Ruin Explorers: Essential Anime Collection (of 1) (Mania.com)

Review Date: Sunday, November 28, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, August 31, 2004



What They Say
Fam and Ihrie are willing to do almost anything to make a buck. So when these debt-driven damsels discover the potential profits to be had in recovering a particularly dangerous mystical object, it means mortal peril for an entire civilization. Haunted by an unspeakable curse, plagued by doomsday prophecies, plotted against by untrustworthy traveling companions and locked in a desperate race to gain the Ultimate Power, Fam and Ihrie are the Ruin Explorers!

The Review!
While a number of the Essential Anime collection releases are good upgrades for the audio or just in the terms of a price drop for those who have waited, almost none of them were as needed as the Ruin Explorers release.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Having seen it and enjoyed it previously in this format, the English language version just doesn't click all that right to my ears. The Japanese track is pretty solid and makes good use for the forward soundstage, particularly with a very warm and wide music track that's very enjoyable here. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions on either language track. We did check out the new English 5.1 remix track and while there isn't a whole lot of really noticeable directionality added to it, it's much sharper sounding than the Japanese track and there's a touch more sense of depth to it.

Video:
Originally released to video in Japan back in 1995, it first made its US DVD release in the summer of 2000. Being one of the early ADV releases, the title was one that tried a couple of tricks which at the time caused widespread problems on a number of players. Using alternate angles for the opening and closing sequences, the technology both in authoring and in the players at that time wasn't quite solidified enough that it worked across the board, certainly not the way it works these days. That release either stuttered out on a lot of people or just broke up into massive amounts of macroblocking. This release avoids that problem and goes with the standard form of ADV releases these days and the transfer makes out from more current authoring techniques as well. The result is a much cleaner looking transfer than the previous release. The only really noticeable problem is that the cross coloration issue is still present and was very lightly visible on my set which does such a surprising job in eliminating it. On my office setup, it's a bit more visible but still doesn't reach the level of annoyance some of the earlier releases did. A bit of light aliasing is mixed in as well but otherwise this traditionally animated OVA series looks quite good and makes me wish more series retained this kind of raw earthy feel to themselves.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the original release, the only difference here is the additional top and bottom banners that indicate it's an Essential Anime release and that it's remastered in 5.1 audio. The artwork for it looks good though with a shot of the leads in their bright solid colors in the foreground while the darker colors and evil looking villain make their presence visible behind them. I liked the cover the first time around and still do now. The back cover provides a few character shots along the side and a decent short premise of the series along the other side while the discs extras are in the middle. The discs technical and production information is all easily found and the technical grid is a definite improvement over the old way of doing things. The insert has a different piece of artwork with the lead trio of good guys and the ominous villain imagery behind them while the reverse side is a good looking piece that takes part of the cover artwork and a desolate background to list the four episode titles.

Menu:
Utilizing the character artwork from the front cover and the rocky background motif, the static menu here with some of the vocals playing along looks good and is easy to navigate. While normally you get episode numbers to jump to, they've used the episode titles instead here which looks a bit awkward and busy but it does work. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is straightforward and simple. The disc also correctly reads our players' language presets which continue to be an important and basic feature of what we like to see in our DVDs.

Extras:
The only extra that the original release had was an image gallery and that's no longer present here, nor are they generally on many releases from ADV these days. In place of that, we've got a clean opening and ending sequence and we've also got a commentary track by a couple of the English voice actors. Since the lead character voice actors are either no longer around or no longer in the area, the commentary track shifts to the secondary characters with Brett Weaver and Kelly Manison talking about a show they dubbed over six years ago. While their memories are a touch hazy, they do have some amusing anecdotes about the production from them and some of the changes since then.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As mentioned earlier, Ruin Explorers is definitely one of those early ADV Films titles that not only could use a price drop just due to its age but definitely required a full on remaster due to a number of issues that have caused the release to be unplayable for a lot of people. Thankfully, this release comes across very strong and everything's been fixed as it should be and Ruin Explorers is at long last presented in a problem free format. With the issues behind it, it's much easier to get into the show since the distractions are essentially gone.

During my pre-teen years and early teen years I read a lot of fantasy novels and played an ungodly amount of hours of Dungeons & Dragon's and a wide variety of fantasy role playing games. Suffice to say that after awhile, I finally burned out on the whole fantasy oriented style. The whole genre in my mind was really lacking in anything new and innovative and instead clung to time honored traditions.

As such, I've had mixed reactions to fantasy anime shows. Some have been very well done and have had me very interested in them while others tended to follow the standard formula. For the most part, Ruin Explorers follows the standard formula. The four episodes, which contain the entire series, is well done with what looks to be a slightly above budget animation. The characters, though most are without any real depth or detail, are well done and you know easily what kind of person that they are. The villain is sufficiently evil looking and has a dark purpose, though there is a bit of a twist with that as well.

Fam and Ihrie are a couple of ruin explorers who are searching for the Ultimate Power, a device that will grant the person anything they wish. Ihrie, who may have been a bit of a punk magician in her youth, had a curse placed on her and has been searching for this so she can rid herself of it. Fam, her partner and obligatory catgirl, is along for the ride... and food. Along the way they also meet up with a merchant and two other ruin explorers and another mysterious man. They eventually take on a quest that involves finding the Ultimate Power that ties around stopping the villain with the dark purpose.

There are a lot of amusing moments along the way, as this is a light hearted fantasy romp with only a few truly dark moments. There are a few brief moments of nudity, but no real foul language. There are however two really above average things that need to be mentioned about this show.

The first is that the music is above average. Instead of the typical synthesizer music with the same repeated sections, they went a bit further and got the Versailles Chamber Orchestra to perform the music duties, and it sounds good. There's a lot of ambient music throughout that helps set the various moods well. While orchestra's performing music for anime isn't as rare as it once was, it's still pretty uncommon, but it paid off in this effort.

The other is one of the characters in particular. The merchant has a dog. Not just any dog though. This is probably the one character who line for line gets the best lines. Basically picture him as an anime version of Mutley from those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons and you'll have it dead on. He even has the same kind of evil hee hee laugh of Mutley.

In Summary:
The Ruin Explorers remaster overall is a pretty solid release. With everything fixed that needed to be, the shows inherent comedy and general audiences appeal is much stronger since you're no longer distracted. Every time I hit releases like this from this time frame, I keep finding myself more and more wistful for the time period in terms of how the animation looks. While a lot of today's shows look amazing and are lavishly detailed and painted, there's just something to the traditional method of anime that still sings strongly to me. There's a certain life and movement to it that's just not quite there in a lot of shows these days. Ruin Explorers presents another trip to the past and is a show that a lot of fantasy enthusiasts will enjoy as well as those who like the buddy-buddy female teams.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and closing animation,Commentary with Kelly Manison (Rasha) and Brett Weaver (Migel)

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 19.98
Running time: 120
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ruin Explorers