Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Monster Hunter Stories RIDE ON
BD+DVD - Season One Part Two
With their village in ruins and Cheval's mother's life forfeit to the blighted Nargacuga, Lute, Cheval, Milles, Hyoro, and Lillia set out for the big city as full-fledged Riders. They have to figure out how to coexist with Hunters, who have a very different mindset, but more importantly, Lute and Cheval will have to figure out how to deal with Mrs. Vlau's death, and what it means for them both as friends and as Riders.
The world has opened up to Lute and his friends in this second set of twelve episodes, but it took a major tragedy to make it happen. That's not only the attack on Hakum Village by a monster driven mad by the Blight, but also the fact that Cheval's mother, Lute's foster mom, was among the casualties. This was strongly implied by episode twelve on the previous set, and it's immediately confirmed in episode thirteen here, setting the stage for a much darker turn in the young Riders' story. That's something the show delivers on, and the differences in how the kids react is the real backbone of the story arc building in these episodes.
The major person affected is of course Cheval. Previously the gentlest of the group (while not being timid like Hyoro), his mother's death makes him begin to rethink the entire philosophy of the Riders. In the previous episodes we learned that Riders live more in harmony with monsters, killing only when strictly necessary, whereas Hunters are a bit less discriminating. Lute and Lillia (who technically isn't a Rider but is an integral part of the core group) become increasingly invested in learning how to stop the Blight, but Cheval's response is to begin to think that perhaps just killing monsters is the better way to handle it. The further the kids get from Hakum Village, the darker Cheval's mindset seems to turn, and he begins quietly advocating for killing monsters to Hyoro and Mille. Since Hyoro is a follower rather than a leader and Mille is nursing a crush on Cheval, they seem to slowly be coming over to Cheval's point of view. Their tacit support makes it possible for Cheval to build momentum in his new ideology, and by the end of these discs, it feels as if he might be headed down a path of no return, at least in terms of his relationship with Lute.
It's clear that he's really blaming Lute for his mother's death, whether or not that makes even a modicum of sense. Lute's unbridled enthusiasm for monsters and egg collecting may, in Cheval's mind, convert into it being his fault that Mrs. Vlau was trying to protect the egg in their house, with the added assumption that Lute is far too naïve to ever really understand Cheval's pain. The culmination of this, when Cheval tries to disavow Lute as his brother, is more heart-wrenching than anything else in the series thus far, perhaps more so because taken out of the context of its game-based fantasy world, Cheval's deliberate distancing of himself from Lute is very believable reframed as the actions of two twelve-year-olds. Cheval sees Lute as holding him back from his more mature perspectives, while Lute can't bring himself to see that his old friend is growing into someone he doesn't know.
For most of this set, the main group is divided into two smaller ones, starting with when Lute and Navirou get lost in the forest: Lute and Lillia and Cheval, Hyoro, and Mille. While Mille has aligned herself with Cheval largely based on her crush (and Hyoro will just follow her), Lillia and Lute seem to simply have the weight of their longstanding friendship and common goals. Both of them respect each other's skills, and that actually makes them a much more effective team than the whole group was together. They're also the two the most willing to listen to adult advice, which keeps them a bit more balanced than Cheval's group. The unfortunate thing is that Navirou comes with them, and he remains a major annoyance in the series. Not only does he suck the emotion out of early scenes of Cheval mourning his mother, he also provides the series with a level of stupidity that it doesn't need – his inclusion seems to indicate that the creators felt him necessary for a children's show as a “cute” or “silly” factor, when in fact he simply proves annoying and at times a detriment to the forward trajectory of the plot.
That said, the writing this time does feel much improved, and there is a definite effort to make Navirou more relevant to what's going on, such as the episode set in the Felyne village. That the writing quality has gone up makes it more noticeable that the animation has not, however, and there are more issues than simply the awkward transition between 2D and 3D animation for monster riding. Episode twenty-two is the major low point, but there are off-model characters, wonky walking, and off perspective issue throughout.
Sub and dub are, as always, largely a matter of personal preference, and whether you prefer M.A.O or Trina Nishimura as Navirou is the primary decision maker this time. (I find Nishimura's performance very grating, particularly in the noises Navirou makes.) More interesting is that there is noticeably less voice-matching going on as more new characters are introduced – the dub instead puts its own spin on things. Sometimes this works just fine, as with the late additions of Itsy-Bits and the highly suspicious doctor, while others, such the Riddlemaster, work less well. It's a competent dub, but doesn't feel quite up to Funimation's usual standards.
Monster Hunter Stories RIDE ON does feel like it's coming into its own in these episodes. Now that the core cast is all trained and out in the world, there's more room for them to develop as characters, and that allows for the story to take on more complex issues as well. While this still has some odd nods to its game origins, such as Navirou instructing you to pull out your Media Trigger ap at the end of each episode, it looks as if it's headed in the right direction as Lute and Cheval try to figure out who they want to be.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Good development for Lute and Cheval's relationship, plot picks up, monster designs are interesting
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