Among the standalone mecha/space opera series that came out in the last couple of decades or so, Infinite Ryvius (Mugen no Ryvius) is certainly one of the more distinct and memorable. Yes, it has space battles and abundance of angsty teenagers, but Ryvius stood out from the crowd for being a confined sociopolitical drama over anything else, zeroing on how disparate individual elements bounce off each other while sharing the bad luck of being trapped—literally—within a volatile self-governed group. It’s an apt microcosm of society, thriving on issues such as power struggle, mob mentality, privilege abuse, contempt bred by familiarity, and all those fun stuff.
Also, telepathic loli clad in pink armor, because Anime™.
Sporting a large-sized cast aboard the eponymous ship, it builds up things patiently and is probably way more of a slow burn than you might expect from the premise, which had previously led me to believe that the kids in this one will eventually go ax crazy and murder each other in lusty rage. Unlike what happened to the doomed boys in Lord of The Flies (a point of comparison you’d find virtually every time Ryvius is mentioned, which while by no means inaccurate, is still a bit reductive), the cracks between the seams in Ryvius happened a lot more gradually, and when the figurative shit finally hit the fan, it’s still done in a relatively restrained manner with the most upsetting events happening off-screen.
More than anything, the way the show juggled its myriad of characters, highlighting important developments and interaction between different main groups, cliques, and factions while occasionally checking up on mostly inconsequential background character just doing his/her stuff actually reminded me of Legend of Galactic Heroes—and that’s to say nothing on the constant political turmoil that’s really more about clash of philosophy and personality over generic Good Guys vs. Bad Guys binary.
The one area where Ryvius excels is its grounded portrayal of internal group dynamics. The show took some pains to impart a lot of analogous insight to real life situation, highlighting the parasitic nature of freeloaders, opportunists, and glory-hunters, and dished out some cold truth in the process. A good person doesn’t necessarily make a good leader, uniform and status could only do so much in the face of crisis, a team is only as good as its leader, etc. Similarly, I found the process-oriented parts where the cast tried to apply solutions to the ever mounting problems, all while combating external and internal threats, to be largely appealing. The show is really good at pointing out consequential advantages and threats in working as a team through a variety of scenarios from policy-making to five-men operation of the main fighting mecha, and covering a broad range of perspectives from the newly appointed leader of a usurper government to the grunt doing the thankless task of organizing a social get-together.
However, oftentimes I felt the parts are weaker than its sum. The background plot of government conspiracy is mainly just an excuse to keep the kids stranded as long as possible, while they probably waited too long to reveal and elaborate on the nature of the pink mascot girl (which is already pretty easy to deduce since the beginning). Furthermore, while they worked wonderfully as collective entity and moving parts in a way that directly serve the plot, the characters themselves are honestly rather weak. This is due to either undercooked backstory, random bouts of quirkiness (a guy running around in dinosaur suit?), certain characters defaulting to their most prominent trait way too easily (a sibling rivalry between the two main characters, with the younger brother always flipping out for no good reason in sight of his older brother, took the cake as the most egregious example of this), or a high number of characters almost solely defined and developed through borderline creepy obsession on their respective object of affection.
Animation is a bit of a mixed bag. The sparse space battles aren’t bad, conveying the elevated stakes and tension very well, even with some cartoonish villainy from enemy pilots. However, it’s also let down by unimaginative overall visual, occasional choppiness at scenes with sudden motion, and other little things that bugged me like the splotch-y crayon marks that were supposed to be facial bruises. Musically, it’s interesting at the least; pretty ill-fitting at times (I remember an early life or death situation accompanied by something that sounds like lounge music, for instance), but also had some eclectic choices with the oft-used insert theme Easy Living (funky hip-hop beats combined with soaring violin to surprisingly strong effect) being a clear stand-out.
Ryvius finished with a firm closure, and while I’m not entirely satisfied with some details of its execution, it certainly came across as very clear and poignant from thematic standpoint. Even with the aforementioned flaws, it’s a well-directed show by Goro Taniguchi (who has a pretty impressive overall resume) that provided substantial food for thought, particularly for those unfortunate circumstances where everyone has turned into the wrong kind of person, including yourself.