Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Monster Hunter Stories RIDE ON
Season One Part One
In the world of Monster Hunter, a small group of people choose to live in harmony with the monsters rather than hunting them. Called “Riders,” they live in isolated villages, forming kinship bonds with specially hatched creatures and hiding their presence from most of the outside world. Lute is a young Rider trainee, determined to be the absolute best to the point where he seeks out and hatches his own monster egg rather than waiting to be given one by the village. Together with his best friends Cheval and Lillia, Lute begins his journey towards becoming a great rider – even if he's not all that great at listening when someone tries to give him a hint along the way.
Spun off from the Monster Hunter game franchise's Stories game, Monster Hunter Stories RIDE ON is very squarely aimed at a young audience. That's not because it features a core group of twelve-year-olds as its protagonists, but rather shows in the way the story is told – moments of genuine emotion and danger exist, but they're hemmed in by much lighter fare, and while there are dark components to the plot, they aren't the focus. Instead the storyline concentrates on the ambitions of Lute, Cheval, and Lillia, the three main protagonists, and their dreams for their respective futures.
While there are certainly various pros and cons to this approach, the series largely makes it work by creating characters who are believable twelve-year-olds. The maturity levels of the central group vary, with sole girl Lillia being the most grounded of the three, followed by Cheval, who is keenly aware of his position within his family. Lute is the madcap loose cannon of the trio, but it's clear that he's trying his best to be a responsible person and a good friend; he's just not capable of combining those two desires with his overwhelming enthusiasm for his new status as an apprentice Rider yet. Interestingly enough we can see each of the three's attitudes as coming from their family lives – Lillia has the largest family and is responsible for her younger sister to a degree, Cheval only has his mother and feels like he really ought to be able to help her more, and Lute is an orphan, largely raised by Cheval's mother since he was brought to the village but currently living on his own and not having to answer to a parental figure. All of these considerations help to explain each character's attitude in general and towards each of the dangers that the group faces over the course of these first twelve episodes, and more importantly gives younger viewers a comfortable cast of characters to relate to, especially in episode nine, which does a particularly good job of showing kids acting like kids.
The overarching plot of this set – and possibly the next one – is the slow creep of a black blight upon the land. That's not truly dealt with until the final two episodes (which end on a major cliffhanger with potentially upsetting results), but rather pops up every couple of episodes to remind us that the threat is out there and is getting closer and closer to Hakum village. It also serves as a catalyst for outsiders to find the hidden town: both Reverto the Hunter and Simone, a Scrivener, come to Hakum following the trail of the blight in one way or another. This is particularly significant when it comes to Reverto – despite the fact that the overall franchise is called Monster Hunter, no one in Hakum is an actual Hunter; they're all Riders, a secretive group that bonds with and respects monsters. Because their philosophical differences are diametrically opposed, the Riders try not to interact with the Hunters and it seems as if the Hunters aren't even aware that Riders exist. (The whole town gets very hush-hush when Reverto shows up because of this.) Episode three, when Lute and Co. witness Reverto actually hunting a monster, is one of the darker ones in the set; despite the fact that there's no blood involved, it's still quite upsetting for the characters to witness him killing a creature who was just trying to escape the blight, largely because we're watching it through the kids' eyes. It is a bit of a shame that the “harmony versus conquest of nature” theme isn't explored more deeply, but that may change going forward.
Animation for the series is fairly uneven. At times it looks very nice, but the CGi used for the monsters is often poorly integrated with the more traditional animation, and it just gets worse as the set goes on, especially once there's an attempt to add the Riders to the mix. Simone is nearly always off-model in her episodes, and in general more care seems to have been taken with backgrounds, monster details, and clothing than actual movement. Adding to this issue is the character of Navirou, a cat-thing who is easily responsible for almost ruining the series. His character design is odd when compared to all of the other feline creatures, and his personality is so grating that even the other characters in the show can't stand him. He's also the main problem in the vocal cast in both languages, although M.A.O.'s version of him is substantially less grating than Trina Nishimura's. Other voices are comparable in both language tracks; Navirou is probably the best argument for the Japanese audio. This, however, doesn't take into account how you may feel about the names of the various monster species – only some of them are localized while others remain the same as in the original Japanese. It's a little odd, although presumably based on what games have English versions, and if you prefer your spoken words to match the written in such cases, the dub may be a better fit.
For the most part the show does not feel like an extended advertisement for the game, which is a major plus. The story moves at a natural pace and none of the episodes really feel like specific quests lifted whole hog from gameplay, so you can easily get into this having never played a Monster Hunter game. The one exception to this is the monster information segment at the end of each episode (in lieu of an ending theme), which begins by telling you to get your app ready. It's jarring, but easily skipped if it bothers you.
Monster Hunter Stories RIDE ON isn't a particularly thrilling kids' show for older viewers, but it is decently fun. If you can ignore a few inconsistencies like the walk-back of Lute's riding skills in episode five and the slightly troubling “gypceros” being attracted to shiny things sounding like a bad stereotype, this is a good piece of children's entertainment. If you're not into kids' shows in general, there's probably not a whole lot here to keep your attention (it's no Puzzle & Dragons X), but it's not a bad way to introduce a younger viewer to the joys of anime.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Kids act like kids, touches on some darker stuff in a not-too-scary way, some neat monster designs
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