Ruin Explorers | Anime Nonsense
The world of anime can be a strange place. I tend to think of it as: anything America is afraid or uninterested to make stories about, Japan will gladly do all of them and more. And that can mean whatever you want it to mean, because it all counts. (this doesn’t really apply here, however)
Beyond story and content, the other strange and unique thing about anime is that it can come in all shapes and sizes. You can have epically long and seemingly endless series like One Piece, Bleach, Dragonball, and Detective Conan (which I swear should not be as long as it is). You can also have the 120 episode series and the 51 episode series. There’s also the much more common double season and single season lengths, which last 26 and 13 episodes respectively.
But then you have the OVAs: anime series which are produced straight to video and/or DVD, and usually last anywhere from only 2 episodes, and up to 16. But typically an OVA will only last up to 10 episodes, otherwise it usually gets syndicated as a season long show.
What can be very interesting though are the shows that only last 3-6 episodes, and manage to tell a fully contained story that feels complete and whole upon the very last frame of the last episode.
Enter Ruin Explorers: a quirky and somewhat by-the-numbers, 90s fantasy anime that only lasts 4 episodes, but doesn’t leave you feeling like anything was left unfinished.
The story begins with two treasure hunters, named Ihrie (i.e. “air-ree”) and Fam, who search the world for gold, jewels, and magical artifacts from which to trade and sell for their basic necessities of life. However, Ihrie is out for something truly significant: an ultimate power which may allow her to ask for one wish. A wish that could reverse a curse cast upon her by her vindictive old magic teacher, which turns her into a mouse every time she casts a spell. And since Ihrie’s magic is rather strong, you can imagine how difficult it is to have to always stand aside in a magic fight just to be sure you don’t turn into something that can be stepped on.
Ihrie is also rather a hot-headed character. She’s a very confident and self-reliant person, who would prefer not to have to rely upon her partner, Fam, to cast all of the spells and useful incantations. And yet she also enjoys having Fam around, and treats her very much like a cousin or a little sister.
Fam on the other hand is a flighty, foolish, somewhat dim-witted, but honestly capable person who could not be more righteous and kind-hearted if she tried. She is neither mean nor harsh, she enjoys the simple things in life, and she has a spiritual connection with the world and the entities around her: which proves rather useful later on in this short series.
The two of them quickly come upon our third character, Galuff, the traveling merchant: whose sole intention is to go for the best treasures and valuables in the land, and sell them at a high price. And he often achieves this by offering would-be treasure hunters into buying maps and guides off of him, after which Galuff secretly follows the hunters through the gambit of traps and obstacles, in order for the hunters to do all of the hard work, and for Galuff to reap the rewards at the other end. Likely leaving the treasure hunters to rot inside.
Thankfully, though, Galuff proves to not be as bad as all that, and eventually warms up to Ihrie and Fam, providing them and the rest of their gang with all of their transportation and supply needs.
Speaking of the rest of the gang, we also have the treasure hunting duo of Rasha and Miguel, a sorceress and master swordsmen, who initially team up with Galuff in an attempt to have Ihrie and Fam go in to retrieve a special artifact, which may lead to the titular “ultimate power,” and take it from them at the last moment, leaving the three of them with very little stress or aching muscles.
Rasha is quite the hot-head herself, as she is a rather intelligent and powerful sorceress, and yet she has a weakness for attractive men, especially if they are royalty.
Her partner, Miguel, is a no-nonsense, somewhat ego-centric swordsman who would prefer to not waste his time with lightweights because they just get in his way. His skills with a sword are unmatched, and the swords he tends to use are very broad and very large. So you can imagine the sort of impact that he makes on any given situation.
Lastly, there is the Prince, Lyle.
The name of his lost kingdom is never officially given, but he explains to both Fam and Ihrie that his kingdom was once one of the most prosperous and beautiful in the Northern lands. His father was a noble and wise ruler, who was entrusted with another very dangerous power, which he quickly locked away deep beneath his land. But a member of the King’s own council, Ruguduroll, unleashed this power upon himself, after which he viciously attacked and decimated the entire kingdom: slaughtering everyone. Lyle, at first, has no idea why this all happened. But whatever the case, he is left as a Prince without a Kingdom, and a son without a father. Therefore the only course of action left is to avenge his fallen land, and stop Ruguduroll before he can attain the “ultimate power” and cause greater damage to the world at large.
I won’t give much more away about our villain, Ruguduroll, as his story is best left up to the show to explain. But what I can say is that he is one of the more intimidating and powerful villains that you will see in an anime from the 1990s. He is very much like an unstoppable brick wall that you can neither cut down, but you also can’t really touch. His magic is immense and intense, and his spells are quite impressive. He also seems quite a bit like an impersonation of Rasputin, based on the physical resemblance. I’m sure that was part of the point.
