Watching any fantasy genre in anime form is always a unique experience simply because it never follows the same rules as one would expect when watching something produced in a Western nation. Oftentimes the heroes are completely inept at what they do or, in the case of a certain sorceress who shall remain nameless, often seem more diabolically evil than the villain. Rune Soldier features an interesting mix of elements found in both hemispheres and fits the genre's standards pretty well while breaking the mold in a few places at the same time.
The story focuses on a group of adventurers who are handling the normal adventuring tasks that are seen around the kingdom: exploring ancient ruins for treasures, slaying monsters, or some other tasks that aren't usually taken unless they're really short of money. The group initially consists of Genie- the warrior and ex-soldier who wields a broadsword that's almost as big as she is- Melissa- a priestess of Mylee, the local god of war, who endeavors to devote herself to serving a hero- and Merrill, the money-loving thief who has more part time jobs in town than I could count. When the group runs across a magical seal on the hidden entrance to some nearby ruins, they come to the conclusion that they need to hire a magician to undo the seal. During their search back in town, the city of Ohfun, they learn that almost every member of the magician's guild is more interested than studying instead of adventuring, except one: Louie, the adopted son of the guild's high priest and principal. Due to some mishaps involving Louie before learning who he was, the girls immediately reject his offer to go with them. At this same time, Melissa presents herself to Mylee in a ceremony in which the god would reveal the name of the hero she would be assigned to follow and support for the rest of her life. Mylee doesn't name names, but rather tells her that her hero would be the next man to appear before her. By this time it's painfully obvious that Louie is the chosen one since he literally comes crashing through the room and lands in the ceremony chamber after having been chased around the temple while trying to sneak in. Despite the whole thing being against her will, Melissa convinces Genie and Merrill to let Louie join their group.
After the initial adventure story arc that covers the first four episodes, wherein Louie breaks his magic wand while using it as a club and subsequently entering a nearby forest of elves to get wood for a new one, the plot progresses bit by bit while intermixing story progression episodes with some character development episodes. There are a few fillers to cash in on the comedic value of the series, but even those reveal tiny bits of info that one character learns and utilizes in a later conflict. The climax of the series involves an attempted overthrow of the kingdom but the politics behind it are easy to follow and the buildup that leads towards it through earlier episodes works quite well. While the whole story isn't an epic, it's still worth watching the series for it.
The main character, Louie, is more misunderstood than anything else. While he isn't exactly the ideal knight in shining armor (as Melissa had hoped he would be), he isn't as dumb as the other characters make him out to be. He certainly isn't the stereotypical magician as he is incredibly strong in terms of raw power, most especially when fighting bare-handed, and also learns how to wield a sword along with his magic. He can be reckless, short-tempered, and fairly naive in terms of knowing the dangers around him, but his experiences with adventuring also show that he has a strong talent for figuring things out that others don't catch on to as well. One other thing that plagues him is simple bad luck that often ruins his chances of making a name for himself as a hero throughout the kingdom. It never phases him for long and his strong sense of justice simply carries him towards the next destination.
The remaining main characters are very loyal to each other, but of course have their hesitations about Louie. Genie, while strong and skilled with the sword, can also be short-tempered and is the member of the group who is most biased against men. She believes that men are always taking risks to gratify their own male pride and looking down on women. However, she eventually comes to realize that Louie's motives are to make sure everyone gets out of each sticky situation alive and that he's always treated every one of the group as an equal. Melissa is very devoted to her religion, especially when evidenced that she doesn't renounce her faith after learning that Louie is her hero, and compassionate. She of course has a stereotypical view of what makes a hero and does her best to try and turn Louie into that image, but slowly comes to realize that heroes aren't born, but rather made and that she too has to change her attitude and ways to overcome her own shortcomings. Merrill is money-obsessed and loud, but a very skilled worker and a master thief. She's the one who initially labels Louie as a complete pervert (since he accidentaly pantses her when they first meet) and is often the greatest source of his physical pain, but eventually realizes that he always does his best to help her out and alleviate the burden of problems that arise for her, even if things never work out perfectly.
The major supporting cast consists of two more girls and they numerous appearances throughout the entire series. The more prominent is Ila, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, Louie's best friend (who wants to be more than friends with him), and an avid collector of magic items. Her collection becomes a source of help and a source of pain for the group, especially Louie of course. She is a skilled trader but very easily faints at the sign of trouble while remaining under-confident about her magic in those sticky situations. The other is Celestia, a wood elf who starts off as an enemy but becomes a valued companion during one of the story arcs near the halfway point of the series. Her personality is conflicted as she has to overcome her natural distrust of humans and also to get everyone to be able to trust her as well. She is cunning and shrewd, but willing to lend a hand whenever she runs into Louie after their initial encounter.
