Infinite Ryvius (Mugen no Ryvius) was an anime that aired in Japan from October 1999 to March 2000. It was the first anime series I ever collected in physical media form, and whenever I am asked, it is at the top of my list for all-time favorite series.
My first encounter with the series was at my local Animate in Japan back in 2001. Looking at the DVD package in the new releases display, I was immediately drawn to the character designs of Hisashi Hirai—most people will probably recognize his art style from Gundam SEED or Fafner of the Azure. On a whim, I picked up the first DVD. And it changed my life.
When I learned that it would be shown at this year’s Sunrise Festival 2016, I leapt at the chance to revisit the series (death threats to my editor may have been involved). [Editor’s Note: I may have obtained the soul of his firstborn in the bargin.]
Showing on the big screen were four episodes from the series specifically selected by director Gorou Taniguchi. Seeing them brought back feelings of nostalgia and awe that I remember the first and second times I watched the series (more on that later).
(Image: (C) SUNRISE)
[Note: This article contains minor spoilers for Infinite Ryvius.]
Created by Sunrise–the studio that brought us Gundam, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, and Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon)–Infinite Ryvius is a science fiction adventure that takes place in the year 2225. 88 years have passed since a massive solar flare sent out a wave of plasma along the Earth’s orbital plane. This plasma wave decimated the southern hemisphere and the wave still partially remains as the “sea of Geduld,” an ocean of radioactive gravity storms. Ironically, this disaster resulted in the acceleration of space colonization. By the time the series takes place, the entire solar system has been colonized.
The story centers on the character of Kouji Aiba, a young student at the Liebe Delta space station training for his Level 2 piloting license. During a scheduled dive into the sea of Geduld, the station is hijacked and sent plummeting to its doom with 515 people left aboard. It is during an attempted escape that it is discovered by accident that a mysterious space vessel has been hidden inside the station. The staff having sacrificed themselves so that the students may survive, 486 children are left to fend for themselves on a mysterious vessel with powerful gravity-manipulation abilities called “Ryvius.”
However, the futuristic settings and technologies are all just window dressing for the series. Asked to describe it, my fallback description is “Lord of the Flies in space,” but Infinite Ryius is much, much more. At its core, Infinite Ryvius is a character-driven story. It is ultimately a series about people and how they interact and respond to situations–both within and beyond their control.
Left on their own and quickly finding themselves hunted, the children are forced to flee for Mars. With a long journey ahead of them, they quickly band together and try to create a semblance of a society within the ship. It is here that the series becomes a fascinating commentary on society building: the need for societal structures like economy and social class; the manipulation of the masses by withholding or controlling information; the human need to believe in something like religion; and how a population can be swept up into a frenzy and turn on someone in an instant–or come to rely on or love someone they reviled only moments before.
In my experience, very few series manage to do what Infinite Ryvius does. The series was very experimental for its time. The animation quality is superb, utilizing more cels than most other anime of its time. The hip-hop soundtrack adds a distinct flavor to the series. You have voice actors doing multiple major roles—sometimes even having interactions with themselves—in a massive roster of characters. Moreover, most come with their own detailed backstory. Almost every character, even background characters, are developed and have their own personal arcs through the series. The series has an almost Star Trek level of progressiveness to it, with gay and transgender characters whose defining characteristics aren’t the fact that they’re gay or transgender.
As a science fiction space adventure, you can’t forget the space battles, and Infinite Ryvius does not disappoint. The realistic space battles actually take into account the fact that relativistic distances make combat take tediously long periods of time. Characters take hours within an episode toiling over complex programs and calculations for interactions that can take hours to execute. It’s all both entertaining and nerve-wracking at the same time.
Throughout the series, you have different characters, each with their own set of values and way of thinking all interacting and responding to each other. And yet, every character has one or more aspects that the viewer can relate to. This lends itself to many interesting observations and self-reflections that one can make as the viewer regarding things like personal philosophies, what it means to be part of society, dealing with the past, struggling in hopeless situations, and how people cope and adapt.
As events unfold, it’s almost mesmerizing to see the change in the characters from subtle to dramatic. Yet, even throughout it all, no one acts out of character. Everything flows organically within the rules and settings that have been established. It’s almost like watching a social experiment where you put a group of people in a situation where they are act and respond until things settle before you put them in a new–and often worse–situation. Throughout it all, people come and go, meet and separate. Bonds are formed and friendships crumble. It all makes for a fantastic journey that almost requires multiple viewings. Knowing how things end up completely changes how you view the initial introductory episodes, and even now, the series remains engaging.
At this year’s Sunrise Festival, four episodes of Infinite Ryvius were shown on the big screen: Episodes 1, 11, 20, and 25. While they only scratch the surface of the many-layered masterpiece that is the series, I can see why they were chosen. Each episode makes a pivotal turning point of the story. Also, while they don’t answer all of the dangling threads in the plot, they address them in a way that informs the viewer of their existence. While it would have been a treat it all 26 episodes were aired on the big screen, I believe the director made an excellent selection in which episodes to show.
After its initial airing in 1999-2000, Infinite Ryvius managed to carve out a strong and devoted cult following among its fans, myself included. On a personal level, Infinite Ryvius left a strong mark on me. Viewing the series and the subsequent bonus disks inspired me to want to become a voice actor. The series also made Tomokazu Seki, who voices the protagonist’s best friend, into one of my favorite voice actors. The series also fundamentally changed my view of life as part of society and gave me my own personal philosophy that has gotten me through many hardships in life. (You will have to see the series for yourself to understand.)
All in all, it was a thrilling experience to revisit my favorite series–on the big screen no less–even if it was only for four magnificent episodes. Even now, fifteen years later, it still holds up. While there are many anime series out there that I can say influenced me in one way or another, Infinite Ryvius is one of the few that I can say defined me as a person.
Infinite Ryvius has a Blu-ray box set scheduled for release in 2017. No word on a Western release.
(Top Image: (C) SUNRISE)