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CyanideBlizzard's Ruin Explorers Ova Review

Ruin Explorers Ruin Explorers Screenshot A typical scene with Fam and Ihrie. Ruin Explorers Screenshot Rasha and Miguel tend to fight more than anything else.

Ruin Explorers ova Review

Story & Playability

Roughly three years ago, I had planned on doing a review on this series. I would go so far as to say that this was one of the series that inspired my original 90s focused series of reviews. Being that spring is here, I figured that this would not only be a fantastic time to visit anime series that accompany elements of summer, but also accompany more series from the 90s.

So, I had to cover this series for my first review. The review that I made plans for several different times, even at one point was going to collaboratively review, and unfortunately was put to the side is finally going to be tackled. Let’s explore the ruins of Ruin Explorer!

Ruin Explorers was released as a four episode OVA back in 1995. Being originally a two volume manga written by Kunihiko Tanaka, it was adapted three years after the release of the manga as a collaborative effort between studios ANIMATE and Asia-Do. If neither of the studio names ring any bells don’t be surprised. They’re virtually unknown, with the former being a branch division of the MOVIC company.

Let's see here. We’ve got an adaptation of a very short manga by an animation company nobody has really heard of that is close to twenty years old. Surely the end result is going to be quite poor, or else significantly lacking in many areas, right?

The result just might surprise you.

Ruin Explorers follow the adventures of Ihrie and Fam, two young ladies that are searching for the legendary “Ultimate Power” in a fantasy based adventure. The Ultimate Power is basically Deus Ex Machina given another name. A legendary power that will grant the user whatever they desire.

Ihrie is a strong-headed tomboy who’s skilled with a blade and is looking to undo a curse set upon her during her mischievous childhood days. Meanwhile, Fam is a Wiccan-based magic user that is in tune with the spirits. She also happens to have elf ears and a cat tail, which is never really elaborated on or explained. She is simply looking to make more friends with spirits and other people and create a city in which everyone can be friends with her and themselves.

If it sounds like these ladies could be any further polar opposites, you would be spot on. Immediately, we’re greeted to Ihrie and Fam about to be crushed by spikes. Ihrie shouts for Fam to use her magic to reverse the trap before they are crushed, and Fam doesn’t want to abuse her magic in fear of angering the spirits. That, and she completely forgot the spell. After some antics, our characters find themselves going back to town. With nothing to show and a mountain of traps they discovered. When they arrive in town, they try to bargain with the innkeeper for a room. A suspicious looking older man offers to trade their goods for gold and pays the tab. He offers them information the next day on the “Ultimate Power” very casually, while feeding Ihrie’s curiosity with a tale about where one of the three required items necessary for summoning the “Ultimate Power” can be found. She spends every penny she has acquiring the map and our heroines embark on a adventure that will eventually become far bigger than them.

Right off the bat, I have to confess that Ruin Explorers won’t win any awards for originality. In fact, it would best just to get out of the way that Ruin Explorers could easily be called Fantasy RPG Cliché : The Anime. This is by no means a bad thing, but there are a great quantity of plot elements and developments based around typical clichés. From the main characters being lead into a scenario that ultimately results in the plot itself, to uniting with various characters to stop an evil villain. This series won’t blow you away with plot twists or turns, nor will anything really surprise you. Everything runs straightforward from the start to the finish, and that is one aspect that I must admit I wish there was a bit more with. The story just feels like it has no substance, despite the fact that we’re given a problem, there’s a build up to the climax and then we have the solution, the ending. Rather, the story can pull you in and keep you there, but it won't amaze or blow you away.

There’s no denying the fact that substance feels a bit lacking when we come to the plot itself. However, if the story pulled anything down the characters themselves immediately cover any slack missing.

