Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
Having lost his entire family, Bell Cranel wishes for nothing more than to become a strong adventurer so he can honor his late grandfather's wishes; to be a hero that can save a damsel and make her fall in love with him.
Which makes it all the more ironic when Bell himself gets in trouble when a Minotaurus escapes to a lower level of the dungeon and is saved by Aiz Wallenstein, also known as the Sword Princess, and immediately falls in love with her as a result of that.
My first encounter with this show was made during one of those season rundowns, and the first thing that had me snickering with thinly veiled... well, not contempt, specifically, but the rather blatant sexist undertones of the synopsis coupled with a splash image showing Hestia and Freya's hilariously skimpy getups didn't really give me much reason to think that Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? would be worth anyone's time. The concept of a damsel in distress is one that seriously needs to get left behind already, but for all the overbearing tone the initial synopsis had, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only had it been completely subverted -- Bell was the one who was saved, and by a woman at that -- but also diluted in that the save was played out as a source of inspiration for our main lead to better himself, which was in line with his original wish to begin with.
In the country of Orario, the deity descended and offered upon humanity a single dungeon for would-be heroes to prove their worth. While doing so, they laid down some rules for themselves that they would not interfere in any battles fought by said heroes, but rather recruit willing men and women to their guilds and inspire them to prevail against the challenge laid down before them. As such, the foundation of a show that feels very much like another in line for the "somewhat MMORPGish fantasy show" contest was built, which is a bit of an oddity. Most of the show is your pretty typical fantasy except for how everything seems to be centered around this town that feels more like an entertainment hub, and how DanMachi -- which I'm going to call the show, since abbreviating the full title will become a bit of a chore really quickly -- mixes all that up with an arbitrary stat and skill mixup. The characters -- that is to say, the adventurers -- all fight normally, and the show establishes that you also need to learn to fight as one would in the real world, but it's also partially based on these oddly integrated stats that also increases your chances for survival in the dungeon. The characters in DanMachi are physically excerting themselves, and it also establishes that fighting is a thing you need to learn to do, but you also gain experience and raise levels and a more arbitrary set of skills. I'll get into more of that later, but before I do that, we have to talk about the characters for a bit.
Bell Cranel is our main hero. His grandfather is the one who wanted him to go out and be a hero and rescue all the ladies, but Bell himself is not a particularly large or imposing guy, something that isn't lost on him as he is initially rejected by guild after guild. While he isn't overly optimistic -- you can clearly see that the constant rejections by other guilds takes a toll on him -- he's almost unnaturally kind, partially due to his naïveté. One might consider that a bit of a downside, but it's actually the part that gives him most of his charm and leads to some of the sweeter moments in the show. His resolve to be worthy of Aiz, the woman who rescues him and whom he falls in love with, gives him a particular ability that allows him to gain skills and level at a greatly increased rate, and this is one of the aspects of the show I DO have a problem with. It basically gives Bell a free pass to gain and bypass people who have been at this for far longer than him, meaning it's basically giving him a ridiculously huge and unfair advantage compared to just about everyone else in this show, and this is actually acknowledged through some of the other characters. It's iffy, because the ones who react negatively to this are almost always portrayed as villainous, even though their reactions and disbelief are perfectly understandable. But the show has to portray them as jerks, even when it wasn't particularly necessary. Of course, the show also points out that if he ever waves from his feelings, which is to say his love for Aiz, he will lose this power, so it's also sort of a dangling sword hanging over his head. The thing that makes this aspect easier to digest is that; at least it couldn't happen to a nicer person. It's also nice, because for all the times Bell is portrayed as naive, there are also moments that hint at him knowing more than he lets on; that, if nothing else, he's not entirely stupid. Bell isn't the most captivating male leads in any shows of this kind that I've ever watched, but I'll admit that I have no problems tolerating him. Hell, I even kind of like him.
The showstealer in DanMachi is undoubtly Hestia, though. Much has been made about the odd blue string that supplements her costume and the breasts they seemingly support, up to and including various women testing out this oddball string theory on their own breasts and even someone cosplaying as the blue string. And now that I've finally had the chance to watch this show, I find it curious that something that's basically just... there... in the show could garner so much attention, because nobody IN the show ever mentions it or asks why it's there. Hestia herself is sometimes called the "busty loli" or some such; a comment on her short but curvaceous stature, no doubt, and one that her getup does little to hide.
But to say that her looks is what gained her the massive popularity would definitely be selling her... uh, short. It played its part, I'm sure, but you can add me to the big Hestia Fanboy Brigade too, because she is one of the most charming ladies I've met in just about any anime, particularly the non-shoujo ones. She was the first of the deity to accept Bell, and while one might argue that it was an act on desperation on her part -- her guild was basically just herself and nobody else -- Hestia will still quickly dismiss any idea you might have that she doesn't care about Bell at all. In fact, she's quite open about her feelings for him, and despite her little outbursts of jealousy over his interest in Aiz, supports him in many ways that extends beyond her duties as his patron Goddess, even going so far as to put herself in massive debt so that she can give Bell a proper weapon. There is a strange comfort to their relationship, from the way she gives her support to the way the two live together, from the way she tries to encourage his better sides even if they go against how she herself feels about the given situation to the way it's clear that his influence has rubbed off on her through the way dialogue in the show quietly hints that she probably used to be a bit of a slob and a mooch. She's a bit temperamental, but she's never violent about it. Her name, borrowed from the Greek Goddess of Hearth, makes her position a bit ironic given how she openly comes on to Bell, but her nurturing and supporting side more than makes up for this oddity. And yes, everything she says and does firmly puts the shipping goggles in place; it's just such a joy to see the two of them together. Granted, Bell is possibly too dense to pick up on Hestia's obvious interest, but he's also comfortable enough with her that he allows her to straddle his back while she sums up his advancements from his stints in the dungeon, which are showcased through some kind of magical tattoo on his back.
