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Literature / Ripley's Bureau of Investigation

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Left to right: Li Yong, Zia Mendoza, Alek Filipov, Kobe Shakur, Max Johnson, Kate Jones, Jack Stevens

Ripley's Bureau of Investigation is a book series written by Kay Wilkins (uncredited on the covers), illustrated by Ailin Chambers, and (apparently most importantly) published by Ripley Publishing to promote Ripley's Believe It or Not to kids. But it still could be considered a good series in its own right. It consists of eight published books. Two extra books, "Danger Underground" and "Haunted Hotel", have remained unpublished and the series was intended to have twelve books in total, but it discontinued, likely due to low sales.

On an alternate Earth where Robert Ripley started a private international boarding school for highly talented, genius, or superpowered teenagers on his private island, seven of the best students of Ripley High (or Ripley Academy, it varies between the books and the website) are part of a secret elite team called Ripley's Bureau of Investigation, or the RBI. Run and briefed by their favourite teacher Mr Cain, given high tech gadgets by their science/technology teacher Dr Maxwell, and assisted and co-briefed by their hologram AI RIPLEY. The team is dedicated to traveling the world and investigating sightings of strange creatures and phenomena, to determine the truth and to contribute to the database of discoveries made by the late Robert Ripley and the RBI itself.


Ripley's Bureau of Investigation contains examples of:

  • Asian Airhead: Li is an averted version of Type Two. She is sweet, pretty, rich, fashionable, and Chinese. But beside from being a touch superstitious, she is not at all dumb. She is even noted as a musical prodigy.
  • Awesome Aussie: Jack in a nutshell, he is a sincere homage of the "Australian Naturalist" stereotype rather than an exaggerated caricature. He grew up on an animal park near the Gold Coast, is a survival expert, can soothe dangerous animals, and doesn't mind eating bugs.
  • Badass Normal:
    • Max seems to be the only agent with no special superpower-like abilities. Everyone else is skilled, knowledgeable, and have strange abilities, whereas he is just skilled and knowledgeable. Nevertheless, he is still their equal and is highly competent as an agent.
    • Alek could be considered as this technically. He wasn't born with super strength, he went through enough training and exercises to become as strong as he is. But he is still no longer normal, so it's debatable.
  • Best Friend: The team do see one another as best friends, but it's been confirmed that Jack and Max are each other's best friend, same with Kate and Li.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Alek. He is older than at least four of the other agents and is the tallest/strongest, he is protective of his teammates and has saved them multiple times thanks to his skills and athleticism. Such as saving Max and Zia from a giant robot dragon with back flips, saving Li from a shark, and saving Kate from falling down a crevasse by diving down after her then free-climbing its sheer sides. He tries to keep an eye on agents he feels could end up in danger easily.
  • Big Fancy House: The school/mansion.
  • Book Dumb: Max generally is. He doesn't get good grades at school and would groan at the sight of a thick book, only interested in/skilled at inventing and anything to do with computers. But that's occasionally subverted when he has his moments.
    Max: This is a pretty mountainous area.
    Li: Mountainous area? That sounds much more like something Kate would say, than you.
    Max: I'm not just a pretty face, you know.
  • British Stuffiness: Downplayed. Kate tends to have a bit of this.
  • Building of Adventure: Ripley High on BION Island, once Robert Ripley's mansion.
  • Challenge Seeker: Alek is a very competitive sportsman. He tries to play every sport imaginable for the sheer love of them and the challenge, with the skill to match. There is a reason he's an under-16 Olympic athlete after all. For example, in "Secrets of the Deep", he, Kobe, Jack, and Max have a swimming endurance competition for fun. Jack and Max gave up around a half and hour in, but Alek and Kobe kept going for (what felt like) hours because of their respective abilities. While Kobe kept going because of his enhanced endurance/stamina, Alek continued because of his refusal to lose.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Justified. Alek's downplayed version of super strength comes from his years of strongman training, combined with Olympian training.
  • Cloak & Dagger: Technically what the RBI could be seen as since it's not a government agency and doesn't have direct relationships with any organizations.
  • Combat Parkour: Alek. Comes from being a contortionist and part of the Russian under-16 Olympic gymnastics team. Very handy for avoiding a giant robot dragon in "The Dragon's Triangle".
