Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sword Oratoria: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? On the Side
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
Orario is the most prominent city in the land, primarily because it stands as a cap on the Dungeon, a vast underground labyrinth which constantly generates monsters. Because of that, adventurers gather there to combat the monsters for the magic stones that power them, which makes for a lucrative industry. The adventurers typically gather into Familias, guilds whose members are empowered by the divine blessing of a sponsoring god, who lives among them. One of the most powerful and prominent of such groups is Loki Familia, and one of their stars is Aiz Wallenstein, the Sword Princess, who at Level 5 is widely-regarded as the city's strongest female knight. However, Aiz is initially troubled by a series of encounters she has had with a white-haired fledgling adventurer, whom she has rescued a handful of times but who always runs away from her, and later on by a stranger who calls her by her mother's name. Meanwhile, Level 3 elf wizard Lefiya strives to carry her weight in the midst of more powerful Familia members like Aiz and the Familia's sponsor and leaders become increasingly concerned about the emergence of new, flower-like monsters, creatures which they first encounter in the deep levels of the Dungeon but also later find at the surface.
The Sword Oratoria anime is based on a light novel series that is a concurrently-published spin-off of, and complement to, DanMachi, in much the same way that A Certain Scientific Railgun is related to A Certain Magical Index. The story it tells is partly independent of its source series and partly not, as it regularly intersects with the events of the main series and what happens there has a definite impact on what happens here. Hence while a viewer unfamiliar with the original series could probably make sense of what's going on here, attempting to do so is not recommended. Seeing how the events depicted here interconnect with the events of the main series is definitely one of this series' major draws.
While Bell Cranel is the star of the main series, he only makes occasional, usually short appearances here. Many other characters who will be familiar from the main series also make cameos to one degree or another in this one, including Hestia, Freya, Hermes' right-hand woman Asfi, and Liliruca, among many others. The series instead nominally focuses on Aiz, but in execution she's merely one of the most prominent members of an ensemble cast which includes all of the major players in Loki Familia, including Loki herself. (Yes, Loki is female in this setting.) Lefiya, a younger elf who can be seen in the background in episodes 1 and 12 of the main series but who barely had any dialog, is elevated to viewpoint character for some episodes here and has a prominent enough role throughout that she essentially co-stars with Aiz. The other Level 5 or 6 members of Loki Familia (and we get to find out who is at what level!), including the werewolf Bete, the Amazon twins Tiona and Tione, the prum leader Finn, the motherly elf Riviera, and the gruff dwarf Gareth, also get substantial screen time. Amongst other character mentioned or appearing briefly in the main series, expect a greater role for Dionysius and the first formal appearance of Ouranos, as well as the introduction of the top-level adventurers in Dionysius and Hephaistos Familias, several members of Hermes Familia aside from Asfi, and a new recurring villain.
The decisions that original writer Fujino Ōmori, director Youhei Suzuki (SHIMONETA, Urara Meirochō), and series writer Hideki Shirane (who also wrote the script for the main series) made in how to balance everything can definitely be called into question. Though Aiz is supposed to be the star, she hardly has the dynamic personality necessary to carry a story; hers is a much more restrained character, one who definitely has emotions but barely lets them show, which doesn't translate well into animated form. Hence raising the much more emotive Lefyia to greater prominence than in the source novels makes sense in that regard. It also allows a somewhat more relatable perspective on what's going on. The problem is that a little bit of Lefiya goes a long way, especially in her hero worship of Aiz and lack of personal perspective; after all, she considers herself weak and useless even though she's still a level that would make her top dog in many other Familias in Orario and can accomplish feats of mass destruction beyond even some of the higher-level members of her Familia. Her later interactions with fellow elf Filvis redeem her somewhat, and she's definitely not dead weight in the biggest fights. Still, the series probably would have worked better with a little less attention on Lefiya and a little more on Aiz's background, which is shaping up to be very intriguing indeed based on the sparse hints scattered through these 12 episodes.
Even more questionable is the way some of the fight scenes are handled. DanMachi's greatest strength is arguably the stellar feature battles scattered throughout the series, but here only the big fights in the final couple of episodes even come close to living up to that reputation. Feature battles through the first two-thirds of the series regularly come up short, often because they are greatly trimmed down from what they are in the novels; for instance, one key mid-series fight entirely eliminates one opposing faction, cuts down to less than half the number of Hermes Familia members present, and entirely eliminates the last stage of the fight. Granted, that last stage felt unnecessary in the source material, and at least some of the cuts are sensible ones, but it also results in one pivotal fight effectively being neutered and characters like Finn not getting to show off their stuff until the series' later battles, unlike in the novels.
For all of this criticism, though, most of the fights are still very solid ones worthy of a mid-tier action series. The storytelling also shines brightly in the way it depicts an alternate perspective on one key fight from the original series, including both some things that were going on that Bell was not privy to and the perfectly-understandable lasting impact that the battle had on the Loki Familia members who witnessed it. We also get quite a bit more insight into how Aiz sees things as well as revelations on the kind of magic she uses. Even more importantly, we get a sense of some of the bigger stories that are playing out in Orario at a level well above Bell's head, hence giving us a top-down perspective to complement Bell's bottom-up perspective. A few scenes added in also help clarify some points that didn't translate well from the source material.
The technical merits of this series also fall a little short of the original. Character designs remain consistent from the original, but coloring often seems a little brighter and flatter and monster designs for the flowers are lacking compared to the beasts Bell had to fight in the key battles of the original; the giant skeleton Udeas, whom Aiz solo-fights in the detailed version of a scene suggested by the original series, is a particular disappointment in this regard. Animation for the new fights also isn't quite as vibrant, though the key Minotaur fight carried over from the original series also reuses a fair amount of the original's animation. The musical score also carries over several themes from the original series, although only on a couple of occasions are they used as strongly as they were in the original and in some cases duplicated scenes use the music differently. Solid new opener features the whole cast, while the more sedate closer mostly focuses on Lefiya.
Overall, Sword Oratoria doesn't stand on the same level as its source series, but that's also a fairly high bar to compare against. Though I might have wished for it to handle several things a bit differently, the series does the job it's supposed to do adequately enough and establishes plenty of hooks for any future continuation.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Expands the original setting, provides additional insight into other characters, strong later fights
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