Eventually, Bell also picks up more party members. The first one is Liliruca Arde, who comes across as a curiously tiny girl with animal ears that she either wills into being or hides them when it suits her. She's originally a part of the Soma clan, but lends her supporter skills to Bell -- a supporter basically being a person that handles the items dropped by defeated enemies; she doesn't do much in the way of direct battle, but can lend some supporting fire as needed. She has her own opinions on adventurers, not all of them good, and she's also one of the first indications about how Bell's naïveté can hurt him. Later on, adventurer and blacksmith Welf Crozzo joins the team. He's a part of the Hephaistos family, who willingly secluded himself from his main customers because of his dislike of magical weapons. He later becomes Bell's personal armorer, mostly because Bell really took a liking to an armor piece he bought earlier, which was his work. I was a bit afraid that he'd eventually turn out to be the pervert type, but I was thankfully proven wrong about that.
The last character I want to mention is Freya. Not because she's the only one left -- this show has a TON of characters, many of which actually gets a fair amount of screentime -- but for as little as we actually do get to see her, the times we DO easily portrays her as an intimidating and sceming woman. Not necessarily outright evil, but some of the things she does border on uncomfortably ambiguous. For instance, she greatly helps Bell behind the scenes, and then throws him into a heap of trouble to test that aid out, the ambiguity being that she's positively delighted when he rises to the occasion in a rather disturbingly sexual way. One of her getups are even more hilarious than Hestia's, where she's wearing a dress that looks like it's made up of black maple leaves barely covering her breasts and crotch (and much of her backside, the little we get to see of it), but is otherwise transparent with a little bit of shading. She prefers to work behind the scenes, and while she might arguably be a helpful person, none of her aid comes with the kind of heartwarming (nearly) unconditional love that makes Hestia such an endearing character, but instead often puts civilian lives in danger. Freya is, basically, a very scary lady.
As adventures go, DanMachi is very entertaining, but surprisingly cruel. In the ways of direct violence, the show mixes up a rather explicit kind -- in that when monsters are hit with weapons, they get cuts that bleed a lot or impact wounds that looks relatively nasty, and some of our heroes will slice and dice monsters with great gusto -- yet upon death, they explode in some kind of dust-like smoke explosion that leaves behind nothing but crystal shards that can be traded for monetary rewards in town, and also sometimes bonus items. So far, the show hasn't really explained much about the dungeon itself, outside of your typical RPGish opening spiel and the general deity-based "prove your worth/go the distance" encouragements, except laid out in a vastly more neighborly fashion. Given that the anime covers only a small bit of a still ongoing light novel series, there's also the usual fear of never being able to watch the story in full. It's an understandable fear -- I mean, how many shows have YOU watched of this kind where the anime doesn't seem to have any interest in continuing? Not a whole lot, huh?
It's also quite well animated. Most of the fights in this show are exciting to watch, and it's good to see that they prioritized the bigger fights most of all, so that you don't end up with a show that's exciting up to a key point, and then drops the ball when it's really supposed to take off. It does, however, have what I consider to be some pacing issues, and all of them are basically tied to Bell's special quick-growth ability. The show has the nerve to introduce us to a training segment in the middle, yet you will also see Bell take down "bosses" that are far, far more dangerous than regular enemies they only recently escaped from. This gets especially egregrious near the end of this season, which had a segment I had a lot of problems taking seriously at this point in the story. It feels partly hypocritical too, since the show wants to promote hard work, but gives the main character abilities that allows him to bypass that, which means the training sequence in the middle feels more like an addition to negate some of this disconnect between ideals and convenience.
That said, I'll totally buy this show when it's relased. Despite my misgivings, I honestly enjoyed DanMachi a lot. It makes up for the weird disconnect I just mentioned by having a cast that has a lot of charm and energy, and despite its haremish overtones, I'm also very much in for the shipping. The main payload of this show isn't the fighting or the dungeon or anything that could easily have been attributed to a game version -- and yes, you could definitely make an RPG out of this franchise -- but how the character intereact and play off of each other. It's in the way the characters are hard to peg; DanMachi doesn't fully subscibe to the notion of "good and evil", though there are certainly people here who do both really good and really bad things, or even some where you don't really know where to place it, like the aforementioned Freya. Bell is the closest this show gets to any ideal of "good", in that he's a veritable teenage Mr. Rogers; a wellspring of goodwill and forgiveness. Whether you people out there will go for this, that's your decision of course. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a pre order button to hover over.
Whatever transgressions this show has done, it easily overcomes them through its positive qualities. DanMachi is, in short, a ridiculously charming show. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The violence is actually pretty expletive in this one. Only death will make enemies go out in a puff of smoke. They can (and will) still be dismembered and dissected to a certain extent, and various characters will occasionally show up splattered with blood. It doesn't go out of its way to be nasty, but it's not the kind of thing you'd want to show kids.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? © 2015 J.C. Staff
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