Review/discussion about: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
I think it is pretty typical for people to have a role model. It might be someone who is always around us, like a family member or a close friend. Or it might be a celebrity or athlete who, while not having direct impact on another’s life, manages to affect countless others by simply being. For me, it is my father. He provides for his family, he works extremely hard, and he always, always wants only the best for his kids. Something simple he does that I hope to replicate is, during Christmas (we call him Mr. Christmas because he gets so into it), he wraps the base of the trees around his house with green lights and the branches wrapped in red and white ones, so that they become trees of lights rather than simply trees with lights. He is someone I will never fail to look up to, and will always aspire to be. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is actually a rhetorical question, with it instead focusing on this kind of inspiration, providing its audience with a less than stellar anime.
Dungeon (the shortening of choice from here-on-out) stars Bell Cranel who has just recently been recruited into the goddess Hestia’s “Familia.” One day, he is saved by Aiz Wallenstein, a legendary woman both in beauty and swordsmanship, which inspires Bell to become someone of her caliber.
The show finds some success in its theme on inspiration through the use of role models. Here, in Dungeon, people look up to (or down on) others as a means to assess their own prowess because the benchmarks for what is strong and weak are defined by the people partaking in the tower runs, arena battles, and tavern visits. So the anime depicts these kinds of scenarios to demonstrate how someone becomes better due to the way another acts or carries themself. Bell looks up to Aiz, so the latter goes about training the former; after witnessing Bell’s impressive abilities, members of a guild push themselves harder; and Hestia, seeing her precious family member work so fervently, causes her to do the same, laboring herself to support him. At the same time, the anime also looks at the darker side of inspiration, namely obsession and revenge. Half the reason why the events of the anime take place are due to outside influences caused by a being who, for better or worse, is infatuated with the young lad. In other words, she is so taken by him, so inspired by whom he is and what he can do, it causes her to unleash a rampaging goliath and an extraordinary Minotaur that disrupts the everyday flow. There are also segments where Bell becomes the target of undue hate, turning into a kind of anti-role model. In these moments, people become inspired to conspire against him because of his trustworthiness and status where they trap him with monsters and kidnap Hestia, respectively. Inspiration is normally good, but can often times be used for bad intentions, with the anime covering both handily enough.
Dungeon begins to suffer when one looks beyond the theme that is woven throughout. Most notably is the anime’s complete lack of world-building. There are many aspects to the world that are presented: a leveling system, magical spells, a huge tower for questing, a banking system, armors, weapons, varying classes, special abilities, diverse races, a political game of godly proportions, etc. Yet nothing within this list is properly explained despite the anime relying on such facets time and again. Not taking steps to flesh out the setting – especially one steeped in fantasy and fiction – makes it unnecessarily difficult for the audience to be engrossed by the show that needs to make its world distinct and, to an extent, understandable.
There is also a glaring issue with the anime’s attempt at a harem. Now, a harem is, like any “story-telling” element, not automatically a negative so long as the execution of it is noticeable. In Dungeon, the harem aspect serves little purpose outside of detracting from the narrative and its goals. One major problem associated with the harem is how it reduces the authenticity of the “romance” being established between Aiz and Bell. It is clear through the anime’s events that these two are the staple couple, so when more and more women are added to the mix, the most important relationship is weakened. The harem also does not influence what happens at large; besides being used for the same jealousy joke, this aspect of the anime does not affect the fighting that occurs or the direction of the plot. A possible reasoning for having the harem in the first place is because it would seem to follow its own theme of role models. That is, the women look to Bell as someone worth striving for. Unfortunately this has more to do with affection rather than inspiration, since the girls are not necessarily looking to be like him but rather be with him.
Overall, the theme of inspiration is explored nicely enough but the lack of proper world-building and the misused harem bring the entire package down.
As if to continue with the anime’s difficulty in crafting a believable world, Dungeon missteps once more when it comes to its art. Again, the problem is foregoing “explanation,” or in this case variety. The dungeon-tower that is investigated daily starts to blend together after a certain point with the same, boring rock formations and color palates. The main city is no different; outside of the bank and the tavern, very little of the area is explored besides what is seen in an intercity scuffle. The most prominent location is Bell and Hestia’s home, but even there it is a bed and a table only.
Dungeon does manage to do well with its fight choreography, showcasing easy-to-follow battles and a plethora of combinations between many of the different characters. The character designs are likewise well-composed, with Bell looking like the innocent boy he is portrayed as being and Ryu’s elven robes signifying her beauty both of body and swordsmanship.
Actual animation also manages to remain above average throughout the season. Facial expressions are quite detailed, as are the movements of the characters both inside and outside of the battlefield. Bell’s fight with the Minotaur was particularly impressive in this regard.
One of Dungeon’s biggest problems is not setting up an appropriate antagonist. The person poised to take this role was Freya, the woman scarily obsessed with Bell, but not only is she never looked at in-depth after her introduction but she is so far away from the happenings – she uses pawns and tricks to do her bidding – that the anime makes it inherently impossible to develop or at the very minimum characterize who she is. By not having an antagonist, it confuses the audience about what Bell is fighting for and, more relevant, who he is fighting against. In this scenario, it becomes “Bell versus the world” which introduces even more faults. As has been established, the world of Dungeon is not provided, meaning making it the main adversary is silly since, like Freya, nothing about it is known. Along the same lines, this kind of thinking does not fit with the show’s theme on inspiration. The setting might be seen as something that inspires people to fight for or protect it but Bell is never depicted as doing this. Instead, he is more concerned about the other inspirations in his life, with the world being more or less an afterthought.
