Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka

Better known as Danmachi or Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon, this is one that for a long while I didn’t really have much interest in watching. All I really knew about it was the title and the appearance of a few characters *cough* Hestia *cough*, so it didn’t interest me. You know me; I’m not particularly huge on harem anime, and this one seemed to fit that bill perfectly. As for how it ended up happening, I was watching the newest episodes of Goblin Slayer and SAO Abridged and rewatching the old ones, and I ended up accidentally stumbling upon an abridged movie for the entirety of this show’s first season (which I still have yet to watch by the way). It’d been a while since I watched anything and figured I would just give this one a go. “Who knows”, I thought, “maybe it’ll actually be good.” Well, it’s not terrible, definitely not. I haven’t seen the entire thing, only season one; there are technically four seasons, three of them the mainline series and one a spin-off focusing on the male protagonist’s love interest. As for the last season, it’s currently still mid-run and I’ll have to wait for the episodes to finish coming out before I can watch it properly. Actually, I was surprised to see that this show was popular/successful enough to warrant getting a third (technically fourth) season, I’d never realized it was so well loved. There’s even a movie, for god’s sake! Anyways, enough talking about boring technical details; how was the show, and what’s the deal with it for the uninitiated? Well, despite the title, the basic premise is actually rather harmless; the male protagonist Bell Cranel is an adventurer in the city of Orario. Orario contains a massive, labyrinthine dungeon with tons of floors hidden beneath a massive tower in the center of the city; personally, I like to think of it much like the Ancient Ruins from Kichikuou Rance, though a reverse version of Aincrad from SAO is probably an easier comparison to grasp. In this universe, gods have decided to descend and live the lives of mortals—despite the inherent inconvenience—in order to quell their boredom. Though they are unable to access their divine powers for the most part, they are able to bestow their power onto humans in a limited capacity, allowing them to fight monsters, increase their stats, gain new skills and level up in very Level God-esque fashion. Those who gain the power of a specific god become known as that god’s “children”, which in turn make up that god’s “familia”. The aforementioned Bell Cranel is a rookie adventurer and the sole member of the Hestia Familia, headed by the goddess Hestia. As far as the city of Orario is concerned, all the adventurers have the common goal of trying to get as deep into the dungeon as they possibly can, leveling up and making a profit along the way. Their gods are unable to do anything more than cheer from the sidelines; not only can they not fight or use their divine power, but they aren’t technically even supposed to be able to enter the dungeon. Enter the plight of our unfortunate protagonist; being a rookie adventurer forced to trek through the dungeon entirely on his own, he gets into a hopeless fight with a minotaur before being saved by the famous adventurer Aiz Wallenstein, known as the Sword Princess. After developing a powerful crush on her and learning that she is a super famous and powerful adventurer, he starts on his quest to try and get stronger so that he can catch up to her. Let’s address one of the main things first; the world itself. It’s surprisingly really interesting, and I particularly love the concept that gods were so bored with immortality that they decided to live alongside mortals, consequences be damned. Hestia and her familia in particular are portrayed initially as being small, weak and barely managing to scrape by, base of operations hidden in a crumbling, abandoned building and Bell constantly worrying that he’ll spend too much of the familia’s money. The show does a really good job of portraying the various gods as being not too much different than the humans they work with, then reminding you on occasion that they are, in fact, gods. In particular, Hestia is a bit of a special case given that she’s gunning for our protagonist right out of the gate in extremely blatant fashion, which does raise the question of what exactly it means for a god and a human to get together (probably not too important but I did question that while watching). Speaking of Hestia liking Bell, initially I liked this, mostly because I understood the angle; Bell and Hestia—being the only two members of a small familia that both need and rely on eachother to get by and generally having a very tight knit bond—make for a pretty natural pair. Later on, though, it starts to get a bit repetitive and annoying. As Bell meets and befriends more and more female characters, Hestia becomes constantly jealous, overprotective and generally irritating, giving the male protagonist grief for doing absolutely nothing wrong and complaining when she could easily just fucking confess to the guy. Yes, Bell is super oblivious in traditional male anime protagonist fashion, but that’s still no excuse and it just takes you out of it when Bell is having a moment with some other character and then all of a sudden Hestia shows up *cough* Aiz *cough*. Although Bell ends up meeting plenty of female characters—many of whom become romantically interested in him for one reason or another—he’s pretty single-mindedly obsessed with Aiz Wallenstein, who becomes his primary motivation and reason for becoming stronger. His determination to reach her level ends up giving him the ability to level up and increase his stats far faster than a normal adventurer, along with his desire to become a hero saving people in need like the ones in fairy tales and storybooks. As for all of those other characters, I’d say they’re one of the show’s strengths. In general, pretty much all the characters are fun and likeable, even the protagonist who undoubtedly suffers a bit from generic male anime protagonist syndrome. Actually, I found myself comparing him to Kirito from SAO throughout the whole thing, though I’m sure part of that is because I could swear they have the same voice actor; for god’s sake, even the whole thing with them screaming all the time is such a consistent parallel. Speaking of parallels between those two, later on in the show (SPOILERS AHEAD) Bell ends up getting an ability that lets him overcome otherwise insurmountable odds as a result of his desire to become a hero, as previously mentioned. This ends up being quite an issue; with that ability manifesting in the form of a ridiculously overpowered