Infinite Ryvius is a series that's quite in a league of its own, both for the time it was produced and also for featuring one of the largest views on a group of characters I had ever watched in an anime series to date. Focusing on a group of students who find themselves stranded in space after a tragic accident, Infinite Ryvius chronicles their attempts to journey home while facing incredible odds: from external forces believing them to be a part of an enemy fleet to internal unrest among the temporary leading crew and the workers who struggle under their rule.
Taking on a cast (400+ students trapped in a war ship called the Ryvius) of this magnitude is no easy task, and being able to showcase raw emotion in the face of adversity is far from simplistic, particularly in a work of media. Yet, this series does both in considering its main cast, a group of 8-12 students who are often the main focus of the series and repeatedly showcased in their trials and tribulations, as well as the larger cast and crew whom are caught in the crosshairs and feel at a loss as to whether they will return home.
Granted, Infinite Ryvius is not a perfect series, but I would argue it really touched my heart in a way very few contemporary series have done. The key factor to really enjoying this is not focusing on or seeking its perfection, but rather it's imperfections, and it's chock full of them. It might sound contradictory, but follow this scenario and you might see it a little more.
You have a large group of teens and kids trapped on a ship with no adults, a limited supply of food and water, and an actively pursuing fleet bent on destroying the ship as a part of a major governmental cover-up. Add to that a cast that have their own insecurities that ultimately bubble and overflow in the face of adversity, and the move from an open environment to a caste-filled system where the elite are rewarded and the lower ranks of students are brutally punished. It's a web of deception and confusion that uniquely intertwined with multiple layers.
This series is very much character driven, and the characters themselves are far from perfection, even unlikable at times. For example, Kouji Aiba is a young teen who very much resembles Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion: indecisive, a bit hard on himself, and afraid to take the next step forward. The way he transforms from this weak-willed, worrisome teen to actually one of the stronger, most sane characters at the end of the series is quite potent, as are the rather contrasting portraits of characters that seem strong at the beginning of the series, but dwindle down to almost the breaking point when met with external and internal pressures.
I'd argue that it doesn't truly make the jump into its gripping storyline until about halfway, but to be fair, the series chooses to illustrate these characters to allow you to see their imperfections, ambitions, and really come to know them in the heart of the Ryvius. I would also argue that this development is needed to ease into more jarring events the latter part of the series has to offer. I wouldn't say you could love these characters because sometimes it's very hard, but one thing to consider: look at how young this cast is, collectively. There aren't any adults, only young teens and kids, and you could very well note that Infinite Ryvius is a coming of age, psychological story within a sci-fi/action and very underemphasized mecha coat.
The series does indeed take largely from William Golding's Lord of the Files. You may wonder why I waited to mention that until this point of the review, and not at the very beginning where I could have said, "this is an illustrated example of Lord of the Flies in space". That's only partially true, and I think Infinite Ryvius is a tale of more multiple layers than is given due credit. While it's far from perfection and may take a few episodes to grow on the viewer, it has its own flare that makes it stand alone above many anime series in it same genre. It could also be said that the series actually mirrors many classic works of literature: George Orwell's 1984 or Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 with its construction of a corrupt caste system and authoritarian control, as well as hints at a utopian establishment are two examples, William Defoe's Robinson Crusoe another. It's difficult to place the specific points on how these works collectively tie in, because the intricacies could be the basis for a book in itself, but the larger point would be to say that it really is a big story to tell.
Does it always translate well? Perhaps not. There are points where the interactions of the kids aren't so much in ties with the overall story, but give you more of a framework of their day-to-day duties aboard the Ryvius, some funny, others quite aggravating: but that's what it's intended to do. I imagine those who would like to jump headfirst into the story would find this pacing quite awkward. It's one you really have to sit through to truly appreciate it, and reflect back on the larger message of what the series is trying to convey.
This is the part of review I really get the most critical about in terms of blows to Infinite Ryvius. The animation does not translate all that well for a series animated in 1999. Not very fluid or consistent on an animation perspective, and there are a stretch of episodes, especially after the first 4-5, where it's notably inconsistent. The character faces aren't drawn to scale in some points and are quite irksome to watch, but it starts to pick up again throughout the series.
I'd argue that the cel production values in terms of the background are pretty much spot on, however. Very detailed renders of the space environment, the magnitude of the Ryvius, and overall just a nice job for its time.