Ruin Explorers is all about character development, dialogues and all the bits in-between. As previously mentioned Ihrie and Fam are given directions to ruins of a castle to explore by a merchant, Galuff, and are sabotaged by the dynamic treasure hunting duo of Rasha the sorcerer and Miguel the strong armed swordsman. Later on, they are joined by the mysterious Lyle and thus the party has been formed. Well, I shouldn’t say party as I should say a vial containing oil and water. They do not mix, and we’re shown this numerous times throughout their four episode adventure. Yet, through these squabbles they grow closer together and unite to fight against their opposition. What’s more, we learn a great deal through little subtle conversations. Rasha may come across as cold and heartless, but she’s actually quite sincere, caring and a good cook. Ihrie may fly off the handle, but she’s sensitive about when people mistake her gender and she has a way of easing tension with how casual she approaches her conversations.

Sometimes.

These character interactions are absolutely wonderful to watch, and while some fall into that cliché aspect the show gains so very much from these great interactions. Rasha, Miguel and Galuff originally start off as the opposition, but are united by the time they meet Lyle to go against a much stronger force. Each one of them has a reason for acquiring the “Ultimate Power”, yet despite these clashes they put aside their differences to work together. I really feel like I need to mention this because these type of elements seem to be a lost art. By no means are these conversations incredibly deep, they are casual and frequent enough to give us a window into the characters and their motivations. Skillful dialogue and heavy character focus really drive the show and make it much more acceptable for the story itself to be more of a plain Jane.

Another aspect I sincerely appreciated is while the story revolves around Lyle and his quest by the end of the second episode, Fam and Ihrie do not take a back seat. Rather, they still shine just as much as before and fit perfectly in the new scenario. You expect characters to either completely take a back seat or else have some element or ability that make them essential to the plot. Even though Ihrie falls into the latter portion, it isn’t a clutch type matter but rather an element that contributes to the group to complete their objective.

The only real downside is we really don’t get enough to really get into Ruin Explorers. Four episodes at 30 minutes apiece offers us a good chunk of time, but sadly with a tale of this caliber and with the characters we get, it just feels like we need at least one to two more episodes to really submerge ourselves in the show. By the time we’ve got the full cast assembled, we’re already midway through the second episode and by the time we’re at the last episode the series has built itself up a good amount of steam and we feel longing for more of this unique world and these characters.

Rating: 6

Graphics

So when it comes to the art, how does this 19 year old series hold up? Well, it certainly isn’t the looker that it use to be, but it is quite lovely.

Animation wise, the series definitely shows age. While characters are fluid and the frame rate is quite consistent, there’s an extremely noticeable difference between the background and the characters. Elements that become animated are really easy to spot out, as sadly is a very common problem when it comes to cel-based animation. However, make no mistake that this show does look good. Characters are bright and vibrant, magical spells look quite lovely and battles have a nice flash to them. There are no reused animation frames here, as each battle sequence takes place in a different area and each fight isn’t like the last. Dips do occur in terms of quality, but I have to say I did enjoy watching this series.

However, backgrounds are really the treat.

The scenery steals the show in more ways than one, and a big reason is because of the gorgeous and diverse scenery. As previously mentioned with the fights being in different locations, these characters are constantly exploring something new. Curious ruins with dangerous abound, mysterious suits of armor that magically come to life to defend artifacts, to cities destroyed by ancient magic. Ruin Explorers quite literally is just that, and boy did they want to make sure that you explore these ruins as well. This is one of the few shows I’ve watched where I have been more amazed by the backgrounds than any other series. Even if the quality of the backgrounds did wane occasionally.

Rating: 7

Sound

And now we’ve come to the other end of the spectrum, the sound.

I want to get the bad news out of the way first. This isn’t the show you would want to show someone to convince them that dubbing is a good idea. In fact, this isn’t a good show to watch in the dub period.

Ok, that might be a bit harsh, but I can explain. Ihrie (voiced by Tamara Lo), Fam (voiced by Jessica Calvello) and Rasha (voiced by Kelly Manison) fluxicate between being pleasant to listen to and ear-grating, For some reason, anything that comes to the higher pitched vocals, like screaming or anything that involves a raised voice, results in quite possibly one of the most painful sounds you will hear. In some countries it can be considered a weapon.

