Before getting into this, I should point out that the 'story' mark of this review in particular should be treated with caution. I've tried to remain as objective as I can be (whilst allowing room for my own opinions), but due to the genre that Infinite Ryvius lies within, my marks might be a little inflated. It was really tough to score this one, due to tempering my own rampant fanboyism with some rational thought, but I've tried my best. Here goes, spoiler-free!
Story: 7 /10
I admit it - I am a massive fan of both Lord of the Flies and Ender's Game, and anyone who shares my tastes should definitely pick up Infinite Ryvius, almost without question. The anime owes a lot to the former in particular - although Ender's Game shares a setting with Infinite Ryvius, Lord of the Flies is more pertinent in terms of the story. For those who haven't read either novel, I'll summarise the basic plot.
Set in a distant future, Infinite Ryvius begins a large group of children (hundreds, rather than tens) congregated on a large spaceship orbiting the Earth, training to be pilots, navigators, etc. However, things go dreadfully wrong very quickly, and the children are left alone in space as an accident occurs. The story tracks their progress through space as they attempt to get home, whilst being pursued by unknown adversaries who have their own sinister goals.
However, the real story is about what goes on aboard the spaceship where the anime is set. The absence of adult authority swiftly results in a pseudo-society being established, with a chain of command and entrenched roles as everyone tries to work together to get through the crisis and return home safely. But as times drags on, the stress and tension of the situation begins to affect everyone, and the neat, organised responsibility that was initially present soon gives way to anarchy, rebellion and the gradual erosion of sanity for many aboard. I'm confident in saying that the anime only went from strength to strength as it progressed, with the final 6 episodes in particular being quite brilliant in attacking the deeper aspects of the subject matter (this isn't an essay, really!). As a sidenote, the ending is a good one, and gives some closure to what is a difficult set of events to succinctly summarise.
Infinite Ryvius is a vehicle for observing exactly what happens when children are left to regulate themselves, similarly to the seminal Lord of the Flies. Whilst the anime doesn't get too philosophical with things, it does progress smoothly and allows the characters a stage to shine on, which is all that it needs to do. I found the story to be perfectly fine, exciting at times and providing some nice action sequences to provide the occasional break from the more challenging issues of emotional trauma and isolation. There's even some nice political intrigue that runs throughout the series, which is always good! Make no mistake, though - Infinite Ryvius is very much about the characters, and the story is simply a platform for them.
Animation: 6.5 /10
Pretty good, considering that this started airing last millennium. Production values were good, with some particularly nice still shots of the Ryvius itself, and the animation was smooth...mostly. Occasionally some jagged movements could be seen, or some odd delays and actions from characters that could be attributed to a lack of animation, but they're forgiveable and don't ruin the viewing experience. The action sequences, whilst beginning to get somewhat bland by the end (it's set in space, after all...), were generally well done and caught the attention sufficiently. More or less, it's about what I'd expect from an anime that's now a decade young.
The character designs were largely realistic (random hair colours aside), yet distinctive, meaning that nobody and everybody stood out - always a good thing in an anime that attempts to blend occasional fantasy elements with a sense of realism, despite the rather supernatural Vaia in this one. The occasional outlandish character design didn't necessarily offend, tough - I thought that Neya's design in particular was really interesting, and befitting of her status in the anime. The characters were colourful and enjoyable to watch, contrasting well with the understandably bland spaceship setting.
Sound: 7.5 / 10
I'd love to mark this higher, because I genuinely enjoyed both the OP and the ED, and the voice acting was largely pretty good. However, in an anime with an enormous ensemble cast, you're bound to have a few voice actors who simply don't suit the role, and that's what drags this mark down a little. I thought that Yuki in particular wasn't brilliant in his portrayal of the character, and he's not the only one. However the flipside of having a wide range of VAs is some fantastic performances, and they were spread quite well across the board. Bearing in mind that I watched the subbed version, as one dubbed episode was enough to make me weep silent tears of hopeless, hopeless despair.
The background music was definitely functional, no more than that. It generally suited the mood and atmosphere of the relevant scenes, although outside the action sequences it was the dialogue that tended to take center-stage, which is understandable given the type of anime that Infinite Ryvius is. Overall, I've got no huge complaints with the sound.
Characters: 9 / 10
Here we go, the bread and butter of Infinite Ryvius! The entire impression that the anime makes was always going to very character-centric, given the gigantic cast, and a story that showcases the interactions between them all - fortunately, the strength of the characterisation easily shines through. Initially, the vast swathes of people are a little off-putting and it's tough to remember exactly who's who, and pinning down their role within the story. However, as things progress, every major character is given continuous airtime and opportunities to demonstrate exactly who they are, and many grow into established roles as time goes by - Heiger, Ikumi, Airs Blue and Kouji himself are but a few of those that particularly do.
The main set of characters are mostly fun to follow and root for. Kouji is like many primary protagonists - a bit of a blank slate for a large portion of the anime, but he comes into his own later on (arguably too late, though). His brother, Yuki, is blatantly designed to inspire frustration and irritation in equal measure, and manages it just fine. However, one of the very few weak aspects of the character interaction on the whole is the relationship and dialogue between the two, which is at times inexplicable, and feels a little forced. Perhaps having access to more information regarding their past slightly earlier on wouldn't have gone amiss, although then it might've compromised how we view Kouji growing as character. Nevertheless, it did feel a bit contrived at times. Ikumi is probably the most tragic character of them all, and watching his outlook and attitude drastically alter as the episodes tick by is a real tearjerker, as are the events that surround him in the second half of the series.
The remainder of the cast are great to watch. The comic relief characters are out in force early on, but are suppressed as the situation continues to deteriorate. The Zwei characters are quite subdued compared to most, but are also some of the most entertaining to analyse and observe as the strain begins to crack some façades around the ship. Airs Blue's group provides nice conflict for the most part. Honestly, there are far too many characters to mention here, but they all interlink very well and express some fairly deep issues through their actions, without resorting to excessive angst. My main fear coming into the anime was that I'd get a bunch of spineless, whiny characters who refused to stop angsting about the situation, and when that scenario didn't materialise, I was pleasantly surprised!
The complexity of the characters is very much in evidence, with behaviour and thoughts manifesting themselves in a very realistic way, given the stressful environment that they're in. Although some of the behaviour beggars believe at times (last six episodes, especially), it's likely exactly what would happen if such an incident were to occur in reality. None of the characters are truly black and white, with each having complicated motivations and desires that are often warped or shredded completely over the 26 episodes - and that's what makes the anime so hugely entertaining. Only one character has absolutely no redeeming qualities - the rest of them are very much people, with real feelings and fears that inspire empathy and anger, depending on who you talk about. Special mention should go to both Aoi Hansen, and Neya, my two favourite characters for very different reasons.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
I want to give it higher. I really, really do. But I know that it's not perfect, despite how much I enjoyed watching. For me personally, if Infinite Ryvius had cut down on a few of the more minor characters, and focused a little more on the deeper, more philosophical implications of the setting whilst maintaining a similar aura surrounding the character interaction, then this would be pure gold. As it stands, it's a very entertaining watch that was rarely dull, but lacked an incisive cutting edge to take it to the next level in my view. Very interesting to observe, and it does put you through the wringer a little with the characters. Although it's difficult to score accurately, it was very much a pleasure to watch.