Unlike the majority of anime productions, Ruin Explorers doesn’t appear to have been based on any pre-existing manga or novels. Although it most certainly spawned a few of its own after the fact: as is often the case. This of course means that this 4 episode project was built from the ground up, and could not rely on the structure or characters set forth in a previous work. Thus it can only be critiqued on its own merits.
The show definitely feels like it utilizes its time relatively well, and doesn’t waste it on filler or filler dialogue, nor are there any pointless non-sequiturs. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s all perfect either. The story is rather cookie-cutter if you’re used to fantasy stories or fantasy anime, especially those intended for younger audiences. The villain, Ruguduroll, is also rather generic and doesn’t amount to a whole lot in the end. Although his backstory is better than one might expect. We’re even treated to some emotional flash-backs.
The funny thing, though, is that Ruguduroll doesn’t even appear until the end of episode 2, and even then he feels like he’s very nonexistent until episodes 3 and 4. And trust me when I say that these episodes feel like they go on longer than they actually are. But there’s a reason for this.
Unlike most episodic series, because these episodes aren’t being shown on television, they don’t have to conform to the typical 21-22 minute run-time. Instead, these episodes last a full 30 minutes, which does indeed actively make them feel longer. It also means that there’s an entire 32 whole minutes that we would otherwise not have if these four episodes were your typical 22 minute length: making the entire OVA a full 2 hours.
An interesting question to ask of course, is would I judge this show differently if it were actually a 2 hour long movie rather than a series?
If the content were not changed in any way, other than some essential editing and restructuring to turn it into a film: then yes, I would most certainly judge it differently. However, I would not really say anything all that different. Because the strange thing is that while in series form, this plot feels stretched, a tad on the slow side, and extremely lacking in weight or immediacy; as a film I could easily see these issues being rectified, as this story feels more fitting to a movie-styled format.
To bring up some comparisons, a perfect example of this idea is when an anime series is actually redesigned and rebuilt as a theatrical feature from the ground up. Escaflowne did this. Neon Genesis Evangelion did this. And you could even argue that Nadia the Secret of Blue Water indirectly had this happen when Hayao Miyazaki directed Castle in the Sky. Because Miyazaki’s original script was first written for GAINAX, and then later he reworked it into something more fit for film. And there are plenty of parallels that can be drawn between both titles to make a case.
In all three situations, each series had roughly 2 seasons (26 episodes) worth of time to develop characters, develop a world, tell a story, and build to a climax which effectively concludes all of their arcs. But because each individual episode could be occurring across any number of days, weeks, or even months, you would not be able to take those series and blend all of the episodes together into a continuous film, because it would both be an unreasonable length, and the random cuts to a later time and different place wouldn’t make any sense. But more important than that, the development of the plot between any two episodes can feel very long, because the show is actively trying to stretch certain things out so that satisfaction isn’t reached until a time and place of the writer’s or director’s choosing. But the same also goes for a film, just on a different time-scale.
Escaflowne as a film had to shove far too much information and character development into such a short run time, that the film was unable to make any meaningful connections between anyone within the film, nor any connections between the viewer and the film itself.
Neon Genesis Evangelion was effective in redesigning the story in movie form, but I’m quite certain that the emotional effect and the stylistic effect that it had on the audience was more palpable in the episodic version, because that version had more room to breathe and sink in for the viewer. The film trilogy, on the other hand, feels more like a cliff-notes version, and has a wholly unnatural progression of events and editing, which would likely cause someone who hasn’t watched the series first to wonder “why is all of this happening, where did that come from, and why are we seeing this right after that just happened?”
Ruin Explorers, I think, is one of the few projects I could definitely see benefiting from a movie-form version, because the story is actually simple and straight forward enough to make sense in a 2 hour continuous format. The characters are clear cut. The world is relatively familiar and generic to fantasy fans. The villain is adequately explained by the story’s end. And the plot never once feels like it has to cram in any exposition dumps for the audience to understand any foreign concepts, nor does the plot ever feel rushed. I think it might have also benefited from becoming a film instead of an OVA series, because the increase in animation quality could have greatly improved the look and style of the show, despite the fact that it already looks pretty damn good.
With all of this said, is Ruin Explorers worth picking up?
Well considering that it’s last release a few years back was as part of the “Anime Essentials” line from ADV, I dare-say it most certainly is. It won’t impact your life as much as say… something like Cowboy Bebop or Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. And I wouldn’t consider it the most fascinating or the most creative of fantasy animes. That distinction more rightfully goes to either The Slayers or to something like El-Hazard. But it most certainly will be a marginally entertaining romp with a few colorful characters and a simple story that might leave you wanting more of Ihrie and Fam once it’s over. And it’s a great companion piece with other wacky fantasy animes like Those Who Hunt Elves, Gokudo, and the Slayers: Exellent and Slayers: Book of Spells OVAs.
So definitely give it a try sometime.