Rune Soldier Vol. #1: Enter the Klutz (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, March 29, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, April 08, 2003



What They Say
Armed with Merrill’s cunning, Genie’s strength and Melissa’s prayers, this all-female band has no trouble raiding ancient ruins-unless a magic seal blocks the way. As an investment, the girls decide to hire a magician. Any magician. Alas, all of the available magicians prefer reading to raiding-except Louie. Swallowing their pride (and several pints), the girls take on the loud, brash novice. In return, the hapless Louie gives them all the adventure they can handle-and then some!

The Review!
ADV heads back to the fantasy well and comes back with a surprisingly entertaining show.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its new English 5.1 mix. Though encoded in 5.1, there’s nothing that we noticed going back to the rear speakers, but the forward soundstage dialogue was noticeably crisper and more distinctly placed. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions on either track during regular playback.

Video:
Originally released in 2001, the transfer for this show looks very sharp and colorful. While a number of recent fantasy shows have been darker in color and tone, Rune Soldier goes much brighter and vibrant with its colors. There’s some slight edge cross coloration going on in character hair, but is very dependent on the system you watch it on. It was invisible on our Panasonic player via component cables but the TV/DVD combo shows it more clearly. Colors are solid throughout and aliasing was pretty much non-existent.

Packaging:
The artwork used for the cover in this clear keepcase is just gorgeous, with the three lead women in the show and our lead male hero dead center, it’s simply very eye-catching. The red of the cloak alone draws the eyes in. The front cover also makes out well with providing the volume number, which is surprisingly not available on the spine. The back cover provides some more artwork and shots from the show along with a brief show premise paragraph. The episode numbers are listed and the basic technical information, though they list the English as 2.0 when it is definitely encoded for 5.1. This is also a reversible cover with the reverse side having a big red background and going for the super deformed look with the cast and images. Both are definitely appropriate, but I really love the detailed cover over the super deformed one. The insert is a nice piece that features more artwork similar to the front cover and opens up to a three panel page with conceptual character artwork and summaries of each of the episodes on the disc. Two puzzle piece cards are also included here as well as two stickers.

Menu:
The menus here are very nicely laid out with each screen featuring a different character. The main menu has Louie himself with some small bits of the screen doing some in-show styled animated movements while some instrumental music plays. The layout is pretty simple and straightforward but with some very vibrant looking artwork. Access times are nice and fast and with a very minimal transitional animation, load times are swift.

Extras:
The extras for the first volume are pretty minimal but cover the essentials for any new series with me and that’s a clean opening and ending segment. With as busy as some of these openings are, it’s definitely a plus to be able to take the time to check them out without any text on top.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In general, I’m still not a huge fan of fantasy shows since they often cave in to convention far too often and stick with the long tried and true formulas. Elves must always be this, dwarves that, etc. Rune Soldier, coming from the man behind Record of Lodoss War, was something that I figured would run much the same way. So far, that’s seeming to be true as we get through the first four episodes.

Thankfully, the show is funny as hell.

The premise of Rune Soldier is set up very quickly. We’re introduced to three adventurers who’ve been stymied by an area where they believe there is some treasure, but they need a magic user in their group to really flesh things out so that they can investigate. The party so far is made up of an interesting trio. There’s Genie, the tall muscular red headed woman who uses a massive sword. There’s Melissa, the priestess of the Battle God Mylee and then there’s Merrill, the small cute thief girl. So with the knowledge that they need a magician, they head back to town and to an area where they can try to get one to join them. At a bar no less.

Their problem as it turns out is that pretty much all the magicians in the area are women and none of them like adventuring. They’ll buy whatever magic items they discover, but they’d rather not go out there and get into the dirty work of it all. But one of them is a bit craftier, something we see as the episodes progress, and that’s Ila. This bespectacled young red head brings her friend Louie, a tall goofy looking yet near-heroic type who is magician that would be interested in adventuring. The trio instantly reject him though since they don’t want any men in their party.

This leads to an amusing series of back and forth moments as each side wages their beliefs, leading to some interesting fights. Louie does end up going along with them, and they take serious advantage of him as a pack-horse, but take him they do. As they adventure along the old abandoned noble castle, they end up coming across a large pack of goblins. Instead of being a real magician, Louie ends up going more nuts and just starts bashing the hell out of them, gnawing on them and going to town in a very physical way. The women are startled, especially when he does wave his staff and conks someone with it instead, ultimately breaking it.

Their relationship is seriously on the rocks from there. Louie can’t use magic now until he gets a new wand (which requires wood from a 500 year old oak tree, something not especially common) so the girls are pretty much done with him. They opt to try and continue to find another woman while they go through their regular motions in the city. This turns out to be a real problem for Melissa, as she undergoes a ceremony with her god. One of the jobs of a priestess when they attain a certain level is to commune with Mylee, and Mylee will reveal to them a hero that they must then follow and support in their adventures. Melissa is all keen on this until it turns out that none other than Louie is to be her hero.

It’s an obvious set up, but it plays so well with all the characters that it really is hilarious even when you see it coming a mile away. Her bosses advice is the worst, her friends aren’t sure how to support her, and Louie… when Louie finds out he can’t understand why she takes advantage of him instead of supporting him. The series then moves into strengthening and playing with the relationships of all the characters as they start adventuring again.

Throughout the four episodes is a lot of comedy. It plays out well in both languages as the casts in both work it well. A serious fantasy adventure would be fairly dull at this point but Rune Soldier manages to keep us amused throughout the entire episode and looking forward to the next. The magic is in the mix of personality and design. While Louie is definitely supposed to be the hero, and he does fill out the outfit nicely, he’s still an idiot at times.

This was also a rather enjoyable dub with only a few problems to it. The script is fairly close, though often it’s just dialogue saying the same thing in a somewhat different manner without losing the original intent. I only find it bothersome to do that when there is no lip-flap to matched on the screen (such as a voice-over) and would rather they stuck closer to the original during those areas. The real standout here to me is Shelley Calene-Black as Melissa. She pulls off the role extremely well and her lines tend to be the most fluid and relaxed, even when they’re frantic. This makes Christine Auten’s role as Genie stand out as more problematic since she’s trying to say so much in such a short space that it feels forced and rushed. With the requirement of a deeper voice since she’s playing something of a barbarian woman fighter, it didn’t come across as well. Allison Keith as Merrill did a good job with the part, but Merrill’s not a heavily used one early one outside of some spastic moments and a few good arguments.

The lead role of Louie, done by Jason Douglas, falls somewhere in between Genie and Merrill though. Douglas does it right for the most part, but with the character having visible shifts from near-hero to doofus, a bit too much of the doofus tends to seep into the near-hero role. But with only a few episodes of this under his belt, he does get it more managed as it progresses. It’s not a bad performance by any stretch, but it didn’t leap at me like Melissa’s did.

I knew precious little about Rune Soldier prior to seeing the disc, since there’s simply so many shows coming out these days and I’d rather go in not knowing much. After the disc was over, we both ended up liking it a lot and found that we definitely laughed through much of it. The action is nicely done, the character designs are attractive and the plot, though so far a simple one or two episode type, has been enjoyable. For a first volume where the bulk of the work is in setting up the location and introducing the cast, it was very enjoyable. It’ll be interesting to see how this show progresses and where it’s going to go.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and closing animations

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Rune Soldier