Rune Soldier Anime Review
Mahou Senshi Riui
Magic Warrior Louie
US Release By
Unserious Generic Fantasy
24 25-minute episodes
2001-04-03 - 2001-09-18
In the kingdom of Ohfun, now thriving after a recent war of succession, there is plenty of room for adventurers to crawl dungeons and battle monsters. Meet one well-traveled, all-female party: Gina the powerful warrior, Merrill the cunning thief, and Melissa, the pious priestess of Mylee. Their party is almost perfect, but they lack a mage to handle their magical needs. It would seem fate has a nasty sense of humor, though; the hero ordained by Melissa's deity to follow is, conveniently, a mage, except he turns out to be none other than the headstrong, brain-weak, and all-around beefy wizard-in-training Louie, master of the Louie Punch!
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By Ryou Mizuno of Record of Lodoss War fame, Rune Soldier Louie delivers a humorous fantasy story that pays homage to the setting of classic role playing games without mocking them. By taking a collection of relatively straight characters with an assortment of personality quirks and sticking them into a relatively straight fantasy world, it dishes up humor and light adventure with just a bit of plot and characterization to back it up, resulting in a lighthearted and thoroughly enjoyable series from the first episode to the last. A colorful cast of veteran actors and all-around solid production values round out the picture.
There are few series as consistently light and enjoyable as Rune Soldier, and I highly recommend it to any fan of fun fantasy.
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By Ryou Mizuno, better known for the classic fantasy epic Record of Lodoss War, Rune Soldier Louie takes a similar RPG-inspired fantasy world and populates it with a party of adventurers with some highly amusing personality quirks, producing a highly enjoyable series from it. Instead of the entry in the "Generic Fantasy Parody of the Month Club" I was expecting, it delivers a humorous fantasy story that pays homage to classic role playing games without mocking them.
Taking a page from Slayers, Rune Soldier Louie is a fantasy comedy with a plot to support its length, and a more even blend of the two at that. I enjoyed the mix: Quirky characters with some real personality to back them up, lighthearted fantasy writing that stays true to the genre while poking fun at it, and a story that maintains its light feel from beginning to end.
Rune Soldier Louie's generic fantasy setting never pretends to be anything but a straight-faced portrayal of a world any Dungeons & Dragons fan will feel nostalgic about. Troupes of adventurers wander about the countryside beating up monsters, digging treasure out of ruins, carousing around town with their earnings, and occasionally getting involved in some political drama. There are mages, elves, fighters, thieves, and clerics, all with precisely the abilities you'd expect them to have. The world has personality and functional construction (with politics, history, and everyday goings-on), but it's as far from original as you can get.
This generic setting is, ironically, why the series works even without any particularly original ideas (and why I enjoyed it more than the straight-faced Record of Lodoss War); it's a situation comedy with the world at large playing straight man. Take a handful of entirely non-serious personalities plus a few amusing plot twists, put them into a straight-faced setting, and you get a series of awkward relationships and serious characters forced to deal with entirely unserious ones, which makes for good clean fun.
The main characters are why it works as well as it does. At the center is Louie, a perfect rendering of a concept I've always wanted to see: a barbarian to the core raised as a mage. He's a dim-witted brute with a heart of gold and fists of steel, but by profession he's supposed to be a magic-user, resulting in a number of hilariously inappropriate responses to a variety of situations. Coupled with the exasperated (or outright dumbfounded) reactions of his companions (and enemies), he's a one-shot joke that holds up very well, and he has enough of a slightly bumbling hero personality to stand as a character in his own right.
Backing up Louie is an all-female standard adventuring party, each with an amusing personality quirk: The dutiful priestess who can't stand the embarrassment of following the idiotic "hero" her deity assigned her to, a spunky little thief who goes mad with money-lust at the thought of gold, and the burly fighter... who is stuck in a party full of weirdoes and idiots. That last one is by far the best--Gina is a through-and-through serious character, and watching her silently fume at the indignity of the situations her companions get her into is too much fun.
A variety of amusing minor characters round out the picture, but the main group is what makes the whole thing work. They stand out in two ways. One, true to fantasy form, they're adults with pasts--a far more mature group than the anime standard. Apart from Louie, they've been working together as friends for quite a while, giving them a more lived-in feel than your average crew of teenage heroes or ambitious kids.
Their other strong point, and a big part of what I enjoyed about the series, is the interplay between them. They all have very different personalities and jobs, and the series makes a point of frequently pairing them off with each other in combinations both amusing and interesting. For example, Louie and Gina don't get along well at all (being at opposite ends of the serious spectrum), but they have a sort of warrior's rapport, understanding each other on some honorable, manly-man (yes, Gina is a woman) level.
