Reviewby Mike Crandol,
DVD 1: Enter the Klutz
Amazon warrior Genie, sly thief Merrill, and holy cleric Melissa need a magician to round out their dungeon adventure party. The all-girl team is hoping to find an experienced sorceress, but the only wizard in town who's willing to join up is a clumsy dolt by the name of Louie. Needless to say, he's not exactly what they had in mind, but the ladies reluctantly take him on when Melissa receives a divine missive from her god Mylee to serve Louie…much to her displeasure. During their inaugural adventure Louie's ineptitude lands him in a fistfight with a bunch of goblins, and after breaking his magic staff over an unfortunate ogre's head, the girls are ready to dump him. But his cheerful persistence convinces them to help him quest for a replacement staff, and soon enough Louie is getting the gang into all sorts of trouble in an enchanted elven forest.
Watching Rune Soldier is like watching a group of stalwart Dungeons & Dragons campaigners playing with a solitary wiseass that refuses to take the game seriously. Which, as anyone who's ever sat in on one of these games knows, can be enormous fun. Wackier than Orphen but not quite as out-there as Slayers or Those Who Hunt Elves, Rune Soldier's tongue-in-cheek satire is tempered by a genuine reverence for the fantasy genre - not surprising, since this rollicking comedy was created by the mind behind the epic (and epically serious) Record of Lodoss War. Ryo Mizuno's double-edged storytelling will win over hardcore fantasy junkies and sword-and-sorcery haters alike.
In a time-honored anime tradition, our hero Louie is the lone male lead surrounded by an exotic, all-female supporting cast. But unlike other anime comedies, Louie doesn't play the bland straight man to his beautiful costars. Characters in the Tenchi mold are typically little more than ciphers for broader personalities like Ryoko and Ayeka to play off, but in Rune Solider the reverse is true. Genie, Melissa, and Merrill stand by dumbfounded as Louie blunders his way through their various adventures. It would have been easy to turn the brash, boorish magician into a one-sided dunce, but the creators are careful to avoid that trap. Louie is a klutz and an idiot, but his intentions are noble and his honestly-portrayed determination to prove himself eventually wins over Genie, Melissa, and Merrill, and the audience as well.
Make no mistake; it's a wild and crazy show, yet it remains rooted in a straight-faced fantasy world, and that is one of the keys to its success. The comedy is broad but not overpowering, and the “rules” of pseudo-medieval fantasy are strictly adhered to. Louie's cartoonish antics thumb their nose at the genre's conventions, but his trio of serious traveling companions pays respect to those same conventions, as do all the fairy-tale magic and monsters they encounter. Only Louie (and the other characters' reactions to Louie) is played for laughs, and his deadpan universe serves as the perfect foil.
Also serving the series well is its handsome art design. This is what I like to call a “cotton candy” anime, in which the characters are painted in neon, hyper-realistic colors. Sometimes the results can be frighteningly garish, but Rune Soldier makes great use of its bright palette, and Louie and the girls spring to vivid life onscreen. Quality animation complements the gorgeous design work; although quieter moments are confined to the limited animation of a television budget, many of the action scenes are fully-animated, giving the series an edge over other fantasy shows like Slayers or Orphen. Rounding things out is a catchy musical score that may not have a distinctly medieval sound, yet fits the lighthearted tone of the series well. Especially amusing is the punk J-Rock closing theme, sung by a band that sounds just like a Japanese version of the Violent Femmes.
Perhaps smarting from the backlash for the liberties taken with their translation of Orphen, ADV's dub stays more or less faithful to the original dialogue. The American cast has a lot of fun with the material, and some veteran voice actors try out some new things. Shelly Calene-Black, fresh from playing Orphen's hot-tempered Cleao, goes the opposite direction as the sweet natured cleric Melissa. As Merrill, Allison Keith adds a sassy drawl to her distinct pitch. The result sounds like a cross between Misato and Mae West, but it works and is actually a good approximation of the original Japanese performance. But nobody can quite match Katsuyuki Konishi's turn as Louie, whose unique voice perfectly captures the essence of the character.
There aren't a lot of bells and whistles to accompany the first four episodes presented on this release, but the digital transfer looks great, and the English language track is especially well mixed. In addition to the stellar presentation viewers are also treated to clean opening and closing sequences, and a standard sampler of ADV trailers. In an atypical move, the requisite "character design" galleries are included not on the disc itself but in an insert accompanying the DVD, a choice this reviewer found quite agreeable. The box art is sumptuous, and many potential buyers will likely be tempted to pick the show up based solely on the beautiful cover. But if the original Japanese packaging is more to your taste, the cover is also reversible and features a super-deformed portrait of the cast on the back.
For a bit of lighthearted entertainment with an endearing lead, look no further than Rune Soldier. Fantasy anime fans that want something a little different will get a big kick out of Louie and pals, and people who think the genre deserves a good razzing will like this series as well. As Louie's clueless nature wreaks havoc in his mystical realm, one can't help but wonder if the joke is on him, or the rest of his world.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Inspired sendup of medieval fantasy anime
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