Arguably the strongest character of the anime is Liliruca. A young, cat-like girl of small proportions, she had grown up to despise the humans that wronged her. Similar to her fake ears, she would come to establish a façade that hid her vile behavior behind the kindness and sweetness she regularly dished out. She would steal, she would lie, and she would deceive anyone around her to get her way, even Bell, the first human to show her the empathy she needed. This should not be taken lightly; he was not exempt from her antics because, as it was shown, it was a deeply-rooted issue that manifested in her past and continued into the present, which made her conclude that the future would likely hold the same outcome. It is not until she completely betrays Bell, is left to die by her other harassers, and is eventually saved (both physically and mentally) by the boy who she wronged for so long, that she breaks down hard. She bawls, weeping over the terrible actions she took and crying from finally finding someone who truly cared for her. Seeing her move from despondency to elation, from child to adult, due to the inspiration she received from Bell was wonderful to witness, making her the best character of the show.
The rest of the cast is, unfortunately, placed on a lower tier. Welf is given an episode of his own, but like a lot of the cast members, there is little given about him as well as no development to speak of. Aiz falls under the same troubles; besides her exceptional battle prowess and emotionless nature, the anime spends no time on her actual person, which is odd considering how much of an inspiration she is to Bell. Speaking of the main lead, Bell sits slightly higher character-wise, but not by much. Initially, he is perceived as a coward, as someone who cannot help himself. It is this ridicule from others that sparks him to become better. Not as a person but as fighter because the rest of the anime has his stats leveling up as opposed to his actual self. He has hardships in the form of fights but he remains the same, happy-go-lucky Bell from start to finish.
There does exist some symbolism that reflects the characters – Bell has “firebolt” to match his fiery passion; Welf’s “will-o-wisp” ability, that stops enemy spells, coincides with his refusal to work on his own craft; and Liliruca can morph into a bunny like how she use to “morph” her outward self – but it is not enough to make up for the lack of execution that nearly every character faces.
Dungeon’s opening theme starts off alright but quickly devolves into a less-than-stellar track. The vocalist does not seem to have the power to back the song, with the actual music being produced going every which way in terms of beat and tone. The background singers do not help either; they are more annoying than supportive, detracting the listener from actually being able to hear the piece. The ending theme, on the other hand, is nice due to the slow build-up, resounding trumpets, and catchiness that it incorporates. It is a fun piece that captures the (usually) up-beat nature of the anime.
The rest of the soundtrack is par for the course. Nothing is immediately noteworthy, with most of the pieces fitting the atmosphere in place. That is, many of the tracks use flutes, guitars, and pipes to give it that adventurous and slice-of-life feel. There are also standard piano pieces for the sad times and triumphant, adrenaline-filled pieces for those fighting moments. It is an okay OST overall that performs at an appropriate level.
Voice acting for Dungeon is somewhere above average. A special shout-out is deserved for Yoshitsugu Matsuoka as Bell for his on-point screaming.
Although I criticized the anime for having a harem where none was needed, I still liked that aspect. As a romance aficionado, watching as all of the women blushed or fought over Bell was usually enough to make me happy. However, I would have liked to have seen more progress between him and Aiz since it felt like their relationship was tossed on the wayside despite the general importance of it.
I was actually a fan of Hestia as well, boob-string and all. She was pretty much there for comic-relief, what with her silly faces, overreactions, and protectiveness of her “child.” She, like the majority of the cast, did not add much beyond her superficial characteristics, but she was still fun to experience over the season.
Beyond the harem and Hestia segments, there was not much else I found myself particularly liking. The battles were fine, except the final one; it seemed too all over the place with unexplained details, such as the weapons being used and the offhand comment about Bell being Zeus’s descendent. As for the other characters, I cannot say I was particularly fond of them, either. Many of them are attractive or funny but do not have the same impact that Hestia managed to bring about, so characters like Ryu or Aiz are cool but do not have enough surrounding them to make them worth remembering.
While the show’s theme on inspiration is nice as are parts of the art it presents, there is not enough story- and character-wise to make the anime worthwhile. And while the harem aspect is fun it ultimately prevents the show from accomplishing what it set out to do. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? That is still a question up for debate. But at this point it is clear that, if anything, the anime needs to pick up the slack for any continuations.
Story: Bad, theme of inspiration through role models is there, but the high focus on the harem and the low focus on the actual world hurt it
Animation: Good, boring art style, nice fight choreography, nice character designs, above average actual animation
Characters: Bad, Liliruca is good but the rest, from Bell to Welf to Aiz, cannot pull their own weight
Sound: Fine, bad OP, good ED, okay soundtrack, above average VA work
Enjoyment: Fine, Hestia and the harem antics were fun, but not much else was
Final Score: 4/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3