A legendary swordsman, a revered hero, and also a dreaded lecher; Rance is all of it and more. The Rance series actually has quite a long history to it, stretching back to Japanese home computers of the late-80s. This 2013 adaptation of the very first game has something of a reputation to it, making it quite a surprise when I actually ended up enjoying it.
The story sees Rance and Sill arrive in the Kingdom of Leazas, where it turns out that a string of abductions has left local law enforcement baffled. All the abductees are young girls, but no ransom money is ever demanded. When a nobleman’s daughter winds up being the latest victim, Rance is offered a sizable reward for solving the case. He accepts, but only because the girl is hot.
Comparisons to Dragon Pink are unavoidable, as both anime deal with morally-dubious swordsmen who have a pink-haired slave at their side. Both series feature a great deal of rape and both love to leverage the miserable conditions of their female protagonists for comedy. So why did these conditions ruin Dragon Pink for me, while in Rance I don’t find them nearly as egregious?
A big part of it is that the plot doesn’t make any excuses for Rance. Dragon Pink kept acting like its characters were upstanding heroes or gave them redeeming moments, only for them to later act as scumbags again. Rance, meanwhile, is an over-the-top asshole from beginning to end. He’s a short-tempered, narcissistic prick who abuses Sill and acts belligerent towards just about anybody he meets. They literally put in scenes of him kicking puppies; there’s no doubt about where he stands morally.
Sex is also his number 1 priority in life, for which he will stoop to any lows. In one scene he rapes a girl he was sent to rescue after killing her captors, because she was conveniently blindfolded and tied up. He’s also skilled at tricking or coercing women into having sex with him, such as by jokingly suggesting it on a wager. When all else fails, he simply goes home angry and has his way with Sill instead.
That doesn’t sound like a good recipe for a heroic fantasy story, but they make it work. Rance is constantly up against people who are somehow even worse than he is. Murderers and torturers, occultists who use women for profane rituals. Stuff that even Rance finds abhorrent and for which he intends to dish out the worst punishments he can muster. The creators also enjoy poking fun at Rance, who frequently ends up hurt as a consequence of his tireless lust. My favorite part of the anime, for example, happens when he tries to use a spell to make Sill even meeker. The spell gives her boosted confidence instead, which allows Sill to overpower Rance and flip the roles around for once.
The sex scenes are a highlight of the OVA, as one might expect. Rance is a rough partner, so there is a lot of movement to the sex scenes. Rance constantly wrangles the girls from one position to the next, while they look positively ecstatic. Whatever unfortunate circumstances led them to Rance’s bedsheets are forgotten quickly once he gets started. It looks good and constantly varies itself up, so issues like looping animations have no chance to really stand out. The girls also have great designs to them and their voice actresses put a lot of effort into making the scenes sound as good as they look.
Plot development and action scenes serve to space out the erotic moments, most notably during an arc where Rance enters into a tournament. While the story is interesting enough, the animation quality does take a back seat here. Fight scenes look particularly mediocre and the OVA is a little too fond of crowd shots, which constantly had me getting distracted by goofy-looking extras.
I do commend Alice Soft and Pink Pineapple for how big of a make-over they gave the 1989 video game. The amateurish visual style has been modernized, yet the characters retain their most distinctive features. Even minor characters like shop owners are adapted accurately and actual partners for Rance look a lot sexier now. At the same time, they reference the game constantly and kept in goofy details like the weirdly-designed monsters.
If, like me, you have an itch for fantasy hentai that rarely gets a good scratch, then Rance is a must watch OVA. The rapefest of a storyline will be a no-go for some people, however. If you have the tolerance for it, then Rance shines thanks to its high-quality sex scenes and cute character designs. The story is also genuinely interesting and you needn’t have played the games to keep up with it.