Rune Soldier Anime Review
Mahou Senshi Riui
Magic Warrior Louie
US Release By
24 25-minute episodes
2001-04-03 - 2001-09-18
Rune Soldier takes place in the fantasy kingdom of Ohfun, a place filled with mystical and dangerous ruins offering treasure to any group of adventurers willing to risk their lives for it. Our story centers around one such group, an all-female party consisting of Genie, a bulky warrior, Merrill, a pint-sized thief, and Melissa, a devout priestess and servant of the war god Mylee. There is just one small problem: They don't have a magician to fill the team's spell casting needs. To make matters worse, the only one available in town is Louie, a lumbering drunken brawler who would rather pummel his foes into submission than cast a single spell.
At first the adventurers brush him off, until Melissa receives a revelation from her god that Louie has been selected as the one she will serve as her valiant champion. So like it or not (which Melissa most certainly doesn't), Louie is on the team. Can the girls cure Louie of his violent ways and shape him into an effective mage, or will his solution to every problem continue to involve a swill of beer and devastating blow from his "Louie Punch"?
Rune Soldier is a 24-episode TV show based on a series of novels by Ryo Mizuno, the same man who created the much more serious fantasy series Record of Lodoss War. From what I've read, Rune Soldier is technically in the same fantasy world, taking place on a large continent North of Lodoss Island. However, there really isn't anything linking the two stories together other than the fact that they both involve a stereotypical fantasy setting and, at least in name, the war god Mylee.
So, how does this compare to the Lodoss War series? Does it live up to the high standards? The answer is "absolutely." In fact, this is one of best animated shows I've ever seen. In terms of overall quality, it's hard to say which one is better. But in terms of pure entertainment value, I'd have to say I'd pick Rune Soldier. Wow, did I just say that? Anyone who has read my Lodoss War reviews knows how much I love that show, and how significant I consider its place in the anime universe. So to say I enjoyed this more is not a statement I make lightly, nor was it the expected outcome when first put this into my DVD player. But that's just how it turned out. Rune Soldier is simply more enjoyable to watch. And the main reason for it can be summed up in one word: Characters!
If Lodoss War had one weakness other than its lousy ending, it was that the characters were a bit too stereotypical, especially in the TV series, where many new ones (including the hero) were just copies of old ones in the OAV. Rune Soldier, however, goes above and beyond what's necessary to solve that problem, giving us some of the most fascinating and likable characters ever to grace the animated screen. And it does so by making great use of the parody and fantasy comedy theme.
Basically, the whole series takes all the traditional roles of fantasy characters, rips them up, and throws them into a blender, resulting in a cast who rarely act as one would expect them to based on their profession. First we've got Merrill, who technically is a thief, though I'm not sure how she earned the title since she never actually steals anything in the entire series. In fact, we quickly learn that she is by far the most honest and hardworking character in the entire show, holding numerous part-time jobs and doing all she can to keep the team's finances in order. As one might expect, she is obsessed with money, but not because she wants it to buy things. She's obsessed with money for the sole purpose of physically possessing it. Although this made her seem more like an overzealous accountant than a thief, the whole theme worked out great and played a central role in many of my favorite episodes, involving her fanatically attempting to guard her cash and possessions, often totally disregarding her own safety and dignity to do so.
Next is Melissa, a devout priestess whose faith is put to the ultimate test when she discovers Louie is her champion. Her attempts to reform Louie and his attempts to prove himself form the main theme of the series, and the chemistry between them works out great, mainly because Louie often does do things to prove his heroism that go unnoticed simply because the outcome isn't what Melissa would expect or prefer. Another interesting thing about her is that while she first appears to be a cliched fantasy priestess, it turns out there is a lot more to her, and she has a lot more typical human characteristics than even she herself realizes. At first, it seemed like she was going to be the "straight man" (or woman) of the team, but soon it was clear that wasn't the case, and her actual role turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
Then there's Genie, the serious member of the group who would seem better suited to the Lodoss War series than this one. But she's stuck with a gang of misfits and weirdos (especially Louie), which is what makes her role work out so well. Every time someone does something unconventional or acts out line, she is there to correct them (often with her fists), even if their actions worked out effectively to solve the problem.
And at the center of it all is Louie, who answers the question of what it would be like if you took a good-natured lumbering brute and put him in the role of a sorcerer. But it's not just the fact that his actions contrast so much with his supposed profession that makes him stand out--he's also the recipient of constant ridicule and scorn from his companions even though most of his actions succeed at completing their quests and resolving their issues. It seems no matter how heroic or effectively he acts, his team will only accept him if he behaves as they would expect him too, which of course is basically impossible. It's an ongoing gag, but it works extremely well, and it never gets old.
