Explorer Woman Ray, directed by Hiroki Hayasi; Haruhisa Okamoto & Masato Sato. Two half-hour OAVs. May 26 -June 23, 1989.
For a long time, I thought that the Explorer Woman Ray title was inspired by the Ford Explorer SUV. The OAV (the two were quickly combined into one 60-minute OAV) is full of Sport Utility Vehicles driving about, and the “Explorer” in the title logo is in the exact same type style used on the popular automobile’s logo. But it turns out that Ford didn’t introduce the Explorer SUV until 1991, two years after the OAV. So who knows?
As for the plot, Explorer Woman Ray and Explorer Woman Ray 2 were obviously inspired by the first two Indiana Jones movies, with a feisty young woman archaeologist, young sidekicks, a hidden treasure/mystic artifact of world power, and an unscrupulous rival archaeologist out to get the secret first. The OAVs were produced by AIC (partially financed by Animate Ltd., the anime merchandise specialty company), adapted from a manga by Takashi Okazaki, and released by Toshiba EMI.
The opening of the first OAV, “Ray Appears”, directed by Hayasi, isn’t believable but it sure is exciting! A streamlined passenger train speeds through a dry, rocky wasteland, above a road a covered truck is driving along. One of the passengers is a teenaged girl, looking out the window. The road comes to closely parallel the train. The girl sees a man on the truck whip off a tarp covering it, revealing several men with AK-47s aimed at the train. As the road goes over an overpass, the truck drives down onto the train, speeds across the top of it, and drops down onto the tracks right in front of the train. Half of the men with guns break through the window of the engine and enter the train, while the other half run across the top and enter the train from the rear. Meanwhile, the teen girl and her twin race through the train to the cab, throwing off the men with martial-arts moves and grabbing a fire extinguisher; climb out the broken cab window onto the truck, overpower the truck’s driver with the foam from the extinguisher, and drive the truck away from the train. All this before the opening credit.
The truck’s destination is an archaeological site around a lake in absolutely dry mountainous country; presumably somewhere in the Andes. A woman in her 20s returns from a trip to find the twin girls ransacking her house. After a tense confrontation, the woman is identified as Dr. Rayna Kizuki, the head of the dig, and a professor of archaeology at the University of Japan. (How does she hold both jobs so far apart?) The two teen girls are Mami & Mai Tachibana, who were students in her class. (This is confusing since Ray and the girls don’t recognize each other. Ray thanks the girls for bringing her the Ord stone mirror (the Maguffin of the plot), with no explanation of where they got it. Maybe this is more coherent in Okazaki’s manga, which I haven’t read.) They were so thrilled by her stories of exploring in the ancient ruins of the Ord civilization that they decided to come to her site and find the lost Ord treasures. Ray allows the girls to stay with her. The next day Ray tells them that the Ords lived on the tops of mountains to be nearer the sun, which they worshipped. The girls are disappointed when Ray says there is no map of the ruins. She says her grandfather, who started the dig, had a different theory than lost treasure, but she is interrupted before she can say what it is.
The villain, Rieg Vader (presumably a double reference to Darth Vader and to the ancient Hindu Rgveda), a suave blond man dressed in a white hat and impractical long cape (a combination of the white-clad unscrupulous archaeologist Dr. Belloq and the more flamboyantly-dressed Gestapo Major Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark; and spotless white in a filthy archaeological dig?), appears with Johnson, his hulking assistant. Dialogue establishes that Rieg was the assistant of Ray’s grandfather, and they found the temple and the stone mirror together ten years earlier. Dr. Kizuki got the mirror but later disappeared and is presumed dead. Rieg wants the stone mirror to get the Ords’ real secret. Ray accuses him of betraying her grandfather and being a graverobber, and refuses to give him the mirror. Rieg tells the girls that while the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, and others worshipped the sun, the Ords believed their god ate the sun’s light, and they made mirrors of polished silver, gold, and stone to reflect sunlight onto the master mirror in their temple.