Infinite Ryvius gets a solid eight from me in the sound category, and not simply on the part of its OST, which apart from the beautiful performances by Mika Arisaka in the opening and ending themes, but the quality of the voice acting. Very well done. The characters really fit in the shells so well, particularly in the Japanese VA work. Since emotions and psychology are so key to this series, it's a given, and granted, as much as one might say they may not like the characters because of their imperfections, the emotion behind these imperfections are so spot on it's difficult not to give credit.
I remember the first time I watched the series, it made me shed a few tears (so much for pleading the fifth on that :P) after a certain scene in episode 22. One of the characters, who's seemingly strong at the beginning of the series, has an all out breakdown to a bare minimum in that episode, and it's really one of the highlighting moments of the series because you really see the reason why that character breaks down, you can even feel it coming a few episodes prior. That's not to say it's predictable, but the latter half of the series translates and progresses these emotions in the best way.
I did enjoy the Infinite Ryvius soundtrack on a multitude of levels, the BGM is solid, but I would say it works best in the series frame versus an outside context. The opening/ending themes, however, are rather solid. Mika Arisaka is most known for her contributions to series like Infinite Ryvius, and ending themes to 12 Kingdoms and Gundam Seed Destiny. "dis-" the opening theme, is one of my favorite opening sequences and songs in anime, because it not only paints a portrait of the conflict in the series, but also the lyrics work really well with showing that. The ending theme, I would say, is of the same caliber.
Infinite Ryvius wouldn't necessarily be half of the series it was without being such a character centric series; it is heavily contingent upon that factor, and surprisingly, for a series attempting this magnitude, it does work on most terms. While it's difficult to quantify how much each character contributes to the whole of the story in such a small space of description, each character has a point in which he/she develops over the course of the series. Again, it's stressed that the point of this series is to establish the imperfections of the kids and young teens, and how they grow from their experiences aboard the Ryvius as they desperately search for a way to get back home, even after the breaking point.
To highlight some of the main characters, as mentioned: Kouji Aiba is a largely indecisive teen who has a complex against his rather rebellious brother Yuki. Yuki, without sparing words, is a total jerk...I would probably even say worse than that if you look at his personality, but his characterization is quite strongly asserted. Most viewers will probably hate how these two go at each other, but as you see in later context, the brothers' relationship does develop towards greater means.
Ikumi, Aoi, Kozue, Fina, the members of Team Blue, Juli, Stein and Lucson are all characters also to note in terms of their transformations from beginning to end in the series. Each member has their own former insecurities that are brought into context when they not only fear for their lives, but act in the bane of desperation.
In the middle of it all is one character named Neya, a girl whose role, at first, isn't discreetly placed in the heart of the series. She might come across to some viewers as very weird or oddball, but if you think about this as a psychological series, it becomes clear what Neya's role shapes into, and I actually liked how the series handled her character and used her as a pilot to drive some of the emotions home in this series.
Some of the character transformations I never saw coming, and for me, it was genuine how the series managed to handle it in the span of 26 episodes, though not always evenly paced. It's a large cast to handle, and while many may say that some contemporary series like Baccano! have at the forefront (Baccano! juggles, if I recall, 12 main characters through quite a cycle in its progression, though different in both context and theme), imagine the magnitude many times over with the handling of Ryvius, in somewhat of the same transitions between how each character responds, develops, and reacts within the events of the series. It's really an epic feat in and of itself.
I really enjoyed Ryvius in the aftermath, certainly one of my favorite series to date and I'd place a recommendation to it for those who want a good sci-fi story with characterizational focus and development in a good sci-fi/action, psychologically oriented series. Granted, if what you look for are bouncy likable characters or great artwork, Ryvius wouldn't be for you. There are some bits of romance and humor in this series, but they're more distinctly understated.
I think in the overall perspective, Ryvius is a series that will age well with time, with not only the premise, but the overall message the series conveys in the conclusion. The ending itself ties all of this together with only a few loose strings, but nothing that will leave you distinctly hanging.
What happens when authority and consequence are removed? When the inmates truly run the asylum. On the spaceship Ryvius there are those who would fight for order, and many more who would fight to destroy it. Love, hate, anger, greed, avarice, and perhaps hope are the fuel for the Ryvius, and only one can save those who call it home...
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I tend to be a fan of slice of life, dramatic and romantic series, but my palette is open to different series of a plethora of genres. I love watching series that engage my senses and imagination, and as a writer, I always appreciate a good story with a great cast of characters. I love when people give feedback on my reviews, because it helps me see things in a different lens, so I encourage you to converse with me if you have any questions, commentary or just want to chat about a series. ^_^