Rune Soldier Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Thursday, July 29, 2004
Release Date: Monday, July 19, 2004



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 - that is, unless a magic seal blocks their way. As an investment, the girls decide to hire a magician, any magician.

But all the magicians, except for Louie, prefer reading to raiding. Swallowing their pride (and several pints), the girls take along the loud, brash novice. In return, the hapless Louie gives them all the adventure they can handle and then some!

The Review!
It's a world of swords and sorcery... with comedy thrown in for kicks. Rune Soldier just seems to hit all the right marks.

Audio:
I listened to the Japanese stereo track for my main review, and noticed no distortions or dropouts. The track itself was a fairly standard stereo mix for a television series. I really enjoyed the performances of all the actors for the main characters; they all play off each other perfectly, especially when the three girls get together to complain.

The English language track is presented in 5.1, and it sounded fine while writing the review, though it didn't seem that enhanced over the Japanese stereo track. The dub sounded pretty good, with most of the main characters seeming to spark a similar chemistry as their Japanese counterparts. This is another series I look forward to watching in English when I get the time.

Video:
The transfer for Rune Soldier is on par with most recent ADV transfers. It's extremely fresh and clean, looking great for the most part. A few scenes seem a little blander and less vibrant than most, but that seems to be more how they were drawn than a problem with the transfer itself. I noticed no artifacts or aliasing during regular playback, and I only spotted a few areas of very minor cross-colouration. Subtitles are slightly larger than the ADV UK norm (they're the same size as their US counterparts on this disc), and are in a yellow font as always.

Packaging:
Packaged in a clear keepcase, the cover looks great, with a nice cast shot featuring the three women around the edges with Louie in the centre, drawing his sword. The show logo and volume information are in the bottom right hand corner, and I like that it's labelled and numbered on the front here, unlike some other recent ADV shows. Disappointingly though, there's no volume numbering (or name) on the spine. My only gripe with the cover is the placement of the BBFC rating ? it definitely would've fit better in the bottom left, as it covers way too much of Genie's face as it is. The back cover is clean with a nice image of the elf from the fourth episode, and the usual volume and series summary with screenshots. ADV UK's excellent info boxes list all the technical information.

The cover is also reversible, with the both the front and back opting for a more comedic look, with all the characters in their super-deformed mode.

Menu:
The main menu is mostly static, with a world map on the bottom left that draws dotted travel lines as the menu loops, and the main image of Louie from the cover takes centre stage. The episodes are all selectable from the right hand side, and I was glad to see a scene selection menu present, too. The sub-menus follow the style of the first, all being static with different character images, except for the scene selection menu. Different background music plays over each menu screen. In general the menus fit well with the show and look quite nice.

Extras:
My only complaint with the disc is the extras department, which simply contains a standard textless opening and ending, which I'm expecting to see on each volume. Not exactly riveting stuff.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Quite often, I like a good fantasy show, but in amongst the good there always seems to be a whole lot of bad. Swords and sorcery have been done a billion times over in anime, often with boring results. Much like the more serious shows, the comedy attempts tend to suffer from being very hit and miss. Rune Soldier fits firmly into the comedy category, but for me at least, it definitely falls into the "hit" category.

The story centres around a band of three adventurers: Merrill the thief, Genie the swordswoman and Melissa the priestess. The group go hunting for the latest treasure together, and think they've found a real hot-bed of goodies near the town of Ohfun, but there's one problem - they need a magician. Enter Louie, the hard-headed drunken at the local tavern, who is the only magician around at the time. He doesn't make the best first impression on the ladies, getting himself into brawls and being generally clumsy in just about every way.

But even as Louie's friend Ila tries to sell him to them, they're having none of it. Louie, on the other hand, is quite keen to get involved, so tries to have words with Melissa, who he thinks might come round. As is often the case with Louie, trouble is not far behind. He goes to her temple where she is praying to find out who her hero is, and when spotted by Merrill and Genie, all hell breaks loose. In trying to escape he casts a spell, which leads only to a big hole in the top of the temple. But it's not all bad; Melissa's just been told by her god that the next person she sees will be her hero. As luck would have it, the first person she sets eyes on after the cave-in is a mystified Louie.