The team is also aided by a group of wonderful support characters, many of whom I wish had bigger roles in the story. They include Louie's brainy but cowardly roommate Ila; Melissa's three disciples Anna, Jannet, and Joan, whose attempts to "aid" her in dealing with Louie often backfire; the high priestess Jennie, who's advice to Melissa for dealing with Louie often includes recommendations to sleep with him; and, my personal favorite, Melissa's rival priestess Isabelle, who constantly demeans Melissa for having such an unconventional champion. Things get really interesting when Isabelle finds her own champion (a man far more fitting Melissa's notion of what a champion should be than Louie) and party to compete with Melissa, leading to an extremely intense rivalry between the two of them, though their own companions would prefer to stay out of it.
It may seem like I'm spending too much of this review focusing on the characters, but that's just a testament to how deep and fascinating they are. And as the series goes on, they just keep getting better. There isn't a huge amount of development among them, but they are so good at the start it really isn't an issue.
Looking at the other aspects of the series, I simply can't find anything to complain about. The animation is superb and the music is outstanding. Again, it had some high standards to live up to going up against Lodoss War's epic soundtrack, but it still managed to live up to them better than one would expect. The opening theme is particularly catchy, and sets up the coming episode very well. I suppose if this was a normal fantasy series, I would point out that the world it takes place in is about as normal and unoriginal as it gets. But, since the whole point of the show is to parody such themes, it works out great. Besides, even a typical fantasy world generally has limitless possibilities, so that's not much of an issue anyway.
The story itself generally follows the typical "monster/problem of the week" formula. Usually the team has one issue to deal with per episode, and it generally gets resolved by the time the credits roll. As one would expect, it usually involves them going on a quest for treasure or glory, but quite a few are done in the style of a 1930's Three Stooges skit: take an ordinary, mundane task, such as renovating a house or competing in a race, and let the nature of the characters and theme of the show make it interesting. That doesn't work out well for every show that uses it, but for this one it does, mainly because the characters are so good that I never got tired of watching them in any situation. When characters are so good that lack of a central plot isn't a problem, you know you have a quality series!
The adventuring episodes are also excellent, mainly because the comedy undertone is genuinely funny and gives the whole parody theme of the series a chance to work It simply never gets old watching the team strike out for gold and glory, enduring their own competing personality styles along the way, only to discover unconventional situations and odd solutions that usually don't involve anything most people would consider to be a legendary deed.
Another thing Rune Soldier deserves credit for is not relying on the more traditional and overused comedy themes in anime. If there was one thing that particularly pleased me, it was that unlike most male anime heroes who are constantly surrounded by beautiful women, Louie isn't particularly lecherous. Anyone familiar with anime knows what I'm talking about: The over-the-top hero who can't resist making a pass at his female companions at every opportunity, always getting a well-deserved beating as punishment. Granted, Louie does get quite a few beatings from the girls, but it's not for womanizing. On the contrary, one of their complaints is that he does too much to try and fit in as "one of the gang." Also, while Rune Soldier uses a lot of issues that would be legitimate in a drama, in particular Melissa's ongoing test of faith, it wisely avoids getting too serious with them, keeping the series well in the realm of comedy where it belongs.
I could only come up with one gripe in the entire show. The series winds down with three episodes that are closely linked by a central plot, and while that gets resolved, none of the other issues that keep the series so interesting are. Does the team ever accept Louie for who he is? Does Louie prove himself to be a valiant champion to all that doubt him? Will he graduate from the magician's guild? Is Melissa's rivalry with Isabelle over? Will Ila reveal her true feelings for Louie? Does Merrill's hard work for money ever pay off? The series just ends abruptly, answering none of these questions or even implying anything about them.
This would not be a problem if there were a sequel, but it's now been nine years since the series came out, and to this day there isn't one. I suppose there could be eventually. After all, there was an eight year span between the Lodoss war OAV and the Lodoss War TV series. But as it stands now, Rune Soldier feels frustratingly incomplete. Even more frustrating, the Rune Soldier manga series has been ongoing since 1997! So plenty of material for a sequel already exists. That the story ends so abruptly, without resolving any of the issues of the characters I liked so much, wasn't just frustrating, it left me feeling flat-out cheated.
Overall this is a must-have for fans of the fantasy genre, especially those looking for something new in an overdone setting. The characters, animation, soundtrack, comedy, action, and adventure are about as close to flawless as you will find. But the 24 episodes run out too fast and will leave you begging for more.
Ruin Explorers is a very similar fantasy comedy, though it suffers from the same issue as Rune Soldier: Lack of a satisfactory conclusion. And at just 4 episodes, it runs out even faster.
Record of Lodoss War also uses the same fantasy world, though as a serious drama rather than a comedy.
Notes and Trivia
The title of the series is very confusing. The title is technically "Rune Soldier". That's what it says on the dvd covers. But the title shown in the opening credits states "Louie the Rune Soldier." Which is it? And how did Louie earn that title anyway? None of the characters in the show call him "Rune Soldier," and the origin of that title is never mentioned or explained
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.