The next morning, Ray awakens to find that the girls have stolen the mirror and gone to the ruins of the temple to search for the treasure. They are captured by the gunmen, led by their Chief, who have been hired by Rieg. Ray appears, and they fight over the mirror. Ray and Mami escape onto an underground river in one of Rieg’s inflatable rubber rafts with a large propeller fan, into the temple’s lower levels, while Mai and the mirror are captured. (Mai’s dialogue with the gunmen’s Chief implies that he has respect for Ray’s abilities; and that although he works for Rieg, he is not as slavishly loyal to him as Johnson is. Another whopping improbability is that there would be so much water in the Ord ruins, with a large river with waterfalls and the lake outside, but the surrounding terrain would be so parched and desolate.)
Rieg and his men take Mai and the mirror into the temple’s center (the “treasure room”), where Rieg sets up the mirror to receive the sun’s reflections from the secondary mirrors and reveal the secret. Meanwhile Ray and Mami race back upstream to the treasure room, despite an attack by Rieg’s giant Johnson. The mirror produces a large beam of light that causes increasing vibrations that shake the temple apart, while outside a huge storm develops. Ray says that the Ords’ treasure was the mirror’s ability to create a typhoon and bring water to such a dry land; and the real reason the Ords lived on the mountaintops was that their typhoons flooded the land below. Ray and the girls escape from the temple as it falls apart, while Rieg escapes in a helicopter.
Explorer Woman Ray 2, “Mortal Combat! Departure With the Past!!”, directed by Okamoto & Sato, opens with Ray looking at a diary and having a flashback to ten years earlier, when she was an adolescent helping her grandfather and she hero-worshipped Rieg, his assistant. She goes alone following Rieg. Mai and Mami, left behind, follow her because, Mai says, “she’s helpless without us!” (This and following action shows that Mai is impulsive and Mami is more cautious.)
Ray rushes into the underground ruins. (It’s unclear whether this is a different part of the same temple or a different temple. Ray later tells Rieg that “We’ve both seen one temple destroyed.”) Despite Rieg’s losing so many men, he tells Johnson to order the Chief to go on; they’re behind schedule. The Chief and Johnson argue; over half the Chief’s men are dead and he wants to get out of the ruins.
The twins search for Ray. She encounters Rieg. Their conversation shows that she considers the ruins too dangerous for anyone; that the Ords destroyed themselves, and that Rieg is just following them in his thirst for power. He considers her still the young girl who is sentimental about the happy times with her grandfather. He asks if she remembers when he gave her a jade necklace like his? She says she threw it away long ago. Rieg disappears into the ruins which crumble, destroying the only path that she knows.
The twins find and join Ray. Rieg and his men are at a new temple with a larger central mirror surrounded by smaller reflecting mirrors, which they power up with computers. (How?) Ray and the twins, exploring through the ruins, are attacked by Rieg’s men until the Chief orders them to stop. They’re his men, not Rieg’s, and he doesn’t fight girls.
The ruins are lighted up by the mirrors. Ray tells the twins to stay with the Chief and goes on alone. The twins soon go after her, while the Chief tells his men to get out of the ruins. Ray comes to the temple’s center with the mirrors in full operation. Rieg tells Johnson to let her through to witness his triumph. But she throws her jade necklace (the one she said she threw away years ago?) into the beams of light, destroying Rieg’s control. Johnson gives Rieg a fancy sword (what?), and he attacks Ray while the out-of-control light begins to destroy the ruins. Ray says, “Even if you kill me, this temple will never be yours!” Rieg answers, “Then I’ll find another! Professor Kizuki wanted this energy to be found and used!” The twins arrive with a length of pipe that Mai throws to Ray, who uses it to deflect Rieg’s sword until the crumbling temple destroys all the ruins, the helicopter, the underground river, and everything.
At the ending, the Chief is seen leading his surviving men away. Rieg and Johnson join them. Ray appears from the ruins and joins Mai and Mami.
Is this supposed to be a definite ending? Professor Kizuki’s disappearance ten years earlier is still unexplained. Is Rieg power-hungry for himself, or is he trying to complete Prof. Kizuki’s legacy? How many temples did the Ords have? Presumably no anime fans cared. The two OAVs were licensed in America by Central Park Media, which released them together as a 60-minute U.S. Manga Corps VHS in November 1993. There was never a DVD release.
Next week: Forgotten Anime #43: “Dallos”