The rest of the supporting cast provides slightly smaller roles but nearly all of them are woven into the main conflict at the end of the story. The first of these to appear is Isabella, another priestess of Mylee and officially Melissa's rival, but they remain friends even after she meets her own hero, Leonard. Leonard is considered to be better hero material than Louie, due to his refined manner and generous nature, and claims to be the son of a merchant. He's always accompanied by his bodyguard, Jakinson, a refined man who is increidbly fast and skilled with a sword despite his age, and is always willing to fight for his master. This rival group of adventurers is balanced by Lily, a quiet magician who never says much, but enjoys being with the group during their journeys.
Other minor characters include Louie's foster father, the refined and strict Carwess, and Jenny, the high priestess of Mylee Shrine and Melissa's confidant when trouble arises (even if her advice causes Melissa to fall into a slight panic at times). Both of them fought alongside the king prior to the establishment of Ohfun and continue to serve him by going into battle with him near the end. The final set of minor cast comes from three of Melissa's students who consider themselves her bodyguards. They think of Louie as a nuisance who's forcing himself on Melissa and often come up with tricks and traps to try and utterly humiliate him in front of her. Of course they often backfire.
The main villain doesn't appear until the very end, but there are several who can be considered antagonists. The first is Conrad, a knight from the neighboring kingdom who was betrothed to Melissa until she broke it off by disowning herself from her family. He is conceited and boastful, but quickly turns into a coward when separated from his magic sword. He does have some redeeming grace very late in the series by acting as a decoy to keep some soldiers from finding Melissa, but otherwise he remains a pathetic laughingstock. The second is Faltess, the 2nd-in-charge of the magician's guild and a guy who insists on pharisiacal obedience to the rules of the school while remaining vastly unpopular amongst the students. He secretly works with the main villain to revive some ancient, and thus forbidden magic- even if he himself thinks that it's for a good cause. The main villain does a good job in his schemes to overthrow the kingdom and plots it out well, but he remains cliched and shallow to the point where I can't even remember his name. It's something like Daktari, Dataras, Dantara, Dataeast... but who cares? He ends up becoming the cliched guy who hides behind something he believes makes himself invincible, only to end up staring in stupefied disbelief when that something is destroyed and ends up easily killed.
Despite the one-dimensional and stereotypical nature of several of the characters and the lack of personal development for a few, including a couple of the main characters, the cast remains quite likable and does a great job contributing to the overall enjoyment of the series.
The artwork in the series was fantastic. Nearly every scene was rich, colorful, and very distinct. The one exception being that nearly all of the ruins that the group explored looked almost exactly the same, but if they were built during the same era then that is forgivable.
The character designs and artwork are well done as well, with everyone having distinct appearances and, as mentioned earlier, their jobs are easily figured out from the beginning. A generous amount of fanservice and humorous expressions pervade the entire series as well.
The animation is also quite good, but not as great as the general artwork as a whole. There are numerous times when shots are re-used, especially crowd scenes, and when character physics seem to disappear. This is especially noted when someone is falling and very easily seen when Louie and Celestia fall out of a tree during their first encounter. While they're drawn to be shown as falling, their hair and clothes don't move flap or flail from the movement at all. I was, however, impressed by the way the animators handled the effects of magic spells and effects that destroyed monsters.
Once again I simply stuck with the original Japanese language track and bypassed the dub completely, though I am tempted to re-watch some of the episodes in the English dub to see how the actors handled the inconsistent spelling of character names between the DVD covers and actual subtitles in the episodes themselves, but that's for someone who is reviewing ADV's job on the DVDs to handle.
As I almost always find, the Japanese actors to a mostly superb job as they bring out the passion, emotional characteristics, and little nuances that make the characters. The absolute best for me was Merrill's actor and her job in being able to instantly change moods depending on what the character was doing, be it trying to act cute, obessing over a large sum of money to the point of ruining her health, to completely losing her voice when calling for help after falling into a well.
There were a couple of black sheep, however. One of Melissa's bodyguards came off as just plain annoying while Melissa herself and her constant repetitions of "This is against my will" whenever Louie does something reckless really gets old quickly and becomes detrimental to the humor of the situation.
I loved the music in this series, so long as it was part of the incidental music within each episode. I didn't care for the opening or ending themes very much at all. The opening was more on the light-hearted side but hardly captured the serious elements of the series at all while the ending theme was mostly some singer shouting out the series "Love and Pain" more times than I cared to hear while some heavy metal track served as its background noise.
The incidental music acted as a great balance between the two themes and did a much better job when carrying each episode along. Some of the best are the jazz elements used during conversation scenes in the bar to the hymn of Mylee that's heard whenever the scene shifts over to his shrine and acts as a reminder that everyone is on holy ground. Another thing that worked well were the several scenes that had no music at all, simply because it wasn't needed.
I liked this series. The story is engrossing, the characters are fairly memorable and the comedy is absolutely hilarious while the entirety of the series is very nice to watch. Fans of fantasy series like Slayers and Record of Lodoss War (of which this is a cousin series since it takes place in the same world) will definitely find something to make watching this one worthwhile.
This and other reviews can also be read at my blog: http://gunarmdyne.blogspot.com