The plot of Runa is exactly the sort of thing I’m always looking for. The protagonist is on the run from something powerful and deadly, she’s constantly making plans and thinking on her feet in order to survive, there’s some breathtaking landscapes, great mysticism and intrigue, insanely cool locales and alien creatures - by all respects this comic should be custom-tailored to fit my tastes.

But, even though I enjoyed it, it just wasn’t clicking with me to nearly the same extent some of my favorite comics ever, like Hello From Halo Head, clicked with me.

Here’s the first problem - the protagonist is very unremarkable. There’s not too much to Runa other than a drive to find her parents. She tends to solve her problems through a mix of reckless decisions and dumb luck, and it’s not particularly engrossing.

I mean, compare her to Robin from It’s a Hard Life, whose situation (being hounded by the police, bounty hunters, and shadowy organizations) is actually quite similar to Runa’s. Robin also tended to solve her problems through a mix of reckless decisions and dumb luck, also wasn’t particularly smart, and in addition to being much younger she definitely had less worldly experience than Runa.

But what made Robin such a fascinating character was how willing she was to use violence and collateral damage to twist the situation to her advantage. I mean, in chapter 7, she sets a cruise liner on fire, then steers it to crash into the harbor while she and her team jump ship via the air, killing and injuring who knows how many people and causing billions in property damage, just to distract the police for a few brief minutes so that they could use the bought time to cook up the next phase of their plan to escape.

Robin’s cause was also much more selfish and straightforward, which ironically makes it easier to root for her. The reader doesn’t have much understanding of why Runa holds the values she does other than ‘her parents told her so’, which isn’t very compelling. For example, in one page Pio, a man who, one day earlier, had decieved her and sold her out to her pursuers, nearly falls off an airship, and Runa puts her life at risk to save him.

Robin would never have done that. In fact, there’s a scene where a Team Rocket member similar to Pio (in that he had betrayed and attacked Robin earlier) comes to her and offers his hand in friendship. Robin’s response is to order her pokemon to incapacitate him, drag him to a nearby river, and hold him under the water until he suffocates to death - not because she wanted revenge, but simply due to cold pragmatism. He’d proven he was willing to harm her pokemon, and as such, leaving him alive is a liability. It’s a mistake she made with Gary and one she wouldn’t repeat again.

I don’t think Runa needs to be as ruthless and cold-hearted as Robin was. But I’m making the comparison because of how similar their situations are, and cold pragmatism is part of what made Robin so interesting. Runa, meanwhile, is aggressively bland.

Robin’s motivation was to maintain her independence and protect her newfound family, and since the reader knows from page 1 of the comic that she came from an abusive household it’s easy to understand where she’s coming from. Runa’s motivation is to protect the stone that her parents gave her. Everything else, even maintaining her independence, is secondary to keeping the stone on her person and out of the reach of others. She doesn’t plan to do anything with the stone, just hang onto it indefinitely, for no reason other than because her parents said to.

As readers, we don’t know what the relevance of the stone is, why her parents considered it important, or anything. Furthermore, Runa doesn’t seem to know much more about it than we do, and goes essentially off blind adoration of her parents and unquestioning obedience to their will. Which… isn’t really compelling because we don’t know what triggered these feelings. Yeah, they’re her parents, but after a certain age, the faith little kids have in their elders begins to fade, and they start questioning their judgement.

Not once does Runa ever ask herself why her parents wanted her to hold onto this stone, or what its importance is. Her parents said it’s important, so that’s all she needs to know. It makes her feel surprisingly immature, like she’s still a little kid rather than an adolescant.

Second problem - The comic doesn’t utilize its locations very well, and constantly makes references to things that are never explained. For example, at one point Rina asks Pio to whom he and his former associates intended to sell her off - ‘The Cangalamira-Syndicate? Xorba and her gang?’ As if the reader should know anything about these groups or what relevance they may or may not hold to the story.

I swear, some writers, particularly for sci-fi, can’t get enough of that sort of thing. I’ve never liked it, it’s just disorienting. I’d rather time were spent fleshing out stuff that actually is relevant to the story, rather than references to things that aren’t explained until much later, or in an extra, or even in the page description, if they get explained at all.

There are so many cool locations here, and some really fun-looking wildlife, but not much comes of them. Cool abandoned temples and scenic vistas are used as not much more than backdrops, and aren’t explored properly or even really acknowledged.

Why did the giant manta ray attack their ship? Cause it’s a predator and that’s what predators do. Why did the giant mole surface under Runa? Cause’s it’s a giant mole and that’s what giant moles do. Come on.

If I had to pick something I really did like about this comic 100%, it would be the colors. There’s lots of creatively used pinks and purples and it makes the jungle look really vibrant.

However, if you’re an environments junkie like I am, DO NOT read this comic on Webtoons - for whatever reasons the palette is muted there compared to how it looks on the original site.

At the end of the day I think Runa is still worth recommending, despite all the issues I have with it. But considering how much it should have appealed to me, I have to say it’s one of the more disappointing comics I’ve read.

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