one-shot kill move, it ends up maybe not trivializing some of the more dangerous fights that happen later in the show but killing the tension when you know that the protagonist has a way to overcome pretty much anything that is thrown at him. This is most apparent towards the end; and yes, I understand what the idea was—Bell is unable to take out the big baddie at the end by using his super move initially, so a whole bunch of other adventurers have to fight the thing off and give Bell more time to charge his super attack and make it powerful enough to beat the thing. Despite Bell having the power to overcome insurmountable odds, he still ends up needing the help of all his friends so that he can shore up the strength to save everyone. Even still, it feels arbitrary and dumb when literally the only way for everybody to beat this final boss of sorts is for Bell to use his special ability, especially when many of the other adventurers shown fighting it are clearly depicted as being super strong and capable, for the most part to a greater extent than Bell himself who is only able to do something to the boss monster because he has a cheap one-shot kill move—a literal built-in deus ex machina. As an additional criticism of that ending episode, I wasn’t a fan of how sudden and seemingly random the boss monster’s appearance was; it felt like a contrived way for the first season to have a climactic conclusion (SPOILERS OVER). When it comes to the general theme of Bell trying to catch up to Aiz and emulate the heroes from the stories of his youth, determined to try and help people and protect the ones that he cares about, it’s honestly hard to pin down exactly what the message of the show is supposed to be in this capacity assuming there really is some-sort of underlying meaning behind the protagonist’s journey and personality (which there may very well not be). I’ll admit it, I kind-of turned my brain off while watching through this one which is a part-of why I was able to enjoy it to quite a reasonable extent, and only after did I try and deconstruct it a little and quickly found out that it was hopeless to try and dig too deep, probably because the show itself isn’t particularly deep and its tone manages to be surprisingly light despite some of the dark things that happen within it. There’s violence and bloodshed galore as adventurers—our heroes included—fight for their lives in the dungeon, and the show reminds you on numerous occasions that every day there are adventurers who never come back from it. Yet still I somehow can’t pin down if there was any sort-of message or theme that the show wanted to convey; if anything, I’d say it’s at the very least quite the stark contrast to something like Goblin Slayer, a show whose theme centered around how adventuring isn’t glamorous or enviable and it isn’t about the glory and riches. The most I could say is that the show touches a bit on what exactly it means to be a hero, but at the end of the day it doesn’t drive any hard-hitting message home. Of course, despite all that, it hardly matters whether or not it does assuming that was never the intention, which in all likelihood it probably wasn’t; it’s the confusion over whether or not that’s actually the case I consider a problem. Another let-down is how the dungeon is totally underdeveloped; we learn hardly anything about the various floors, how the dungeon works, the monsters within it; you name it and it was probably glossed over. The whole thing ends up feeling painfully generic when it’s such an important aspect and central focus of the show and the world presented here, and it hurts especially when you consider that the world itself has a ton of potential and uses really interesting concepts; it would’ve been so much cooler had the show gone into far more detail about Orario and the dungeon and focused on its world building and lore. And here, unlike in Devil is a Part Timer, it isn’t just my personal agenda that makes the absence of that knowledge disappointing. I’ve glossed over it until now, but given that the show keeps for the most part a rather light tone, there’s humour to be had here and honestly there are some standout comedic moments; one in particular that had me laughing out loud and forcing me to pause the episode (I won’t spoil it, it’s fantastic). I mentioned before that the characters of the show were one of its strengths, and in general the characters, their relationships and interactions are what take center stage here along with the really good action. Not only is the animation good and the action sequences intense, but they’re also violent and visceral. Actually, though, even that is played for laughs quite early on, right after Bell gets saved from the minotaur attack that kickstarts his quest to become stronger; that’s no criticism, though, since that part was pretty funny. In general, I could go into more detail but I think I’ve already dragged this review on long enough, unnecessarily so; all-in-all, I think this is an enjoyable, above-average anime that has a fair-few flaws but without any of them detracting too greatly from it. It’s not nearly as harem-centric and totally uninteresting as I initially assumed it would be based on the title, and in general the protagonist actually being an oblivious male anime protagonist #67543 motivated primarily by his powerful crush on a single love interest and just so happens to be the target of other’s affections works in the show’s favor. Despite Hestia being a bit annoying she’s still mostly fine and the relationship between her and Bell is wholesome, especially when Bell still remains oblivious to her feelings for him despite how absolutely blatant she is in regards to them. You initially assume that Aiz will end up being a Karen or Juliet perfect-girl stereotype but the show avoids that and she actually ends up being likeable; in fact, you end up liking pretty much all of Bell’s potential love interests, and pretty much all of them with maybe an exception or two have reasonable explanations for liking him. The action is good, there’s some good humour in there and the world is interesting enough that it keeps you wanting to know more and relatively invested in the events unfolding in the show. The OST is surprisingly good, the OP and ED songs are catchy, the art-style is somewhat unique looking, etc. It might seem like I gave the show a lot of shit, but I honestly enjoyed it quite a bit and I think it’s worth watching to see whether or not it’s your cup of tea. Since I’ve only seen one season and have a solid three remaining to go through, I’ll come back around and comment on those once I watch them. I might not do the movie; that remains to be seen.

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