I’ve mentioned numerous times about ADV doing anywhere from good to bad dubbing, and sadly this is the first show I’ve covered where I only watched the first episode in English and simply switched over when new characters were introduced. I literally could not stand listening to it any further.

What makes it even a sadder case, is the voice actresses of Fam and Rasha star in other ADV series around the same time this came out and do rather good jobs. It really just boggles the mind, and even further so that the bad dubbing really only comes from the female end. The gentlemen, while not being great necessarily, are far better. Miguel (voiced by Brett Weaver) and Lyle (Jason Douglas) fare much better, though the better one of the group comes from Galuff (voiced by Guil Lunde).

However, even with this in mind the Japanese dub is clearly the way to go. Michiko Neya (Ihrie) is one of my favorite voice actresses from the 90s (she also voiced Rally Vincent from Gunsmith Cats) and she does a wonderful job playing Ihrie in this series. Fam’s voice actress (Hekiru Shiina) balances a good line with a higher pitched voice, but not being terribly annoying to listen to. Everyone else is an absolute treat as well and does a wonderful job with the series, as the main villain Ruguduroll (voiced by Iemasa Kayumi) really stands out with his sinister voice. Far more so than the English voice actor (Tristan MacAvery) did. The English dub certainly tried, but sadly it is just painful to listen to any of the girls and since our two heroines are the main characters, it really makes it hard to get past episode 1.

So, can the soundtrack help things out with this fantasy adventure series? Well, what about something done by an orchestra.

No, seriously. The entire soundtrack is completely orchestrated. While the introduction and ending are traditional Japanese Pop songs, from the beginning to the end we’re greeted with this beautiful soundtrack as we accompany our heroes throughout their journey. Furthermore, the soundtrack doesn’t overpower or overwhelm. While being rather typical fantasy-style variety, it is absolutely gorgeous and not only services the series, but also helps draw increased influence on emotion throughout numerous moments of the series. This completely blew my mind back when I first watched it back during the early 2000s, and it did again for my discontinued review in 2011, and it still has the same effect now.

While the series has some of the best sound I've heard in an anime, the below average English dub would normally change my score. However, since English is optional and the DVD releases of Ruin Explorers offers both Japanese and English, I'm offering a score that it deserves. For those that are dub fans, I'd recommend toughing it out because this dub is just not worth it. At all.

Rating: 9

Fun

Ruin Explorers is really a hard show to rate. As a fantasy series, there isn’t anything stand out about it. It focuses heavily on comedic elements with the adventure, but not in the same league that something like The Slayers did. It has dark and serious elements as well, but not to the point of Orphen. Despite having an incredibly cliché story, Ruin Explorers was an absolute blast to watch. The fact that we are taken on a four episode ride makes the journey all the more worth any bumps in the road that come along the way.

Ultimately, Ruin Explorers doesn’t deliver the complete package, though it offers a lot of good elements throughout. Fam and Ihrie fight a bit too frequently, thought they do grow together as the show progresses and making Lyle the romantic focus for fighting banter between Rasha and Fam gets a bit tiresome in the third episode. It started to just feel unnecessary when better elements could be used, yet it lead up to one of the most enjoyable conversation with Ihrie and Lyle. Ruin Explorers seems to just be like that during the duration of the journey. Whenever you want to take away a point for something, it offers you something else that makes you reconsider that decision. From beginning to end, it seems to be like that. In fact, there were enough positives that I couldn’t give this show anything else than what I did.

A fantastic, enjoyable romp that isn’t breaking new ground or any standards, but it would be hard not recommend to anyone looking for something fun, short with fantasy elements. Just be mindful of the fan service in the first episode.

Rating: 7

Final Verdict

7.00 (above average)

Reviewed by CyanideBlizzard, Apr 28, 2014

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