Originally announced as a “special,” Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild is perhaps more OVA than full-on movie. It’s a scant hour long, and while intended to be watchable by both established fans of the game franchise and those who have never played a second of it, it also feels very much like a prologue to Monster Hunter 4, as it focuses on the past of some of the NPCs from that iteration of the franchise – specifically how Aiden met Julius and Nadia in the first place. Although it ends well shy of Aiden actually becoming the Ace Cadet during the main storyline, we do get a glimpse of him in that position as the bookending to the film, which is basically an extended flashback.
In the main body of the story, Aiden is a plucky young teen living in a remote mountain village. An orphan, he makes his living by serving as a Hunter substitute for the village, since they’re really too far away from any major towns to make hiring real Hunters a possibility most of the time. Aiden’s not terrific at what he does, since he lacks any training – either physical or ideological – but he’s got oodles of enthusiasm and that’s good enough for most of the people he’s working for. The fact that he’s really good at cobbling things together is also a major point in his favor; he may not always think everything all the way through, but it’s hard to argue with his creative use of a cast-iron skillet as chest armor, especially if you’ve ever accidentally dropped one on your foot.
Aiden’s out working on something relatively unrelated to hunting when he bumps into Julius, whom game players will recognize as the Ace Commander. Julius may have the charm of a grumpy wildebeest, but he is clearly very, very good at what he does, and he’s not as averse to helping Aiden as he tries to appear. Not that he’s ever particularly nice to the boy, but he does take the time to help him learn about fighting, environmentalism, and to allow him to give the skillet back to whoever Aiden took it from by providing real armor. What Julius is doing out in those wilds is something Aiden is less thrilled with: he’s telling villages to pack up and move out because a lunastra, a type of female dragon, is headed their way, driving a stampede of other monsters eager to get out of her way before her. By the guild’s reasoning, if the horde doesn’t decimate the villages, the lunastra certainly will, and they’d like to prevent loss of life.
Aiden’s objections to this are two-fold, and they provide some of the only decent character work in the movie: he and the villagers do not want to leave just because some guy from far away comes and tells them to. They have generations invested in this village, and a fancy big-shot Hunter isn’t going to convince them to leave it behind. While Aiden himself might intellectually understand what Julius is saying, he’s also been raised in this village – and already lost another one earlier in life when his parents were killed, so he’s just as stubborn on this issue as the rest of his neighbors. His other objection is that he, in his teen-fueled enthusiasm, is convinced that he and Julius can fend off the monsters, because in his mind, Hunters can do anything, especially high-ranking ones like Julius. That Julius gives in to this is presumably meant to indicate that he has a soft spot for the kid; sadly in practice it comes off more as necessary for the plot to move along in a timely manner.
That is the biggest problem with this story: the plot is pretty thin and the characters even more so. Everyone is slotted into a particular archetype and given no real chance to move past it; the closest is perhaps Mae, who is allowed to progress from eager researcher to a front-line fighter. Fortunately this is at least partially assuaged by the look of things – despite somewhat awkward animation for the human characters, the monsters move smoothly and showcase the franchise‘s designs very nicely. Even the less-interesting creatures like the congalala look good in terms of movement and details. (And yes, the inclusion of a congalala means a fart joke.) Lizard-like creatures are even more impressive, especially if they happen to breathe fire, and the textures of their skin is a far cry from the mildly plastic look of the humans. It’s also worth mentioning that Mae’s butterfly-themed armor is particularly nice, even if the fact that her thighs are partially exposed doesn’t seem like a bright idea. (Nadia’s armor makes less sense; clearly Monster Hunter operates on the Barbarian school of armor logic.)
The voice cast is solid, which helps to make up for the overuse of the exclamation “holy moly” and the fact that Aiden just does not shut his mouth for more than a minute throughout the movie. There is an unfortunate Middle Eastern stereotype for the merchant who makes a brief appearance, but otherwise the story steers clear of any major issues. The paucity of character development doesn’t do wonders for viewer attachment to characters who die during the course of the story, but we can see how that might have influenced Aiden in becoming the Ace Cadet to a degree, which is perhaps more the goal of the writing.
Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild is neither amazing nor terrible, landing firmly in “okay” territory. Viewers who already know the characters as NPCs are likely to get a bit more out of it than those who do not, but any curiosity about the franchise‘s lore should make this sufficiently interesting to get through such a short run time. It may not be technically anime – an American studio handled the animation – but it is a decent enough entry into Monster Hunter‘s world.
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