  • Comm Links: The agents' R-Phones, and headsets on missions. Or radio-mics built into whatever non-civilian type clothes they're wearing (wingsuits, scuba gear, parkas).
  • Cool Car: Dr Maxwell's high tech car, Jaws, from "Secrets of the Deep". It turns into a shark shaped submarine!
  • Cool House: The school/mansion. Even when no one knows about the RBI's base underneath the school, the school is still a cool mansion filled with Robert Ripley's collection. Like a room exclusively for shrunken heads.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Basically what Max does at school...and what Kate can't stand about him. Their arguments are usually about this particular trait of his.
  • Cool Pet: Every animal in the menagerie.
  • Cool Teacher: The team and probably other students see Mr Cain as this.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Kate's parents died in a car accident, and Zia is the sole survivor of a village that was destroyed when she was a baby (her biological parents more than likely died then).
  • Covert Group: Definitely the RBI.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: The RBI's cover is that they're the school's Museum Club. Plus the RBI's base is underneath said school.
  • Creator's Favorite: Max is in every single slice-of-life first chapter of every published book.
  • Crusty Caretaker: The school's caretaker, Matthew Clarkson. He does care about the school looking it's best, seeing it and its collection as one big showcase, but he's still particularly rude, grouchy, and nosy towards the students.
  • Crystal Skull: Max, Kate, and Alek found one in Antarctica, in "Sub-Zero Survival".
  • Cybernetic Mythical Beast: The giant robot dragon in "The Dragon's Triangle".
  • Dangerous Workplace: The agents nearly died on missions multiple times. Scarier once you remember they're between the ages of 13 and 15.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Each agent has a few moments.
  • Determinator: Generally the team, but Kobe more so since two of his abilities are enhanced endurance and stamina.
  • Disapproving Look: While Mr Cain is generally friendly, he can use this when an agent has been misbehaving...usually towards Max. Probably one of the few things that can get Max to be quiet and mind his manners during a briefing.
  • Disastrous Demonstration: In "The Dragon Triangle", Max tries to show off a golf-playing robot he made, but Zia's electromagnetism accidentally messes with it. Causing the robot to hack a table and break a window in Dr Maxwell's classroom.
  • Doing Research: It's stated they do this before every mission by going through files/reports or asking geography teacher Miss Burrows (who doesn't know about the RBI) about the location of a particular mission, but there is a chapter dedicated to this trope in "Shock Horror". With Li, Zia, and Max going to a newspaper records office to find information about unusual storm that occurred 15 years ago and a missing park ranger.
  • Do Not Attempt: "Some of the activities undertaken by the RBI and others in this book should not be attempted without the necessary training and supervision." Absolutely with good reason.
  • Dress-Coded for Your Convenience: The RBI agents are usually dressed in regular civilian clothes, while the DUL agents wear suits.
  • Drives Like Crazy: In "Wings of Fear", when Jack drives a crystal-coated mini throughout the streets of London to chase after a flying creature. Since he was following Max's directions, he ended up on the wrong side of the road with plenty of oncoming trucks and cars, on the sidewalk, crashing through a flowerstand in a market area, and down a set of steep stone steps.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The illustrations for the first book were somewhat rough.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Not elaborate, the RBI's home base is simply a high tech underground cellar with a briefing room and a lab, but it is an underground base.
  • The Empath: It's implied Kobe is this.
  • EMP: In "Shock Horror", Max had an EMP watch that accidentally caused Zia to faint since it upset her electromagnetic energy.
  • Experienced Protagonist: Experienced protagonists, all the agents have done plenty of missions before the first book.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Jack's perfectly fine with eating insects.
  • The Fashionista: Li is the most fashion-conscious of the group.
  • Flat Character: Unfortunately, there isn't really much to Kobe's character.
  • Freaky Is Cool: Zia is self-conscious about her natural silver streak, but Max thinks it's cool and makes her look like a superhero.
