Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon (DanMachi) Season 1 Review

Dungeon crawl ‘fore you ball

by AJ Adejare

Sometimes dungeon crawling can bring experience and fun.  Other times, it can grueling, repetitive, and boring.  Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (DanMachi) represents these particular feelings throughout the series.

Danmachi takes place in a world where men and women become adventurers by going through a series of floor towers called dungeons.  These dungeons have beasts that range in level as the person progresses throughout the tower.  A youth named Bell Cranel wants to become an adventure, going through the levels in the dungeon. Blessed by Hestia, a goddess, and entering her familia, Bell feels confident that he can live up to his grandfather’s wish of becoming a great adventurer and thus pick up girls in a dungeon. But first, he’ll have to work hard, improve his skill, and assemble a team that aid in his quest to live up to the expectations.

The plot is simple but effective.  Bell is an adventure who wants to be the best and will work hard to get to the point.  From that standpoint, we get to enjoy some of the happenings throughout the story such as the comedic gags, which push the story forward without tripping on itself too much.  The premise gives just enough to hook people into the world without overbearing them with more intricate plots that convolute the story.  We do get treated to a shadow lurker pulling the strings of Bell’s affairs.  However, said motives feel tacked on with these feeling confirmed by the end. True, said lurker pops up and arguably sends in their minions to test Bell, but it almost feels as if they’re never a part of the story.  In fact, it often feels like the motives that test Bell and give presence to said lurker can swap with just about anything including a bad guy of the week premise.   World building also suffers with said approach.

As the story progresses we find out that there’s more at stake than just honor.  For some, its a way of life that defines who they were and who they are now.  Seeing how adventuring holds a significant economic system, the world seems ripe for expanding and learning more of what makes the world tick.  The story reaches instead above average with hints of world building such as the safe levels of dungeons and the world of the gods.  The only hints of world building come from the leveling mechanic for adventurers.

Danmachi has an interesting leveling mechanic.  Essentially, a person levels up attributes by going through the dungeon fighting monsters and doing acts of fighting that push them beyond their limits.  As they take on monsters that are stronger they grow by acquiring better skills and attributes.  They gain new abilities with these attributes such as magic, or strength.   While some may be skeptical of the premise, it allows for growth explanations as well as how Bell can suddenly become powerful in certain situation.  Some may call it plot armor, but the acknowledgment of said ability makes for an interesting premise, allowing battles that may start ugly but can finish with style. On that note, that’s where Danmachi excels, showing off good fighting.

Danmachi excels when Bell is fighting. The action scenes throughout the whole series feel naturally cohesive. Seeing Bell consistently working his opponents over trying to get an angle for them we see particular angles that provide drama and intensity.  Aiz Wallenstein’s training sessions feel unique for the series and entertaining as we see Bell improve his fighting technique.  Having a Minotaur cooked from inside feels even more rewarding after seeing Bell fight his way through said exhaustive battle. It’s always nice to see the hero taken to his limits as a character without necessarily looking pretty as fights that Bell goes through are rarely pretty.

One somewhat irritating aspect of the series is the pandering via tropes. Breast gags consistently run whether men ogle at them having characters landing on them or touching them,  it has  it in spades. The bigger problem is that each inherently seems funny outburst what kind wears down in some places more of a distraction. For instance, the whole entire event of Hestia and Bell going for the dinner did joke was already made but the boom gag particularly mediate feel a bit overdone. That is a shame because otherwise it was not necessarily could’ve been great you seen this with a bunch of other times of the series but the trust of trying to just straight up.

One thing that tends to hurt the particular series is the dialogue. Their multiple times where the dialogue feels fine and fluid and other times which is feels somewhat more verbose than necessary. For instance the more emotional points with Liliruca Arde  feeling guilt for betraying Bell in the 10th level dungeon, has her going through a rolodex of words criticizing Bell for his actions. That method of dialog does not make any sense as it seems unnatural for anyone in between sorrow and anger to list terms off the dome.

A lot of characters develop seems to suddenly stop at certain points.   Hestia’s development demonstrates this particular issue. At first brush she comes off as Bell obsessive, romantically head over heals.  This ideology quick changes as you get a sense of duty of Hestia to protect and guide Bell because she is his goddess.  The issues become trying to balance out these two ideas while trying to develop Hestia.  We know she’s hot-blooded and easily provoked, and downright territorial at times as when Bell introduced Lili to her, but the nuances to her character don’t materialize.  We don’t see how and why these feelings co-exist or how she rationalizes them.  At best, we can settle for some reasons why she feels protective as Bell’s goddess.   Hestia’s backstory itself is also light which means we don’t get a full appreciation for motives as to why she came to start a familia.  It also affects characters such as Lili where once her arc is done, development stops Welf Crozzo has this issue as well.  Arguably only Bell gets character development time, and that in itself is an issue.

Seeing Bell’s development from a hapless adventurer to an experienced dungeon crawler helps in his development.   Bell’s trip to the Dungeons and reflect his evolution as a character. While lost fighting a minotaur at an earlier stage of the dungeons, his ability to overcome another Minotaur and take them down himself shows his full progression as a character to that point. Bell becomes emotionally prepared put himself on the line, protecting the ones he loves as it becoming a better adventurer. The desent to the 18th floor proves his commitment to his ideals as multiple times there are points where he could ditch Lili and Welf, but opts not to.  These scenarios give us a glimpse into what his grandfather believed Bell could be: mature, confident, and persistent.

These aspects starkly contrast to his inability to talk to women. The trappings of the stereotypical male that becomes flustered around women consistently dogs this particular state. Sure he’s able to talk to Aiz, but only after going to multiple training sessions. In fact, it is a common joke open to that training session that he will consistently run away from Aiz.   It still shows a significant amount of development needed for Bell to be cordial with women without losing his cool and the pandering aspect does play a part in this development.

The music and the animation feel standard for the type of series.  We get jaunty tunes that harken back to the middles ages of yore mixed in with more emotionally driven orchestral tracks.  While the tracks don’t necessary offend, they don’t go beyond their border.  Mostly with the animation.  It keeps to a formula of detail that doesn’t press forward or regresses back.  Arguably, only the more important fight scenes get more love with fluid animation that keeps pace with the action.  Towards the end, it feels like the budget holds more for the action and less for anything else leading toward.  Disappointing because a better animation set could make the series better.

All these issues and even average qualities come down to planning. It feels as if the animation crew simply did not get ample time to create a cohesive story for the adaptation.  The adaptation feels good for the source material, but it also gives off the feeling that few more months of development could easily make the adaptation better.  w

Final Thoughts:

Danmachi could easily be a good series, instead settling for above average.  While the story shows promise, the animation for the TV version as well character development do not make the series fleshed out.  Moreover, the hints in the last few episodes exposes the lack of planning that otherwise would give the series an edge into making it a good series.  For many watchers, they will enjoy this series, and only remember it as something they watched when probed.  For the rest, it will be a simply a decent show holding you over for the next biggest things.  Bell Cranel and Familia, could ask for a bit more.

This review covering the season, episodes 1-13, was done using the Crunchyroll streaming service via their Premium service tier.

Rating

Japanese audio 6.5/10

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