The story, though not bad, is the closest thing the largely episodic series has to a weak point. There is an overall plot, but though it's hinted at early on and makes an appearance on occasion, it doesn't become the focus until the final handful of episodes. Even then it doesn't have enough sense of urgency to override the lighthearted nature of the show.
On the down side, it lacks a satisfying conclusion, leaving many questions unanswered. At least it's left wide open for a sequel.
On the up side, that it never gives up on the humor is one of the series' biggest strengths. Even though the villains and most other characters take the drama seriously, Louie and the rest of the heroes generally don't, turning all but the sappiest of moments into something amusing, and leaving room for a chuckle in even the most dramatic scenes.
Keeping a functional amount of plot and tension without losing the humorous undertone isn't easy; most series eventually swing definitively one way or the other. Rune Soldier Louie, however, manages to toe the line, remaining light and fun right up to the climax.
The result is a series that's actually better archetypal fantasy than most, since it has all the requisite parts but doesn't take itself so seriously that the cheese and unoriginality of the setting become an issue.
Rune Soldier Louie isn't bad-looking, either, with crisply-drawn and colorful art, fairly good animation, and a wide variety of appealing (and adult-looking) character designs--from the Lina-esque Merrill to the huge-and-beefy Gina to the aged wizards of the magical academy. Although nothing stands out in particular and the backgrounds are generally a bit bland, on the whole the visuals are easily good enough to support the rest of the series.
The same can be said of the music; Kenji Kawai's score doesn't stand out, but it gets the job done. The one exception is the catchy opening theme, which despite not being anything out of the ordinary I just can't seem to get out of my head. (It doesn't help that the visuals include three backup clerics in a recording studio jumping in with the nonsensical English refrain--I found myself waiting for that every episode.)
The voice acting in Japanese is, yet again, solid. There are a variety of voices with plenty of range, and some very good casting. The chameleon-like Minami Takayama makes Gina sound gruff enough to fit her look without seeming overly masculine, Katsuyuki Konishi's Louie has a goofy-but-likable jock sound to him, Kikuko Inoue supplies Melissa's appealing and amusingly despondent voice, and the rest of the characters follow suit. There's not much in the way of dramatic acting, but the humor is played well without going over the top, and the more mundane scenes come off believably.
In all, Rune Soldier Louie is about as straight-but-solid a light fantasy series as you could ask for. It never makes the slightest attempt at being original, but by putting together solid-if-standard humor, solid-if-standard fantasy characters, a solid-if-standard fantasy world, and solid-if-standard fantasy plots, and maintaining a consistent level of levity without ever swinging too far toward serious or silly, it ends up as an all-around likable entry in the genre. Recommended to any fantasy fan (particularly pen-and-paper role-playing fans) and worth a look for anyone who likes a nice lighthearted fantasy tale.
For an alternate take from a bigger fantasy fan than I, check out Chainclaw's second opinion.
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Not surprisingly shares quite a bit in general theme with Record of Lodoss War (more the TV series than the OAVs) and the Crystania series, as well as every other RPG-inspired series out there--Slayers, Dragon Slayer, Gokudo, Gestalt, and the similar-sounding Ruin Explorers to name a few. Other notable straight-world-with-amusing-characters series include Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Panic, City Hunter, and perhaps GTO.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a manga series by Ryou Mizuno with art by Jun Sasameyuki, available in English from ADV. The story roughly follows the manga, but the backstory of the world (and the likely tie-in with Louie's never-really-explained-in-the-anime past) is somewhat more clearly explained in the manga.
The original title clearly includes Louie's name, as does the directly-translated original English subtitle, "Louie the Rune Soldier," which was used for the English manga release. For some reason, however, ADV just used "Rune Soldier" as the official title of the anime.
US DVD Review
ADVs DVDs are characteristically solid, if not particularly flashy; they have crisp Japanese and English audio tracks, an accurate English subtitle track, and bright, well-encoded, very sharp-looking video. The only noteworthy special features on the discs are clean opening and closings, plus a game of some sort on the third disc. Most of the actual extras are included in the packaging--temporary tattoos, art, booklets, puzzles, and reversible covers, in various combinations depending on the volume.
Rated 15-up by ADV on account of some nudity, violence, and the occasional mature joke.
Violence: 3 - A lot of monsters and a handful of people die, though there is little blood.
Nudity: 2 - A lot of revealing outfits and some nudity.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Some crude jokes, but it stops there.
Language: 1 - Nothing of note.
Most recently available in North America from ADV as a 6-disc bilingual thinpak box set, now out of print but easy enough to find; this 2008 set was a re-release of a nearly-identical 2005 box set. Was originally released on 6 individual DVDs, 4 episodes per disc.