  • Free-Range Children: Teenagers traveling around the world alone to big cities like London and Tokyo, and dangerous wildernesses like Antarctica. Somewhat justified, they seem highly trained, skilled, and intelligent enough to handle locations like that on their own, and the teachers outside of the RBI don't actually know. Teachers believe the cover story for all the missions, that the three chosen RBI agents went on a field trip.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: It was implied in "A Scaly Tale" that Kate insulted Max with one.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The rival organization against a team trying to investigate and catalogue anything strange is called 'dull'.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Max and Dr Maxwell.
  • Genius Ditz: Max. Not the best when it comes to school and book smarts, absolute genius with computers, robotics, and engineering.
  • Gentle Giant: Alek. He is the tallest and strongest member of the team, with the muscles that would come from strongman and Olympic training, but he is still a very friendly guy.
  • Genius Slob: Li sees Max and Dr Maxwell as this, at least regarding fashion.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The series managed to use the phrase 'oh, my god' by mashing it together into 'Ohmigod'. At least in the paperback editions. In the ebook versions, it's been changed to 'Ohmigosh'.
  • The Gift: The school is specifically for teenagers who have their own unique gift. And since the RBI consists of the best students, they're the gifted of the gifted.
  • Height Angst: Played For Laughs. Briefly every now and then with the shortest member of the team, Li. (Cover art and official art outside of the books may not accurately depict her height.)
  • Hollywood Hacking: Max somehow managed to hack into traffic lights in "Wings of Fear". In "The Dragon's Triangle", it was briefly mentioned Max used to hack into neon signs of his home town, Las Vegas, and disrupt the delivery of power to make the signs spell out whatever he wanted.
  • Hollywood Nerd: Kate. Could be considered conventionally attractive despite being the school's most well-known bookworm and teacher's pet.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Done in a G-Rated way with Max in "Wings of Fear". Him having a crush on the woman who spotted the flying 'creature' in the first place, Abby.
  • Hostile Weather: Happens in "A Scaly Tale" when Kobe, Jack, and Zia are in the Florida swamplands. Again in "Shock Horror", which even makes a roller-coaster stop working.
  • Informed Ability: Li's musical prowess, Kobe's other telepathic abilities, and Zia's capability to manipulate weather. Probably would've been demonstrated after the eighth book, but then the series was discontinued.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Max and Dr Maxwell.
  • iPhony: The R-Phones.
  • Island Base: Technically. The RBI's underground base is underneath the school, which is on a private island.
  • Jerkass Realization: In "Running Wild", when Kate called out Max for almost exposing the RBI (because he was spying on Mr Clarkson with one of his robots as a joke and got caught, ending up being grilled by Mr Clarkson and Mr Willis about his behaviour in general...including his 'field trips'), it hit home.
  • Jet Pack: The 'flying creature' in "Wings of Fear" turned out to be a superhero with a jet pack.
  • Kid Detective: What the team partially are.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Zia. Her favourite animal in the school's menagerie is Kismet, the winged cat. She even tried and failed to sneak her into her dorm. And she is the most loyal, most gentle, and kindest member of the team.
  • Knowledge Broker: This role is separated into two for Mr Cain and RIPLEY. Mr Cain seems to have numerous contacts everywhere and RIPLEY is the team's reliable and immense source of information.
  • Labcoat of Science and Medicine: Dr Maxwell.
  • The Leader: Mr Cain is officially the team's leader.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: One of Max's flaws is his recklessness. Most notably in "Wings of Fear". Instead of using his wingsuit properly, he nosedived and then opened up his suit to get to the flying creature much quicker...which caused the extra material to rip, and Max himself to fall until the 'creature' saved him.
  • Left Hanging: Since the series discontinued before its end, a number of plot threads have been left unsolved. Such as the clue hunt for the next artifact after the crystal skull, the implication that there's a DUL mole in Ripley High, the reason why the DUL want to sabotage the RBI, and the reason behind Zia's abilities and silver streak.
  • Living a Double Life: Seemingly just students of Ripley High, secretly an elite team of investigative field agents.
  • The Men in Black: The Department of Unbelievable Lies. Even in their disguises, they're identified by their sunglasses and shiny shoes.
  • Multinational Team: Li's from China, Zia's from Venezuela, Alek's from Russia, Kobe's from Kenya, Max is from America (noted as the school's only American student), Kate's from England, and Jack's from Australia. Justified since they all attend an international boarding school.
  • Mystical White Hair: Zia's streak glows white when she's charged with electricity, such as after she's struck by lightning.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Li used to be this, both a new student and a new agent. She first attended Ripley High/joined the RBI later than the other agents. At the time of the book series, she's been a Ripley High student and an agent for two years.
  • Name of Cain: Subverted. Mr Cain is definitely a good guy.
  • Nebulous Evil Organisation: Definitely the Department of Unbelievable Lies.
  • Nerds Love Tough Schoolwork: Kate.
  • Never My Fault: This is one of Max's biggest flaws. While he doesn't blame anyone directly, he doesn't admit when he's wrong, even when he knows he actually is wrong.
  • Night-Vision Goggles: Used in "A Scaly Tale".
  • Non-Action Guy: Max. At least compared to the other male outdoorsy survivalist, a gymnast with super strength, and a tall guy with enhanced endurance/stamina and the ability to learn new skills quickly.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Li comes from a wealthy family and manages to not be idle by being a globe-trotting field agent.
  • No Such Agency: The RBI is not exactly an agency, but it's still supported by something bigger. Only a few contacts, the DUL, and eventually people interviewed for the database know about the RBI. Employees of Ripley's Believe It Or Not outside of the school (Mr Cain and Dr Maxwell are the only teachers who know of course) have heard stories about the RBI, but some of them regarded the stories as not true and thus believing the RBI isn't real.
  • Occult Detective: That's what the team technically are, even if they don't find real mythical monsters and ghosts, just more plausible equivalents.
  • Oddly Small Organization: The bureau is just the team, RIPLEY, Mr Cain, and Dr Maxwell.
  • Olympic Swimmer: Alek, swimming is one of the many sports he's great at thanks to training and passion. It's the reason why he was chosen for the mission in "Secrets of the Deep".
  • Omniglot:
    • Kate can speak fourteen languages fluently. Justified though, she was born with the ability to pick up the basics of a language by hearing it only once. So technically she can know every language, but she only counts the ones she learnt to speak fluently.
    • A downplayed version applies to all the characters from non-English speaking countries (Li, Zia, Alek, and Kobe) since they definitely know English as well as their native languages.
      Zia: No, I just can't put my thumb on it.
      Jack: Finger. The saying is "I can't put my finger on it".
      Zia: Thank you. Your language is so strange.
  • One-Wheeled Wonder: Subverted. Dr Maxwell was testing a motorcycle in "Sub-Zero Survival" that had two wheels close together on either side, just appearing to have one wheel.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Kate's parents died in a car accident when she was younger; her feelings about it are highlighted in "Running Wild".
  • Passing Notes in Class: In "Sub-Zero Survival", Kate was so excited to tell the other agents about a link she found between the clues to find the next artifact, she couldn't wait to tell them after class. So she passed a note to let them know, which the other agents pass on...unfortunately it didn't end well.
  • Photographic Memory: One of Kate's main abilities. She memorized all the books of Oxford University's library thanks to it.
  • Playful Hacker: Max.
  • Power Trio: How the RBI works. Whenever there's a mission, Mr Cain would choose three agents out of the seven members of the RBI, specifically agents whose skills and knowledge are the most suitable for the mission at hand. Occasionally four agents would go if it's necessary.
  • Psychometry: Kobe's fully demonstrated psychic ability.
  • Recruit Teenagers with Attitude: Justified. They're not just ordinary inexperienced teenagers. They're highly skilled prodigies and experts in their fields of interests, most of them with rare strange abilities that were likely not found in any skilled adults at the time. Plus teenagers would have a good balance of skepticism and open-mindedness that would be suitable for the job of investigating such unbelievable sightings. Whereas most adults would be too skeptical to proceed properly.
  • Robot Master: Ren Nagano from "The Dragon's Triangle".
  • Sadist Teacher: Shaun Willis, the school's artifact studies teacher, goes back and forth between this and Stern Teacher. Most of the students, apart from Kate, find his lectures boring. He's very strict when he conducts his lessons, wanting absolute silence from his students in class. Seems reasonable at first, but he gets angered very easily, ready to shout when he shouldn't. He clearly favours Kate more than the other students, being much kinder to her, and treats Max in the opposite manner. And then there's the fact that he gave Jack detention for being tardy, not at all sympathetic to the reason why Jack was late...because he was taking care of a sick two-headed cow!