And so the four end up adventuring, but it doesn't go all that well. Louie is more of a brute than a typical magician, and the ladies aren't too pleased. In fact, they do little but complain about him. When he screws up the first adventure and they vow never to go anywhere with him again, he enlists the Ila to help win them round.

It's all so farcical, and yet it's absolutely hilarious. It's been quite a while since I've enjoyed a comedy anime as much as I enjoyed the first volume of Rune Soldier. The story is actually quite solid, though it may not sound that way, and the stories are well written so the characters get into the funniest situations at just the right moment. The four episodes here obviously barely scratch the surface of what I'm sure is to come, but they lay a great foundation. Each of the episodes carry on from the last, but are tightly paced so they never feel slow or dull, and each has a solid story and purpose that is wrapped up in amongst the overall scheme of things.

But aside from the story being good fun and interesting, the true highlight of the series thus far has to be the awesome cast of characters. The four main characters simply rock the house, and the key supporting ones we meet are equally hilarious, each serving a different purpose.

Louie is easily one of the best leads I've seen in a long time, in that he's totally the anti-hero. He prefers brute force and fistfights over using magic, he's clumsy, he lies, he cheats and he manipulates. But his heart is in the right place and he can often be quite sweet. The writers had me rooting for him to get the girls on his side in the episode three, especially with the totally predictable but nonetheless great speech to the other group of adventurers. He often puts his foot in his mouth, but he's the sort of character who you can't help but like (and laugh hysterically at).

Then we have Genie, the massive warrior who carries a sword wherever she goes, and tries to teach Louie how to fight several times... failing miserably at every turn. Her reactions to his antics are hilarious since she's looking at it all from a more warrior/honourable point of view. Merrill on the other hand doesn't get quite as much exposure in this first volume. We see her working a few times, and she has the first encounter with Louie, but mainly she throws a few fits at times and gives Louie some hilarious abuse. Her face as she slaps Louie at the very start of the first episode had be cracking up.

But by far the one who had me giggling the most was Melissa. Because pretty much all she does is whine and complain all the time about the situation, and yet it's absolutely hilarious. She hates having Louie as her hero and she makes no bones about it, and I loved how she'd change her rules for her own purposes just because she disapproves of him. In fact, the whole female cast work great together with excellent chemistry and comedic timing. It's hilarious when they get together and moan, especially when they all say the same thing changing the words slightly each time.

Even the main supporting cast have their moments. Jenny, the higher priestess is particularly funny, as her answer to pretty much every one of Melissa's problems with Louie is to sleep with him. The deadpan delivery of her lines is just wonderful. Ila, as Louie's main companion and the one that sticks up for him works well in the plot, turns out to be fairly interesting in her own right as she offers him advice and drinks with him. There also seems to be a bit of admiration of Louie going on, so I wouldn't be too surprised to see something develop there.

In terms of production, the opening episodes here maintain pretty much your standard level of animation quality. The character designs are particularly appealing to me, as they have a nice fantasy feel but also are very realistic in the style of drawing. The music in the series is also pretty fitting at the best of times, though as you'd expect it tends to blend in more than a lot of other series.

In Summary:
The first volume of Rune Soldier surprised me, as I didn't know too much about the series going in. As it turns out, it's an absolute blast to watch with some enjoyable characters that hit all the right marks and have a lot of heart, just as they should in a comedy. The story isn't too involved at this point, but it serves the show well, and the fantasy setting for the series works really well. It's unusual for a show to click on pretty much every level from the outset, yet Rune Soldier does exactly that. With a pretty good disc from ADV (and a six-disc release), it's pretty good value, and for anyone looking for a good slice of comedy, or even just a new entertaining series to sink their teeth into, I highly recommend it. Louie Punch!!!

Features
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,Clean Opening & Closing

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: C-
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: ADV Films UK
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Rune Soldier