Rune Soldier - Volume 4: Monsters and Mayhem Review
The little town of Ohfun is lofty and quiet as usual, save for the late night drunken bouts courtesy of loud mouthed Louis. When Louis isn't trying his best to get into fights he sticks by the side of his friends as they search ever more for valuable treasure. But things aren't going to stay quiet forever…
...As a secret army begins to make its way across the western border, rumours emerge of an increase in monstrous activity. There have always been monsters but could it actually be that a magician is growing them at a secret location? As we arrive at the middle point in the series, strange things are afoot, is Rune Soldier about to get a darker edge?
Getting back to its original conventions of stand alone episodes for this volume, Rune Soldier comfortably eases into episode thirteen with a story that sees Louis finally get the upper hand. It's about time that Louis started to get some credit as his journey has been nothing but frustrating for the most part. He still isn't taken seriously as a hero so when Genie once more lashes out at him for not staying back and leaving a fight in her capable hands Louis goes off the rails and challenges her. This moment gives the viewer a chance to breathe a sigh of relief as Genie gets her just deserts. While her character hasn't been extensively catered for on a personal level until now, she has constantly nagged at Louis and has been generally selfish in some respects. It's only later in the episode that we discover her anger is the result of a time long ago - from an event in her past - that she vowed she'd never let repeat itself. So when Louis and Genie finally come to blows the tension in the air between them is resolved and they reach an understanding. Although Genie is given far more time than usual here it is a wasted opportunity, which could otherwise have been utilised far greater and as it stands we still don't get to know enough about her for the episode to have even been worthwhile. An episode of both comedy and drama the series soon gets back to doing what it does best.
Merrill gets her chance in the spotlight again in the following episode, and this time sees her become involved in a case of mistaken identity; a familiar gag which is played out well enough and includes plenty of humour involving her obsession with money, which we got to see a whole lot more of in "Merrill's Jar". The usual high level of slapstick and mishaps applies to every episode, with some real gems including a particular moment when Louis and Isabel's hero go head to head in a secret password guessing game, in order to impress their team.
Rune Soldier finally adheres itself to offering some fan service in this volume as the obligatory vacation episode crops up, well what anime wouldn't be complete without it these days? And so Louis, Merrill, Genie, Melissa and Ila go on a fishing vacation, bikinis all out for some fun in the sun. The fun doesn't last long when a giant sea monster threatens to ruin their vacation, forcing Louis into a fight which is not without its dangers, though the girls are more in danger of losing their swimwear than they are at the jaws of the beast.
The final episode on the DVD is where things really begin to get interesting. After a simple story which dominates most of the runtime, an unforeseen twist occurs, which suddenly raises eyebrows and takes the series in its first, serious direction. As a plot about a magician conjuring monsters thickens we are only left at the end of this practical cliff-hanger wanting more. One character we've already met appears to have a greater role in this conspiracy but the questions of why have yet to be asked. With only two volumes left to go I can only wonder how much of a good or bad thing this can be. It's hard to know for sure where the series will lead itself, will it continue to be hilarious or will it become infatuated by its darker edge? I'm hoping that it can make up its mind and offer a good outcome; I'd hate to see the series lose much of its humour, which in all likelihood won't happen. If it can provide a decent balance between the two then I'll be happy.
It's time for the usual episode guide and Volume 4 in the series contains the following episodes:
Episode 13 - The Fugue of the Female Warrior
Louie and co. run into an old comrade of Genie's named Barb, while they search for treasure in a western region of Ohfun. Barb warns them of a pressing army along the border to which Genie retorts they are no where near the area to concern themselves. Barb moves on but the very next day the group realise that they should have listened to some friendly advice. Genie stays put to fight and Louis intrudes, much to Genie's anger which causes an inevitable clash between the two.
Episode 14 - Flower Vendor and Flower Bride
Merrill has found herself a new job, this time selling flowers in the middle of the street. One day a princely young man approaches and immediately asks for her hand in marriage. Dumbstruck, Merrill is taken to his mansion. It turns out that the man is none other that William Wilder, heir to one of Ohfun's richest families. This is all very strange for the group when they learn of Merrill’s engagement but they soon find out that Merrill has been taken as a result of mistaken identity. Louis and the girls try to free her but does Merrill really want to leave all that money behind?
Episode 15 - Vacation by the Lake
Upon their return trip home the gang bump into Ila who has been hanging out at her parents' lake house. Given that their last attempted treasure hunt failed miserably they decide to join Ila and take a break. As they set out on a small boat Louis decides to get some fishing in but he ends up catching something far bigger than he ever expected.
Episode 16 - The Conspiracy of the Darkness
Merrill convinces her friends to visit a ruined estate that she suspects hides a wealth of treasure. They unexpectedly run into Isabel and her team once more and like before they agree to team up and head down into the estate's dark basement. Below they find strange creatures, which they dispatch with relative ease but as they reach the basement's core they find some kind of magical shop that has been used to create monsters. This magic is said to have been lost for years but evidently someone has continued using it…
ADV's Rune Soldier continues in the same fashion as before with some very attractive front cover artwork that can be reversed, if you prefer your cover to feature super deformed Louis and the girls. There is also a small fold out booklet that has episode guides and character sketches.
I'd simply refer you to my previous comments with regards to this presentation. As usual the series continues to look great, with minor issues that are easily outweighed. There are a lot of bright and colourful moments in this volume, which the transfer is more than capable of delivering without major intervention from compression.
ADV advertise English 2.0 and Japanese 2.0 tracks but when inserting the disc you'll find that the English track is actually 5.1. With little actually in-between I would recommend the Japanese track once more, but then I'd recommend it regardless anyway.
The series is accompanied by excellent English subtitles that are well timed and easy on the eyes.
Gunning for the Guardian
This is an interactive game that takes place during episode 15. The object is to simply get Louis to catch the big fish. The main screen asks for you to select an area of the pond that you wish to cast to, when doing so you will be treated to a clip from the episode. There are no prizes for getting it right; it's just a simple, gimmicky break.
As with all volumes prior, selecting these features will bring you the main credit sequences without credits.
Trailers for Leiji Matsumoto's Queen Emeraldas, Final Fantasy: Unlimited, Slayers Excellent and Prétear.
Well the usual bouts of fists and follies continue as the series marches on but it is beginning to show another side of itself. Just how well it copes with two volumes left remains to be seen but so far Rune Soldier is as entertaining as always, so it's with great interest and enthusiasm that I await the penultimate volume.