Infinite Ryvius is a 26-episode anime series which aired in 1999.
The artistic presentation is definitely not the selling point of Infinite Ryvius. I'll state one of my major complaints with the show right off the bat: It is permeated by numerous elements that feel tenuously connected to the setting and the plot, and while the character designs aren't the worst offenders, they're a good visual representation of the problem. I can get behind the generic-but-acceptable “everyday kid” look of some cast members, and the spiffy flight uniforms worn by the group of elite pilots look halfway believable, but that's about as far as these designs could take me. It's hard to feel any sort of grounded connection to a series that frequently features a girl who inexplicably wears a dinosaur costume on a training spaceship, an antagonistic boy who looks like an outcast from Naruto, or...well, whatever you want to call that pink nightmare ensemble that Neeya is wearing. You get used to the fantastic and the over-the-top in anime, but even by those standards, there are parts of this show's aesthetic repertoire that can only be described as absurdly out of place.
It's also worth mentioning that in addition to the design choices, the follow-through on the art and animation in Ryvius is lackluster at best. Stiff, jerky movements abound, and the character art, which is rough to start with, suffers noticeable degradation in quality at many points. The cinematography during some of the space battles is so poor that I genuinely don't think I would have been able to tell what was happening if not for the narration offered by the characters. Still-frames, poor transitions, reused footage—any technique that could shave a dollar off the cost of animation is used, and used frequently. On a more positive note, the space backgrounds aren't half bad, and the mecha and ship designs are pretty impressive in comparison to everything else.
I swear that I'm not trying to beat this show up based only on its technical side, but frankly, whoever thought that this musical score was a good idea deserves to be beaten up, figuratively and literally. To elaborate on that a little, I'll say that the soundtrack is unique—it's a mix of jazzy contemporary, soft atmospheric noise, and grandiose orchestra, all underscored by a distinct flair of hip-hop influence. That sounds strange on paper, and in this particular case, it isn't any better in practice. I've been impressed by hip-hop and electronic soundtracks in the past, but most of the music in Ryvius consists of simplistic beats that sound tinny and uninspired. One track features a man (who I can only assume was hard-up for cash at the time) repeatedly rapping the word “Ryvius.” I wish I could say I was kidding. It is one of the worst pieces of music that I have ever heard. The score has its high points, but they're few and far between; in general, it actively detracts from the show. Good integration is theoretically possible even with a sub-par soundtrack, but the music in Ryvius fails to jive with what's happening at any given point in time. Upbeat tracks play while people are panicking and dying, not just once, but with unerring frequency. Sometimes the music will start, barely manage to reach a point where it's noticeable, play for five or ten seconds, and then stop abruptly to match an awkward scene transition. My impression of the sound in Infinite Ryvius matches my impression of many other things in Infinite Ryvius: It's tacked-on and it feels unnatural.
The series hurries to introduce disaster; it takes all of two episodes to get to the “kids trapped on ship trying to stay alive” premise. The beginning is rushed, clearly, but it works; it breeds tension and arouses curiosity about how the situation will play out. It introduces the large cast, briefly but sufficiently, and tosses them all into the fray. But just as it gets to the point where the pot should start boiling, the series freezes. It has no idea what to do, and perversely, it brings some of its less convincing sci-fi elements to bear in a series of dreadfully uneventful mecha battles which mostly consist of the characters shouting inarticulate technobabble at one another. There's precious little indication that these battles have anything to do with the plot as a whole, and indeed, once the story is complete it becomes glaringly obvious that they serve almost no purpose other than to kill time. Isn't that an oddity; at the points where they occur, these fights lack the context to be suspenseful or engaging, but in retrospect, that context makes them seem silly and unnecessary. Nor do they appear to affect the characters in any way. You would think that these constant reminders of how tiny and mortal they are would drive the kids mad, but it seems like most of the character conflict pushing the story would have occurred with or without eight episodes worth of borderline junk.
Speaking of those characters, it's on their behalf that I can finally give the show some much-needed credit. The cast is huge, and individually they aren't the most complex bunch, but the show manages to juggle a pretty involving web of relationships that ends up bearing some rewards. There is a gritty and understated wit to the way the characters interact that I found myself appreciating more than anything else in the show—they mock each other gently, threaten each other softly, and on the rare occasions where they help each other, they do so with great humanity and sincerity. There is no clear-cut good or evil present in the series; everyone is an antagonist to someone, whether they know it or not. Some of them hate each other, but at the same time they recognize the need for one another. The ship's pilots don't like the thugs and the thugs don't like the pilots, but neither can exist without the other; they know it and it shows in the way they act, which is both clever within the confines of a character drama and true to how a society really functions.
Ryvius also manages to generate a fair amount of effective drama by taking character archetypes and forcing them to react to adversity. The pushy, aggressive, prideful brother? Make him get overpowered by a stronger boy and turned into an unwilling underling, then see how he handles it. The peacemaking, kind-hearted girl who just wants everybody to get along? Make her the target of merciless violence, and see if she can still cling to her optimism. It isn't the most inspired or original formula, but it's played well enough here—even in the very early episodes, the series is careful to drop some subtle hints that everyone might not be who they initially appear to be, and some equally subtle hints that some of the cast are undergoing transformations, for better or for worse. Sometimes those transformations are a bit over-the-top, but I'll forgive that, because in general I found myself having just enough emotional investment in the characters to not want to see them break under pressure. In some of its human elements, at least, the series soundly struck the right note.
To get back to the story for a moment, I talked about the show's beginning and middle, but not about its last third or so, which is the most satisfying part. It's not perfect. It's a plot that definitely requires a stretch on the part of the viewer to appreciate. But the fact that the series actually manages to snap out of its lengthy funk and make something of a story that initially appears to be a complete mess is commendable. Not only do some of the science fiction aspects come full circle, but the show actually manages to draw a meaningful parallel between the unseen antagonists and the children they're targeting, which is a surprising and welcome turn of events. The last third of Ryvius makes all the difference in the world. It manages to drag the series out of the quagmire of mediocrity that the middle nearly drowned it in and breathe some life into it. There still isn't any excuse for the painful ineptitude I mentioned earlier, but that the writers actually managed to pull themselves together for the home stretch is nothing to sneeze at.
To pin down just what ails Infinite Ryvius: It's ambitious to a fault. There are way too many scarcely explained, grandiose sci-fi concepts placed alongside the comparatively grounded character interactions, and for the most part they end up feeling misplaced. Things like the Geduld, the destructive natural phenomenon that suddenly appeared in outer space, or the Sphixes, the beings which are associated with controlling the giant robots. Or the giant robots themselves, for that matter. Some of them do actually end up working, and when that happens they couple quite well with the show's human half. I can see what the series is going for, certainly, but if I had to pick a number, I'd say that it's sixty percent of the way there; not every thread is tied off, not every connection is firm. Its world just isn't made whole on the level that you'd expect a sweeping sci-fi to operate on. But I do think this show earns the privilege of at least some recognition, mostly on the basis of its characters and the way it manages to steer itself into a graceful ending. It does just enough right for me to give it the benefit of the doubt, and a cautious recommendation.
Score: 6/10; cautious recommendation.