Ruin Explorers Anime Review
Hikyou Tanken Famu & Iiri
Explorers of the Unknown Fam and Ihrie
US Release By
Fantasy Adventure Comedy/Drama
4 30-minute Episodes
1995-06-25 - 1996-02-25
In a world dotted with ancient, treasure-filled catacombs two intrepid explorers, Fam and Ihrie, wander in search of riches (which hopefully won't require getting through too many traps), and the ultimate prize--an object which will grant its possessor any wish. Fam, a Wiggan (she summons spirits to cast her spells), is hoping to use her wish to create a place where humans and animals can live together in peace and harmony. Ihrie, a sword-swinging spellcaster with a small problem (her late mentor cursed her so that whenever she casts a spell, she... changes), has something simpler in mind: she just wants to resurrect her mentor so that she can get even with him.
Along the way, Fam and Ihrie gather a motley crew of fellow wish-seekers: An incompetent mage and her brawny and even-dumber partner, a sleazy traveling con artist and his small but vicious dog, and an adventurer named Lyle, seeking the power to combat the evil wizard who destroyed his father's kingdom. And it's the nasty magician he's after that is the real problem (when the group isn't busy fighting among themselves, that is). Like it or not, it looks like they're all going to have to cooperate to beat the bad guy to the prize.
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Ruin Explorers superficially looks like yet another silly fantasy show, but after the light opening half it builds into a straight-faced fantasy yarn. Though nothing in the production jumps out as extraordinarily good, almost every aspect of it is pleasing and solid--the art and animation are attractive, the mellow orchestral score is classy, the characters appealing with a hint of substance, the humor amusing, and the drama acceptable. The acting is even solid in both languages, with some particularly sincere Japanese performances behind Fam and Ihrie and a very smooth Lyle in the English dub. Its only real weakness is that four episodes is barely enough to fit the plot in, and doesn't provide enough time for either the light or heavy half of the story to hit its stride, nor for a smooth transition between them.
The end result is an unmemorable but all-around enjoyable little fantasy adventure.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Ruin Explorers superficially looks like yet another silly fantasy show, but it's actually a lot more Record of Lodoss Wars than Slayers. It opens with two episodes of light comedy, then in its second half segues into essentially straight fantasy. A bit short and not what you'd call original, it is nonetheless a pleasant and enjoyable little yarn.
I was surprised by how much Ruin Explorers puts into its story; the characters (despite their rather silly quirks) are relatively straight, and their quest is nothing to laugh at. By the end, in part due to some backstory that feels like more than just an excuse for swordfights, things have developed into a respectable (if not very original) fantasy quest. It even serves up a less-than-obvious twist or two in the finale.
On the other hand, the fact that the series spends its first half as a light, entertaining romp, then takes a definite turn toward straight (almost grim) classic fantasy is a bit disappointing from either end. On one hand, it took a bit of mental effort to pull myself into the not-funny fantasy mood to appreciate the second half. On the other, the fun stuff works so well I would have loved to see more of it--I was frankly a bit disappointed that all those silly character quirks didn't have more done with them.
In the end, though, Ruin Explorers' only big disappointment is that four episodes is just barely enough to set everything up and conclude the story. The concept would've easily held up through a full TV series, which would have allowed it to shift moods gradually.
Despite the lack of time, Fam and Ihrie still develop an appealing dynamic, and both have slightly more believable personalities than I was expecting. Ihrie in particular may be a standard hothead, but she isn't nearly as over-the-top as she could have been, and she has some flashes of jaded practicality that add a lot to her character. Fam, likewise, is both sweeter and a bit less oblivious than her character mold requires her to be.
Then there's Lyle; he's the textbook studly displaced prince (see: Heroic Legend of Arslan, etc), but has quite a few hidden demons, as does the villain. Don't take that to mean that any of these folks qualify as deep, but they aren't as two-dimensional as they appear at first. The three comic-relief members of the party aren't much more than fun, not that there's anything wrong with that. I do have to plug the dog, Gil--he's a dead ringer for Mutley, from the wheezy laugh to the ornery personality. He makes the whole thing a must-watch for nostalgic Hanna-Barbara fans.
Visually, Ruin Explorers is nothing special, but built on solid ground. Though lean on action scenes and relatively generic-looking, the art, animation, and character designs are all attractive. On the hardware front the weapons and classic shoulder-heavy armor are actually pretty cool looking.1 The backgrounds are on the simple side, but there are a couple of nicely-painted locations and a neat giant tree grown out of control. There are also a few assorted flashes of artistic creativity that I rather liked; the main example is a carnival flashback of a village festival involving rather horrific masks that operates both as not-so-subtle foreshadowing and a rather cool combination of incongruent images.
In terms of vocals, Ruin Explorers is all-around solid in both languages. The English dub is actually pretty good, but both Fam and Ihrie (Jessica Calvello and Tamara Lo) have some of the most piercing, high-pitched English voices you're ever likely to hear--anyone who thinks only Japanese voice actresses have voices that can peel paint haven't heard these two scream (or whine). Other than pitches that would make dogs flee, their acting is fine. The standout, however, is Lyle--Jason Douglas turns in a good performance, and gives him a smooth British accent that makes him sound surprisingly studly (there are several other British accents sprinkled around, adding nicely to the character of the world).