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Somewhat downplayed and completely justified, Kobe is an expert tracker.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Signature Device: The agents' R-Phones and badges.
  • Skunk Stripe: Zia was born with a silver streak in her side-bangs.
  • The Sleepless: Dr Maxwell is used to staying up all night working on inventions.
  • Slice of Life: Typically at the beginning of each book.
  • Sole Survivor: Zia, she was a baby when she survived a storm that destroyed her village.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Downplayed. This is Jack's main ability, but it's not portrayed in a typical 'he can hear English out of animals and vice versa' way. He can easily interpret animal noises, make similar animal noises and sing-song whispers to soothe animals, establish very basic communication with animals, and has a strong mutual bond with them.
  • Strange Secret Entrance: The RBI's underground base can be accessed by activating an iris recognition scanner (with the right eye) within the left double eye of the bust of the famous double-pupil man Liu Min. Once activated, the panel which the bust is attached to would swing back as a door, opening up to a spiral staircase that leads down to the base.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Zia can literally sense oncoming storms.
  • Sunglasses at Night: Max always wears a pair up on his head, even indoors. He does get called out about it. The DUL agents definitely do this as well.
  • Super Senses: Li's sensitive hearing. Additionally, it's been stated she can use a combination of her hearing and her voice/sound mimicry ability to make herself capable of echolocation.
  • Super Strength: Alek. Not ridiculously superhero level of strength, but way above average due to his previous strongman training. For one thing, he held up the foot of a robot dragon in "The Dragon's Triangle", but he's not capable of lifting the whole robot up.
  • Talented, but Trained: How the RBI agents are portrayed.
    Alek [...] decided that the others must all perfect their special talents, too, without him realising.
  • Taking the Bullet: In "A Scaly Tale", when Zia realised the metal poles in their tent could conduct the lightning from the thunderstorm over their heads and kill them, she rushed outside to conduct a lightning strike herself. She did this because she had read RIPLEY's files about people who could absorb lightning and assumed her electromagnetic abilities would let to do the same, thereby saving her friends. Otherwise, the lightning would've struck the tent and killed Kobe and Jack, while she would've remained alive because of her powers. But this was only a guess, it could've killed her if she was wrong. She knew that and was still willing to save her friends rather than herself.
  • Techno Babble: Dr Maxwell and Max a little bit, a mix of nonsense and sense.
  • Teen Genius: Some of the student population of the school. Generally the team if we include their expert fields of interest and their impressive intelligence applied to missions, but more specifically Kate and Max.
  • Teen Superspy: The agents are more like investigators than spies. But since they're a trained secret team who conduct briefings in a high tech underground base, are given advanced disguised gadgets, go to far-off lands where they go through dangerous situations and occasionally face an organization of well-dressed enemies, the team counts.
  • Tomboy And Girly Girl: Zia and Li.
  • Tracking Device: In "Running Wild", Kate, Jack, and Kobe try to track Arun the feral child and his wolf pack by giving them him and a wolf tracking collars.
  • True Companions: All the members of the team see each other as friends, and they completely depend on each other on missions.
  • Useless Accessory: Max's sunglasses.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Absolutely Kate and Max. While they're not each other's best friend, they somehow do see each other as friends and bicker a lot.
  • Voice Changeling: One of Li's abilities, she can mimic voices and sounds perfectly.
  • Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: Well, maybe not necessarily save the world, but the RBI still generally fits.
  • Walking Techbane: Zia's electromagnetic presence badly affects technology, mostly breaking it. Which has happened to Max's inventions more than once, frustrating him.
  • The War Room: The briefing room in the underground base is set up like one.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Ironically, Jack. He had a bad experience with snakes when he was younger, because snakes are not willing to let Jack communicate with them and calm them down like other animals.
  • World of Weirdness: Downplayed. A lot of the monster of the week type stuff turn out not to be monsters, like the humanoid lizard that was really a human who went through tons of body modification to look like a humanoid lizard in "A Scaly Tale". Then again, a man who can make trees explode and furry elephants with double-trunks exist.


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