The Fall 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Monster Hunter Stories: Ride On
How would you rate episode 1 of
Monster Hunter Stories RIDE ON ?
What is this?
The time is rapidly approaching for young monster hunters Lute, Lilia, and Cheval to receive their Kinship Stones from the village elder Chief Omna and undergo the Kinship Rite in order to become Riders, hunters capable of riding on specially tamed beasts known as Monsties. Lute isn't very good at waiting though, so he's decided to find an egg to hatch on his own rather than hold out even one more day. With his cat-like buddy Navirou at his side, Lute manages to get into a lot of trouble, but rather than heading home after Lilia and Cheval save them, the group heads deeper into the forest. An encounter with a dangerous monster lands them at the foot of a waterfall in the Forbidden Forest, where they discover an ancient shrine – with an egg just waiting for Lute! Lilia, against Cheval's better instincts, conducts a makeshift Rite for Lute, and much to their surprise, it hatches a fire wyvern known as Lolilaeus! Laeus quickly bonds to Lute, which raises some eyebrows when the kids are rescued. Could Lute be the mysterious One foretold ages ago? Monster Hunter Stories RIDE ON is based on a video game and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 11:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Monster Hunter Stories: Ride On feels like a lot of the cartoons I watched when I was a (much) younger lad. It's a by-the-book kids' show at its core, and it follows the usual pattern of also acting as a commercial for something else. If you happen to be a young kid or perhaps a big fan of the Monster Hunter games, it's perfectly all right. If, on the other hand, you're hoping for the rare kids' show that works for an older audience, you won't find it here.
This episode introduces a standard-issue story premise and a familiar group of main characters. Adventurous leading lad Lute wants to be the best monster rider ever, and his more reasonable friends are there to make sure he doesn't do anything too crazy. The three of them all work fine in their respective roles, and they're not particularly obnoxious. The same can't be said for the mandatory animal mascot Navirou, who wasted no time in making me want to mute my laptop speakers whenever he was on screen. Annoying mascot aside, this looks like a simple and fun story for an audience that hasn't already seen the same thing a dozen times before.
The biggest highs and lows for me came courtesy of the show's visuals. They're all over the map in terms of quality; the backgrounds are genuinely impressive, the human characters look all right if a little simple, and the CG monsters look awful. When the three elements are mixed together into a single shot, the contrast can sometimes be distractingly awkward. The action scenes seem to be going for fun over thrills at the moment, and there's never any sense that the characters are in serious danger. That approach does at least match up with the overall tone of the series, which is more of an adventure than a desperate struggle for survival.
Monster Hunter Stories: Ride On seems like the kind of mostly harmless series that you could easily let a young viewer watch, as long as he or she has the patience to read subtitles. It's far too by-the-book to hold the attention of an older audience, so anyone over the age of eleven or twelve can skip it without a second thought.
Monster Hunter Stories comes to us courtesy of the Monster Hunter franchise, of which this is an adaptation of an upcoming spinoff title. The videogame is presumably intended for a somewhat younger audience than Monster Hunter proper, as this is an unabashed children's show. And honestly, “children's show” and “based on an RPG” are pretty much all you need to guess everything that will happen in this first episode.
The world and adventures of Lute and his friends directly mirror the videogame settings they're presumably based on. Lute's village has a strong “first RPG town” vibe, the story begins on the day before he gains his first (poke)monster, and at one point he even drinks an energy potion to regain his strength. Most of this episode is dedicated to Lute and his friends wandering around in the woods, getting progressively more lost, and eventually running into the special monster that will be Lute's companion going forward.
I frankly can't see what almost anyone would get out of this production. Unlike children's shows designed to sell toys, Monster Hunter Stories doesn't even need to come up with its own narrative ideas - it seems likely enough that the show will just follow the narrative of the game it's advertising. And unless you're within this show's original target audience, I doubt you'll be a fan of its abrasive, catchphrase-happy mascot or simplistic humor. On top of that, while the show's characters designs are pleasant enough and backgrounds excellent, all of the monsters are rendered in incredibly cheap-looking 3DCG. And when the human characters actually ride the monsters, they're also rendered in CG, making for consistent ugly visual segues throughout.
As an advertisement for a monster-hunting videogame, Monster Hunter Stories seems reasonably effective. As a show in its own right, this is an inoffensive but unimpressive pile of nothing.
Monster Hunter is really trying to make its mark here – not only have there been two separate manga series licensed (one of which is ongoing), but now we have Monster Hunter Stories: Ride On the anime to watch legally. This is much more likely to be an appealing thought if you're already a player of the games, but having read both of the manga series, I can say that this first episode has a lower bar to entry for us non-players. In part that's because this is definitely a show for the little ones, probably in the six to ten range. The art is attractively simple for the people and instantly recognizable from the much more detailed creatures and backgrounds, the characters act like slightly-cooler-than-reality kids, and it really makes you want a little fire wyvern of your own to snuggle up with at night. Seriously, if they market dolls of that thing, I want one.
The story follows Lute, your typical spunky kid who has mysterious powers (in this case sensing monster eggs and when they'll hatch), his know-it-all friend Lilia, who also plays the role of token girl, and the nervous and sensible Cheval, whose name means “horse” in French. It's the basic assembly you get with most kids’ shows, with the caveat that Navirou, Lute's cat friend, is even more annoying than animal characters usually are. There's never any real sense of danger to the group's adventures, even though the blue bear thing they encounter does look dangerous, and a sort of fun air of adventure pervades the atmosphere. It feels like a toned-down Wakfu, if you're familiar with that show: comfortable, decently realized fantasy world, adventurous kids, and a plot based on a beloved game. The major issue here is that the monsters are all animated in 3D while the people are traditionally animated. This makes for a very weird disconnect that can jar you right out of the show, and I would have liked to see a little less fidelity to the game designs in favor of a smoother-looking episode.
Monster Hunter does feel more like a kids’ show than last season's Puzzle & Dragon, in part because it's got less going on, but also because it lacks the edge of danger that other show's premier had. The voices can also get obnoxiously screechy at times, particularly Navirou, but I could really see children liking this – and adults if the story gets more complex as it goes on. For a low-key fantasy that's just easy to watch, this is looking like a safe bet.
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