Lyle is an interesting case; where most of the roles match up fairly well between the original and the dub, his Japanese voice (Hikaru Midorikawa) is very boyish--a bit too young-sounding for his appearance--where the English version is, if anything, a bit too deep for the face. Neither is bad, but it's quite a contrast.
The rest of the Japanese version is also solidly acted; most of the performances are about what you'd expect, but although Fam and Ihrie aren't the most substantive roles, there's a sincerity in Hekiru Shiina and Michiko Neya's performances that help carry the whole production. Neya's Ihrie in particular is a lot less overblown than she could have been.
In an interesting Slayers parallel, the soundtrack is one of the most memorable parts of the series, despite being the stylistic opposite of the ultimate semi-silly-fantasy franchise. Played by a full orchestra, the entire show is essentially set to a classical symphony, adding to the mellow, upbeat feel of the early parts and giving the whole thing a touch of class. The later parts are remarkably light on overdramatic themes (or any other music, for that matter), which works equally well. In all, the background music is pleasing to the ear, as is the more traditional J-pop end theme, which isn't as memorable, but is so light and sweet that it'd be hard not to like at least a little.
To sum up, Ruin Explorers is far from original, but starting out as a light fantasy romp and developing into a serious story, it isn't a bad tale either way. Its short length disappointingly doesn't allow the concept to go as far as it could have, but backed up by a great orchestral score and some likable characters, I enjoyed it in the end. If, on the other hand, you'd rather your fantasy was more dedicated to being either straight drama or silly comedy, then this series probably isn't the one to watch.
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Most similar (despite the different sort of rune) to Rune Soldier Louie, although Ruin Explorers gets more serious toward the end where Louie pretty much refuses to. Also similar to the more serious parts of Slayers but with much less chaos and stupidity, and likewise something like Bastard!!, with much less violence and sleaze.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a short manga story by Kunihiko Tanaka, originally published in 1992 in the tabletop-RPG-focused magazine Hobby Japan. It rather obviously, and unsurprisingly, shows a great deal of traditional fantasy RPG influence. The year after the manga ran, the magazine also published a set of original rules to go with the setting.
In addition to the manga original, there were also four drama CDs released around the same time as the OVAs.
More intriguingly, Tanaka has apparently decided to dust off the characters after well over a decade, publishing a new Fam and Ihrie story in his 2010 doujin magazine ONE VISIONS Volta: 1.
While Hekiru Shiina--Fam's Japanese voice--doesn't have much of a resume, she's a fantasy anime veteran, having voiced main characters in Orphen, Eden's Bowy, and Rayearth.
Footnote 1: Today's random thought on anime fantasy: have you ever noticed that in just about every fantasy series, the size of the shoulder plates on a character's armor is directly proportional to either their strength or their significance to the plot? You look--Linna Inverse, Ihrie, that punk from Record of Lodoss War, they all have really huge shoulder armor. Weak or minor characters, on the other hand, always have deficient shoulder plates--heck, maybe that's why they're weak (ever noticed that the burly magic armor always has really huge shoulders? Hmm?). Ok, I'm done now... sorry about that.
US DVD Review
ADV's original DVD, one of their earlier releases back in 1999, is solid. It includes the whole 4 episode series on one (reasonably priced) disc, has a clean video transfer (although there was a bit of color bleed that looked to be a carryover from an analog video master), the audio tracks are quite crisp, and the subtitles actually are (not dubtitles, that is, as was the case with a few of ADV's other early DVDs). The multi-angle credits include two video angle tracks, one of the English (acting) credits and one of the Japanese (although, to nit pick, the Japanese version didn't have the imagery underneath the text that the English one did, nor does it include song subtitles). The menus are attractive (though a bit slow to respond on my player), animated, and have a couple of (very nice) tracks from the soundtrack playing. They provide access to the standard features, plus a still image gallery and a large selection of ADV trailers.
ADV later re-released the series in an "Essential Anime" re-issue. In addition to lowering the price, it added clean opening and ending animation plus commentary with Kelly Manison (Rasha) and Brett Weaver (Migel) as extras.
A little raunchy, and has some grim situations later on, but just barely qualifies for the 13-up ADV rated it.
Violence: 2 - Some monsters get cut up, and there's a lot of implied carnage, but that's about all.
Nudity: 2 - A short bath scene or so, with little or no detail.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Light romance, nothing more.
Language: 1 - Nothing of note.
Available in North America from ADV on a single "Essential Anime" hybrid DVD with remastered 5.1 audio, currently out of print. Previously released on a very similar earlier hybrid DVD, and prior to that on two subtitled or dubbed VHS volumes, subtitled "Tales in the Crypt" and "Profits and Prophecies."
While both DVD versions are out of print as of this writing, plenty of used copies were listed quite cheaply on Amazon at last check: Ruin Explorers (remastered version), Ruin Explorers (original release).