ADV Films // 2001 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // November 17th, 2005
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
A guy is sitting in a bar when a beautiful blonde, a cute brunette, and a statuesque redhead walk in. They head right for him, take a seat, and ask him to join them for a little party. This is no joke; the guy is named Louie, and the tale is known as Rune Soldier.
Louie is an unenthusiastic student of magic. While other students bury themselves in scrolls and potions, Louie works out, goes to bars, and hits on women. His bluster goes awry when he runs afoul of Genie, Merrill, and Melissa. Genie is a chiseled redhead with a long broadsword and a temper short enough to use it. Merrill is a scamp of a thief and the accountant for the adventuring party. Melissa is downright respectable, a flowing blonde devotee of the goddess Mylee. The trio needs a magician, a role for which Louie is barely qualified. He wants to join them, and the ladies have no alternative, so the four set off to raid ruins together.
After an unsuccessful outing, the gals decide to part ways with Louie. There are two problems. First, Louie is as persistent as a rash from a chimera sting. Second, Mylee sends Melissa a revelation: Louie is the hero she is compelled to serve. Though it is against Melissa's will, she accepts Louie as a member of their adventuring party. Merrill is neutral, though often annoyed by Louie. Genie keeps one hand on her sword, ready to confront whatever ills may be caused by Louie's bumbling. As for Louie, he is as carefree as the wind, charging into battle with only his fists at the ready. Can these four scrape together a little treasure while staving off trouble in the kingdom?
Once again, ADV has given us a slim and sexy package that includes an entire series. Unlike some of these collections, Rune Soldier: The Complete Collection presents the whole content of the original releases, including previews, clean opening and closing credits, and a trivial game called "Gunning for the Guardian." In other words, if you're interested in Rune Soldier, this release is the way to go.
The central question is: Will you be interested in Rune Soldier? You may be, if you keep your expectations at a minimum and enjoy the simplicity of this "lark a week" comedy anime. The characters stay true to themselves, as does the tongue-in-cheek nature of the episodes. If you enjoy pratfalls, humorous bickering, and other light anime touches, Rune Soldier delivers from beginning to end.
Volume One of Rune Soldier drew me in thoroughly. The rules of the world will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played Dungeons & Dragons. I enjoyed that familiarity while appreciating the details behind the world. Politics and society factor in, as do the basic mechanics of traveling to an adventure. The Magician's Guild and the Temple of Mylee have their own structures. In short, the world of Rune Soldier is capably fleshed out.
The audio and video do justice to this world. Rune Soldier is rendered in lively tones that dance before your eyes (only partially due to minute anti-aliasing). Blacks are very deep and the lines are crisp. Bold character design caps off the visual flair. The music, though repetitive, is fitting. There's the whimsical "setting out" theme, then the "ominous dread" theme when danger lurks, and finally the "everything worked out, sort of" theme at the end. The Japanese vocal cast does an outstanding job, and the English cast is great, too. In fact, I preferred the English vocal work in "Vacation by the Lake" because it seemed more biting and somehow snappier. Both audio tracks are clean and expansive.
As the show wore on, however, I became increasingly frustrated with everyone's treatment of Louie. He slays dragons, rescues damsels in distress -- but all anyone can talk about is what a poor excuse he is for a hero. What do these people expect, singing choirs and showers of white rose petals in his wake? The dude slew a dragon with his fist!
My problem with Rune Soldier was that I expected more. The show never sheds its initial light tone or develops its characters. That wouldn't be a problem if the very nature of the show didn't strongly suggest a character development arc. Stop me if I'm wrong, but Dungeons & Dragons is actually predicated on developing characters, isn't it?
Louie is presented as a raw hero, a diamond in the rough. The girls are initially resistant to having him in the party, and miss no opportunity to say so. Melissa continually chants "this is against my will" while Genie dismantles Louie in rough swordplay lessons. With Rune Soldier set in the classic role-playing universe, you could be forgiven for expecting Louie to develop more skills, learn new spells, pick up a sword technique or two. You might expect the veteran adventurers' stances toward Louie to soften as he becomes more useful. You might even expect that when the big quest comes along, the gang would show by contrast that they'd learned how to work together, banded into a force to be reckoned with.
That might be a satisfying way to go, but the writers of Rune Soldier seem to have only gotten the first page of the "rube to hero" memo. Five hundred minutes in, Melissa is still chanting "this is against my will" while Genie dismantles Louie in rough swordplay lessons. Their stances toward Louie are essentially unchanged, as are Louie's actions. Forgive me, but I like a little bit of growth with my formula. I'm tempted to say that the overall story arc is bogged down with too much filler, stretching 13 episodes' worth of material into 24. That is inaccurate, however, because there is no overall story arc.
By the time the show managed its meager three-episode finale, I was done with the whole lot of them. It became clear far too early that Louie would never be granted the opportunity to grow, that none of the characters would fundamentally change. Don't even get me started on the quests -- I've seen better from eighth graders who smuggled D&D dice into a YMCA sleepover. Rune Soldier ends the way it begins, with Louie hauling the party's luggage around and exhibiting bravery in crisis, but getting smacked over the head by his companions for his slightest misstep. The initial episodes seemed to promise more, and the repetitive reality of the show pales in comparison to the easily achievable story line I can see in my head.
Rune Soldier will never cause you much anxiety, but it will make you laugh. The gags come low and fast, catching you off guard. Unlike some of the anime I find so intolerable today, Rune Soldier is rarely hyperactive or shrill.
I'd watch a crossover episode with Those Who Hunt Elves: The Complete Collection starring Louie's comely Wood Elf friend, Celicia.
Rune Soldier drew me in with all the right moves: compelling characters, a fun atmosphere, and a believable world. Yet it implied a promise and didn't follow through. Character development can only stay in limbo for so long before we viewers long for something more. The writers of Rune Soldier act as though they expected to have seven seasons to flesh out the story. Had it been a 13-episode season, their stalling might have been fine. As it stands, we're given an entire 600-minute series that feels like the first chapter of a 6,000-minute saga. Even so, if you like fantasy-tinged anime, Rune Soldier will serve up a chuckle or two in high style.
Guilty...but we had some laughs along the way.
Review content copyright © 2005 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated