The Spring 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Is It Wrong to Try and Pick up Girls in a Dungeon?
How would you rate episode 1 of
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? ?
Community score: 3.8
Let's say you're a big JRPG nerd who loves huge boobs, and you're looking to capture your love of both these things in light novel form. Makes sense. J-YA (as I like to call it) is a lucrative market, and it's a good idea to write what you know. It seems like "inspired by JRPGs" and "inspired by big bosoms" is a pretty common hook for these things though, so what's your hook? You don't have one yet. I see. Hm.
Wait, has anyone else considered writing this story without any hook at all before? No one? Well, hot dog! Let's just do that!
So begins, middles, and ends this first episode of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, or DanMaki as it has been colloquially nicknamed by fans. The premise is that JRPG mechanics are literal in this fantasy world our hero Bell calls home, and "adventurer" is just another job like "butcher," "baker," or "candlestick maker" that needs doing. Dungeons with dozens of floors and perpetually re-spawning enemies just exist throughout the world, made to be mined for magical runes by contracted avatars. There's no sci fi rationale for this status quo as in Sword Art Online or Log Horizon, and it's not weaved into a more immersive reality of worldbuilding like Slayers or Record of Lodoss War. It's simply literal, with Bell referring to the spoils of his battle as "item drops" and documenting increases in STR and DEX via his complicated adventurer back tattoo, which also dispenses a reference parchment when he levels up at the end of the day. It's not meant to be parody or metatextual, it's just sort of lazy.
None of that would matter if the story had compelling characters to follow, but the show's complete lack of hook carries over into that as well. Bell's sole two character traits are "milquetoast naive everyboy" and "wants to win himself a woman." His entire motivation for adventuring is to conquer the heart of a beautiful young maiden, which isn't unrealistic by any means, but it's pretty hard to get behind when there's nothing else interesting going on here. He fights monsters because he wants a beauty to swoon over him, (and he has very specific standards considering he completely ignores the two other women in the episode that blush in his presence), and that's all there is to it. This also means we get to endure the world's oldest anime jokes over and over as Bell's employer-goddess Hestia throws herself at him, recoils with tsundere, and then throws herself at him again, while Bell pines for the stoic blonde bombshell under contract to Loki who's way out of his league.
Somehow this completely spiceless spit of nothing on the light novel scene has fans, so I assume something more interesting happens in the story down the line, but I spent this entire first episode with my eyes rolled back in my skull. Some of the animation is nice, but none of the art or aesthetic design is interesting at all, so it hardly matters. Give this a pass unless you're really desperate for another JRPG-based anime with big boobs in it and have seen literally every other more interesting entry in that genre from the past decade.
This series is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is a rhetorical question. Our hero Bell has already decided long before the anime starts that dungeon pick-ups are the way to go. In fact, his grandfather once told him that it's the best part about being an adventurer—weak female adventurers are so grateful you saved them from a terrible monster, that you can usually parlay it into something more.
Except, as Bell wryly notes, it was the opposite for him. As he was piddling around on the fifth floor of a dungeon one day, he was attacked by a stray minotaur, and had his life saved by a beautiful and fierce adventurer named Aiz. He's immediately smitten by her, who he learns is a member of the powerful Loki Familia of adventurers, and is way out of his league. His encounter inspires him to become stronger, even leading to the acquisition of his first Skill, which allows him to level up faster as long as his feelings stay true.
This is the part of Picking Up Girls in a Dungeon that made me roll my eyes a little bit. Over the years, there've been many anime series that have taken its cues from Japanese-style RPG games, whether it's direct adaptations, adventurers-trapped-in-a-game, or those just influenced by the gameplay. With Dungeon, that gameplay is built into the premise as part of the world. Every morning, Bell heads off to the dungeon in the middle of town and hacks away at monsters, picking up the gems and items they leave behind, and trading them in for cash. Every night, his stats are updated by the goddess Hestia, a well-endowed girl (and the head of the Hestia Familia) who has the hots for him and hints that maybe someday he'll realize that the girl of his dreams is right there in front of him. (Literally, in front of him, as there's a requisite scene where Bell wakes up with Hestia snoozing on his chest, her breasts crowding every available inch of screen space.) Comically, the stats are transferred onto some kind of parchment, where they can be displayed like a typical RPG player profile.
It may be because I've seen so many RPG-influenced anime over the years, but I found this aspect of the world-building to be the most tedious. I think we're meant to be intrigued by how this world mirrors elements of a game, but it feels a little too on the nose. Between the stats print-out and the item drop, and the fact that Bell's leveling up allows him to learn new magic and skills, the wink-nod "see, it's like a game!" lacks the subtlety that would help enrich the setting.
I'm willing to give this episode the benefit of the doubt and assume that its clunkiness is merely a symptom of light-novel-adaptation-itis, and that things will get better once all the exposition is out of the way, but it doesn't help that the dialogue is just as graceless. There's a scene halfway through the episode where Bell finds himself at a tavern with the Loki Familia. He's mortified when one of the Loki adventurers starts regaling the crowd with a story about how some wimp was humiliated in the dungeons. The story is about Bell, of course, but then the adventurer makes a point of asking Aiz, "Who would you rather date anyway? Me, or that wimp?" The question would've been awkward enough in any situation, but in the context of an anime where the story revolves around a character's date-ability, it's simply too obvious.
It's possible that Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? will pick up once the story shifts more from world-building to Bell's character development, but the first episode was mediocre at best.
In a world where the gods have descended out of boredom to live among the mortals, Bell is an adventurer, a servant of the Goddess Hestia. Sworn to her service, he descends into dungeons to fight for jewels, hoping to increase the power and prestige of his Goddess's Familia. In this first episode, Bell finds himself rescued from a minotaur by the beautiful adventurer Aiz Wallenstein, who inspires Bell to get stronger in order to stand by her side. In the meantime, Bell spends time goofing around with Hestia (who's clearly in love with him), meeting the tavern girl Syr, and generally enjoying his time in a fantasy world ripped straight out of a standard JRPG manual.
There's really not much to say about Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? - its overlong light novel title tells you exactly what kind of show you're going to get here. Light fantasy, lots of cute girls who somehow gravitate towards our milquetoast hero, some vague genre-aware humor, harem antics, and other standard light novel adaptation fare. This is a lesser version of the default genre exercises typified by shows like Sword Art Online, though in this case, the fact that everyone exists within an RPG (Bell has stats, enemies drop loot, etc) seems to be just an accepted worldbuilding assumption as opposed to an actual hook.
There's no hook differentiating this show from any other, so any elements of definition here come down to the details, and unfortunately, the details do not paint a pretty picture. The jokes here are essentially unjokes - there are occasional silly faces, but no actually well-constructed humor. The show grasps at emotional weight in Bell's desire to get stronger for Aiz, but his character and conflict are so uninspired that there's no poignance to be found there. The last segment, when Bell's self-loathing is tested by Aiz's obnoxious companions, features particularly contrived writing, but there aren't really any lines to be proud of outside of that scene, either. Hestia's boobs are apparently held up by a string around her shoulders, a fact the show makes sure you're aware of early and often. The soft lines of the character designs make for expressive and endearing faces, and the dungeon segments feature some solid fight animation (though that's often true of first episodes), but overall there's nothing to recommend this show unless you're deeply invested in the fantasy light novel adaptation genre. It's not offensively bad, but it's basically flavorless.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Many years ago the gods descended to the human world. Not just the gods of one specific pantheon – all the gods, from Greco-Roman to Hindu to Norse, and probably with a few more thrown in for good measure. Now that they're here among the humans, they form “familias,” groups of humans who live under their auspices, adventuring in dungeons for fun and profit while the gods protect them. The most powerful familia in town appears to be the Loki Familia, but that's not who the story is about. Young adventure Bell Cranel is the sole member of the Hestia Familia, living in what looks like an old church with his patron goddess, who has the appearance of a perky young teen. Each day he goes into the dungeon in town and fights monsters to earn money for he and Hestia, and she in turn updates and tracks his skills, as well as presumably providing room and board. She's also clearly nursing a major crush on Bell, which he seems to be totally oblivious to.
While I did read and enjoy the first novel of the franchise when Yen On released it, I can't say that it really stuck with me as a particularly memorable read. This first episode of the anime feels the same – it is enjoyable, particularly the look of the world and Bell and Hestia's interactions, but it doesn't do a whole lot to stand out. One thing that is particularly interesting, however, is that when I was reading the novel I never really questioned that it took place in some sort of fantasy world apart from our own. Now, however, as I look at the design of the town, the races of characters, and the way the monsters dissolve into sludgy smoke when they're killed, I am questioning whether or not this takes place inside some sort of role playing game. That would not detract from its entertainment value if it turned out to be true, and I feel like watching for clues to that may actually prove an inducement to seeing where it goes. In any event, it looks like a fully realized, well-considered world, with a variety of buildings, a maze-like street layout, and background characters who run the fantasy gamut. The girls mostly wear tunic/dresses that cling to their bodies more than the average swimsuit, but actually there is less focus on Hestia's breasts than there was in the novel. The visualization for how Hestia changes Bell's stats – via a magical tattoo on his back – is interesting, as is the whole system that the adventurer/god bond seems to work under.
Bell and Hestia, as I mentioned, have a nice, comfortable feeling to their relationship. Yes, Hestia's clearly in love with him, but there's still a coziness to their interactions that feels both natural and heartwarming. That Bell is harboring feelings for a member of the Loki Familia, Aiz, seems more like a plot device than anything; we'll see how that goes. Bell himself appears to be quite likable as a hero, and some of his lines are very well delivered, especially strangled gasps during the tavern scene. His reaction to being embarrassed – fleeing the tavern rather than confronting the jerk – feels more natural, albeit less heroic, in that situation than a confrontation would have, and nicely sets the stage for him to grow.
It has potential. The characters are likable enough, the world is interesting and has possibilities, and it looks pretty good. The real test will be whether or not it sticks with me longer than the novel did.
Review: This marks one of the very rare cases where I have actually read the source light novel before the animated version airs, so I feel confident in saying that those who have read the novel will not be disappointed with the first episode of its anime. In fact, all things considered, it's a superior adaptation, one which may even improve upon the source material.
The first part of the source novel was heavy on world-building elements, which the anime version pares down quite a bit and slips in more gracefully. It features the goddess Hestia briefly explaining at the beginning the series’ premise: that gods, out of boredom, descended to the human world to live amongst the assorted humanoid races. With their divine powers restricted by agreement, they can only grant their blessings to adventurers to empower them to explore the Dungeon beneath a towering citadel in the center of the city of Oraria. (The one place where the anime skimps a little too much on the world-building is by not explaining the existence of the Dungeon.) Those that receive the blessing of a particular god or goddess form that divine being's Familia. In the case of the short, buxom goddess Hestia, that constitutes one person: the fledgling adventurer Bell Cranel, who has come to seek adventure because of his grandfather's advice that a dungeon might be a good place to pick up girls. That Bell ends up having to be saved from a minotaur too strong for him by one of the most powerful female adventurers, the blond bombshell Aiz Wallenstein, doesn't deter him one bit, as he is now fixated on wooing Aiz, much to the chagrin of Hestia (who is clearly crushing on him) and his adventuring advisor, the half-elf Eina. Strangely, that urge seems to have inculcated in Bell a special skill which allows him to advance faster in ability than would be ordinarily possible, and he gets further motivation when he overhears a member of Aiz's Familia (the Loki Familia) trash-talking him.
The premise is actually pretty interesting, and the skill-updating mechanism – all adventurers apparently have their skill levels magically tattooed on their backs, which their patrons can update – and the way monsters spawn in the Dungeon and leave “drops” behind when they disintegrate gives the impression that the whole setting might actually be some kind of hyper-advanced game. (Either that or the creator was just having fun applying game mechanics to a physical setting.) But if that's the case, are the “gods” the creators or merely just the players? That's something for later episodes to explore. The first episode is surprisingly well-executed, especially for a premise which is clearly headed in a haremlike direction; it has a great balance of action, story-building, character-establishing, and lighter moments, with just a touch of fan service and some pleasing character designs. (Hestia is nicknamed “Loli Big Boobs” in the novel, so she really is supposed to look like that.) The artwork and animation aren't top-rate but aren't shabby, either, and the musical score is very well done.
Overall, director Yoshiki Yamakawa (Kill Me Baby, Little Busters!) has put together a fun production which feels like it could be more than just a run-of-the-mill fantasy series. The first episode covers about 40% of the first novel (although it skips a couple of scenes which could conceivably be worked in later), so the story looks like it will be moving pretty fast, but so far that doesn't seem like it will be a problem.
Long ago, the gods descended from the heavens to live among the mortals, leaving the divine life behind them in order to sponsor heroes, who join an individual god's “familia” and gain some helpful abilities while dungeon-crawling. Naïve, kind-hearted Bell Cranel is the only member of the Hestia familia, and he's got it bad for Aiz Wallenstein, the ‘sword princess’ of the Loki familia who's as skilled with a blade as she is beautiful. She saves Bell's ass from an escaped minotaur one day in the dungeon, and he gets a crush – one that won't be requited, as per his friend Eina, who lets him know that the only way to a girl's heart is to become strong and protect them.
Bell's entire raison d'etre – handed down from his grandpappy - is to save girls while raiding dungeons in order to reap the assumed benefits from doing so, and this situation makes him wildly insecure. It also cheeses off his goddess, a plucky, busty girl who lives with him, wears a strategically shredded-up gown with a single ribbon holding up her giant anime rack; she wants Bell for herself, and jealously levels him up when it turns out Aiz's motivation is helping him grow as a hero.
All of this wraps up with a visit to the local tavern, where Bell runs into Aiz's Loki familia posse – including a drunk wolf bro who openly mocks his humiliation at the hands of the minotaur, and he runs off back to the dungeon to level up for his waifu.
Hey, it's a fantasy light novel anime! The most notable thing about Is It Wrong To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is that it isn't so much riffing on RPG clichés as it is simply making them literal. Bell kills monsters in a local dungeon for magic stones that he trades for gold, and his goddess pal levels him up at night, spitting out STR and DEX stats as he climbs the ranks. I can't tell if it's lazy or simply getting to the point, using language everyone watching will immediately recognize. As for the rest of it, this is a pretty standard harem show with decent production values, glossy animation, distinctive character designs, a surprisingly good orchestral score (even if it is a bit overactive) and not much else to write home about. The entire thing assumes that “GUY being saved by a GIRL?!” is a wacky situation turning convention on its head and not just a normal thing that happens in fantasy stories now, and a lot of the dialogue – Eina's speech about girls wanting strong men to protect them in particular – rings pretty hollow, but presumably the show is going to at least try to play around with some of these conventions, even if doing so is cliché in and of itself these days. The fanservice is plentiful but harmless; it's a whole lot of enormous bouncing anime breasts, skimpy costumes and not much else. Every girl in town wants to bang Bell, but that's par for the course with material like this; I wouldn't expect anything else.
The only thing this show can do to stand out is to comment somehow on the gender roles it's apparently interested in exploring; right off the bat the hero is talking about how his one goal in becoming a hero is to pick up chicks, and this show starts with the development that he's the one being saved by a woman stronger than he is, so I can only hope they do something with that rather than just reinforce lazy old stereotypes. The show is pretty harmless otherwise, and it looks and sounds pretty good, so hey, at least it's got that going for it.
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