thought I recognized that symbol, but I couldn’t quite place it right away. But once he put on his pajama-like costume and horned helmet I knew exactly who he was: He was a descendant of Mighty Bomb Jack.
Mighty Bomb Jack was one of those first generation NES games that most kids saw as a sign of their parents hating them. It was a platform game that most kids saw as a wannabe Super Mario Bros. Me being an anti-Mario elementary school hipster, I didn’t have the same irrational bias against poor ol’ Bomb Jack, but I never got into the game at the time because it was damn weird by my pre-adolescent standards. You had this “floaty” jump that felt off, and if you were too good at the game and collected too many coins or too much time, it’d punish you by sending you to Hell (or some US branch of Nintendo-friendly equivalent) and robbing you of all of your shit. It wasn’t until I played it on emulators in the late 90s that I realized that it was kinda fun in a quirky way. Nothing mindblowingly fascinating as some of my NES favorites like Metroid or Crystalis, but still cool in its own right.
Once I realized who Jack was meant to be, everything started to fall into place. The whacked-out games Rio was forced to play felt like the sort of minigames you’d play in the course of a video game. There’s two variations of light gun games, with the strip skeet shooting and target practice while flying games. The card games were simplified enough to make them playable on an 8bit system. The Concentration Bomber game is the perfect “bonus round” fodder. And Space Pinball is a whole game in and of itself. Rio’s basically playing through an NES version of Mario Party, with all of the non-gaming things acting as pseudo-cutscenes attempting to appease modern fans who demand “story” with their gameplay. The leaps in logic are exactly what you see in old school video games, and once I made the connection those leaps felt perfectly natural.
And to further support my little theory, I also realized that the tarot chick, Dana, was a gender-swapped version of the lead character from another early days NES game: Solomon’s Key. Not only do they share the same name and relative design, but the game Rio is forced to play against Dana kinda resembles Solomon’s Key’s gameplay, with the flying blocks being the most obvious reference.
And I think they threw in some off-hand Dead or Alive references as well. Something about beach volleyball or whatever.
So yeah, The Rio: Rainbow Gate pachinko machine was made by Tecmo. Mighty Bomb Jack and Solomon’s Key are also Tecmo games. I couldn’t find any other obvious references in the game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a more game-savvy peep saw more than I did. I’m kinda shocked that no one else seems to have caught onto this. At least it seems that way, since neither Rio’s Wiki article nor the posts on Anime Nano that I skimmed mentioned it. So I doubt I was the first to catch on to this, but I’m the only one I was able to find.
Rio came together pretty awesomely. It embraced the old school video game spirit, “flaws” and all, and made for one of the most fun series I saw this year. I demand a second season that goes even more over the top. This is the sort of shit that anime needs. If we’re gonna have obnoxiously cute girls, at least put them into outlandish, absurd situations.