What They Say:
Lute, a cheerful and enthusiastic young boy, dreams of becoming the world’s top monster Rider, but getting there won’t be easy. Every step Lute takes brings a new challenge to overcome. Fortunately, he has his friends to help him along—Cheval, a fellow apprentice Rider, Lilia, a young girl who dreams of leaving the village and seeing the world, and Navirou, a loyal catlike companion. Together they spend their days training in the isolated Hakum Village, working hard and making it through one trial after another.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English language track gets a 5.1 boost, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show makes good use of its sound design with how it operates as there’s some good directionality across it with the way the action plays out and a lot of the dialogue follows along with that. The use of the monsters certainly adds to the creativity of placement on screen with flying scenes and lots of things running around between them and the characters themselves. The score for the series gives it plenty of life as well and the combination of all of these elements work really well to make it an active and engaging design. It’s a good solid pair of tracks and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in the fall of 2016 before finishing up in the spring of 2018, the twelve episodes for this set are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by David Production, the show has a really great look to it where it’s very detailed, very fluid with much of what it does in the quality of the animation, and some great colors. The CG aspects of the monsters is something that’s certainly different from the rest of the show so it always has that mild element of not fitting exactly, especially since the colors feel more vibrant with them, but it fits in context to the show itself as something almost otherworldly. The encoding for the release gives us a really strong looking show that you wouldn’t normally expect for something based on a game like this but it just comes across in a great way with solid colors, a clean look, and just something special.
The packaging for this release is done with a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case as it holds discs for both formats in it on hinges and it also comes with an o-card that uses the same artwork on it as the case. This edition works well with the winter scene, the lights in the sky, and the combination of rider and monstie that clicks well with detail and color design. The large logo stands out well with all its bold elements and it works well with the rest of the colors of the design. The back cover uses a lot of its space for a great big visual from the show that again highlights the look of the show. We get a small summary of the premise against a white background below it as well as the simple listing of the extras and the always simple but clean breakdown of the technical side for both formats. While there are no show related inserts with this release we do get a great two-panel spread on the reverse side with more character artwork that’s colorful and stands out wonderfully.
The menus for this release are simple but well done as we get the same static image for each disc that uses the cover artwork well to show off its detail and colors. The character and monster designs brought into it dominate nicely to add in more detail to the design. The logo takes up a lot of real estate overall but it’s a big one to begin with and the colors work well to stand out and really draw you into it. The navigation strip for it is kept along the bottom with a basic dark blue with white text that’s easy to navigate as both the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback.
The only extras included with this set is the clean version of the opening sequence.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first set for Monster Hunter Stories is one that I definitely found interesting in a number of ways but also struggled with. The first season of the series ran for forty-eight episodes and this gives us the second batch that takes us to the halfway mark of the series. I really liked the animation style for the show and the way it handled the action and CG aspects of the monsters but I also quite liked the slower approach even if it felt like it was taking longer to get to some of the more meaningful aspects. It’s easy to imagine the series being sold initially as another Pokemon style property to churn out episodes for but it’s one that plays in a very different way that I’m still hard pressed to really say I like in full.
What I really found interesting was that it isn’t until the sixteenth episode that the core group finally gets out of the village and moves forward. A lot of shows would have done that in the first episode, if not the first few minutes, and gotten the journey underway. But here, we get Lute and the others working together to deal with the threat of the blight that’s in the area with the monster while also finishing out some of the birthing of another monstie with the giant egg that they have. It’s a pretty solid piece overall that cements the kids as knowing what’s right and wrong and stepping up even when the adults don’t think they’re ready. It’s standard kid wish fulfillment stuff of course but it’s well-executed and we get some solid closure to moving on here and what has to be left behind, which was surprising.
Once past that, however, the show does fall into more familiar territory but in this particular style that the show employs. The journey aspect has them heading to one of the larger cities where the main guild exists and that takes a few episodes. This lets the core group that goes with Lute to get to see the world beyond the village a bit more, remembering to keep their origins secret, and having some adventures with the monsties out there. Some of this is to start setting up the idea of more of the blight out there infecting various monsters but mostly it’s just the first steps of the growing up phase for the kids. It’s a big thing leaving the village and seeing what’s out there, though they don’t have it quite as rough as what the reality would be. Once they hit the city and through a bit of luck make it to meeting the guild leader, it’s where they also have to decide what kind of path they want, either hunting the monsties or raising them. That’s something that percolates in the background well.
This sets the group, which changes in dynamic with it mostly coming down to Lute and Lilia while Cheval heads off elsewhere, going on different quests as part of working with the guild. This gives us more exposure to the world, the monsties, and all sorts of situations that exist out there. These episodes work again to push Lute into growing a bit as he has to deal with a lot of different personalities but it also falls into the kind of standard material you’d expect. But what separates it from others of the larger genre is that it plays it slow, cautious, and more seriously than you’d expect. It’s not that there isn’t some humor and levity but it’s not playing for sight gags and pratfalls. It’s treating this seriously, like the game, and immersing us into its world a little bit at a time.
At the halfway mark of the first season, I completely get what Monster Hunter Stories is attempting to do and I definitely appreciate it for doing so. There’s something that does indeed work with a slower and slightly more mature approach to doing a series like this with something that’s usually bright, cheap, and full of physical comedy gags. That said, I do struggle with it because it also adheres to the whole young kids doing things that are somewhat out of their range and surviving easily in it, all things considered. It’s introducing more of the larger plot but the piecemeal approach even in chunks like this set has it feeling like it’s moving at a crawl, which makes it hard to get really enthused about it. I continue to like the animation style and the presentation for it here is strong, making for a great looking show with solid performances throughout. I’m definitely curious to see where it goes but I’m getting wary of it really reaching a strong point to make it truly compelling.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, Clean Opening
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: April 17th, 2018
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.