The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter ?
What is this?
Noir is the son of a minor noble with very little to his name other than a job offer–which is canceled before he can even start his first day. He does possess one rare trait, though: the magical ability to consult with a great sage, even if using the skill gives him terrible headaches. Unsure of what his future holds, he accesses the sage for advice on how to move forward and is directed to a secret dungeon filled with rare beasts and magical items. It is here that Noir will train, compiling experience and wealth, until he's powerful enough to change his fate.
How was the first episode?
Some readers may remember my review of the first volume of The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter from the Fall Manga Guide a few months ago. Suffice it to say, I detested it, and if I thought I could get away with it, I would have copied and pasted the text of it right here with only minor edits. The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter is a bad anime, y'all, by pretty much every metric.
The premise, that the hero Noir becomes more powerful by experiencing satisfaction, leans heavily into its skeeziest instincts. He gets this ability from Olivia, an ultra-powerful sorceress who is chained up in a dungeon and will die if she leaves, who explains that he can get Life Points for his godlike powers by doing things like accomplishing goals, eating good food, spending money, or having intimate contact with the opposite sex. He doesn't go out and start sampling gourmet cuisine or derive satisfaction from a hard day's work. Oh no. He goes home and lays his head on his adoring little sister's lap, because it wouldn't be a trashy light novel adaptation without some incestuous undertones.
Luckily for Noir, his best friend Emma, introduced tits-first, is basically a living blow-up doll, willing to mack on him whenever he wants to boost his life points… which he decides to thank her for by performing magic boob reduction surgery on her without consent. In public, so her dress falls off her shoulders. Like, even if she wanted smaller knockers, he probably should have done so in private.
The production quality just screams, “If you think I look bad now, wait until my animators are struggling to keep up in five episodes or so!” I have absolute faith that the animation, which already looks about fifteen years old, will fall apart by midseason. For a series that hinges on the hero having as much sexytimes as possible, they sure are bad at making it sexy! When Noir and Emma kiss, they just kind of smoosh their faces together until they pull apart, leaving a string of drool between them that had me yelling, “Ew!” out loud.
The lone bright spot is Olivia, specifically Yui Horie's performance as her. She's totally out of touch with what constitutes normal powers, and her reaction to everything is to just shrug off the consequences. Horie plays her with energetic overconfidence, ensuring her melons aren't the only perky thing about her. But she's not worth it. This show is bad, bad, bad, and absolutely not worth anyone's time.
I don't want to get into the habit of making base assumptions about the level of work or passion that a creative team puts into any particular work, but it is really difficult to walk away from a show like The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter without getting the impression that the absolute bare minimum of effort was made by most parties involved in making it. It is a story so bland, so lacking in even the most basic pretenses of creative ambition, that I would believe you if you told me that this was the first anime ever produced entirely via algorithmic data-mining and procedural generation. That being the case, I am not feeling particularly motivated to put a whole lot of effort into writing an in depth and structured review, so I'm going to settle for a simple list of bullet-point complaints:
- If you're going to try playing up the skeevy, salacious angle of your harem premise, Hidden Dungeon, then you are going to have to bring more than your C-minus game when it comes to the art and character designs. You straight up look like one of those shoddy animated intro cutscenes you might see for a mid-budget PS2 RPG, and that's at the best of times. It's the opposite of sexy. It's bad.
- Speaking of salaciousness, I need to get this out of the way, not just for Hidden Dungeon, but for all anime: If you're going to introduce one of your heroines jiggling-bosom first, only to have her immediately suggest that she mollify our hero Noir's magical headaches with some sexy make-outs, learn how to animate a damn kiss. I've had it with smushing these inanimate Barbie Doll heads together for a full minute, and then zooming in on the freakin' spit trail. Are these dumb kids hawking loogies into each other's mouths or something? It's bad! It's really bad!
- Making your generic fantasy world operate like a generic JRPG, and devoting a whole bunch of time to dumping exposition about how character skills and Life Points and stuff work? Yeah, that's also bad. Don't do that.
- Making Noir into the usual overpowered hardtack cracker of a man that inexplicably drops panties every which way he goes is, you guessed: Bad!
- Having Noir's little sister be so obviously thirsty for a heaping helping of Onii-sama tuckus is bad. Incest is bad. Stop it! No more incest! Bad anime!
- I don't care how smitten Emma is with her Lord and Master Noir; he needs to not be using his nerdy RPG Maker magic to go shrinking girls' boobs without their consent. Why the hell would you even make me have to type something like this, Hidden Dungeon? It doesn't have to be like this!
- Don't think we don't see you being a stingy little corner-cutter and getting around having to animate a whole character by turning Olivia into a telepathic, comatose lady puppet all strung up in chains and whatnot.
I have read the first novel on which this anime was based, and was less than impressed by it. The story is a straight, game mechanics-based but non-isekai power fantasy focusing on the son of a poor noble who gets some utterly broken skills from a former adventurer who has long been imprisoned in a dungeon. The catch is that using both those skills and his own inherent skill can be detrimental to his health, so he balances those out by doing pleasurable things to build up LP (life points). Since he has an adoring slightly-younger sister and a busty female childhood friend, that means platonic (for now at least) attention from his sister and more pervy behavior (only kissing for the moment) with the childhood friend. In other words, he has a built-in reason to mess around with the ladies, and both the opener and closer show that he will eventually be surrounded by three of them, including the childhood friend.
In novel form, I quickly found the utterly broken skills to be powermongering to an obnoxious degree, as it basically gives the protagonist an easy work-around for just about any problem he faces. The gimmick with recovering his health basically by fooling around with the girls also seemed a little too conveniently easy. Basically, this is a story of a young man with massive cheats to get around nearly all obstacles; the only remaining sticking point (at least initially) is his social standing. However, thankfully that negative impression does not fully translate into anime form. The first anime episode may not be anything exciting or fresh, but I found it more palatable than its equivalent novel content. In fact, the fun factor of some of the little quirks – like Olivia's personality, or the way Noir treats his father (this will become a running joke that his sister and mother also get in on) – comes through more clearly in this content. So does the fan service element implied by the novel, and the animation certainly does not miss its opportunities.
If the anime is off in any way, it is in the appearance of Olivia's body. She is described in the novel as looking emaciated, but is shown in perfect, voluptuous health here. (But you cannot use her curves and panty lines for fan service otherwise, can you?) Otherwise, the animation looks as expected, with mostly mediocre technical merits. In fact, “mediocre” is the single word I would use to describe the entire episode. Nothing here is a big turn-off (unless you don't care for the fan service), as even the kissing is fully consensual, but it offers little for major attracting factors, either.
I really, really have to wonder just who it is that keeps these overpowered hero light novels coming. The sheer number and constancy with which they're adapted into anime would suggest they're making bank for somebody, but for the life of me, I don't get their appeal. At least in a video game, turning the cheats on and making your player character an invincible God on Earth has the thrill of enacting your will on an interactive world without the chance of negative consequence. But in a passive medium like anime? It has all the appeal of watching a Lets Play of Celeste where the streamer turns on the invincibility and infinite dash cheats. There's no tension, no sense of advancement for anyone involved, and you come out the other end feeling cheated of even the vicarious fulfillment of watching somebody else play a hard game well.
Because without a sense of conflict or growth, with everything handed to our protagonist on a silver platter through no real effort of his own, you're left with a hollow, limp viewing experience. Noir is barely a character and more a walking store mannequin decked out in the hottest Default Villager #1 fashion line and paraded around to different RPG situations to either win handily or makeout with his big-boobed childhood friend. That's the one wrinkle to this particular power fantasy: to recoup the “Life Points” it takes to use his super broken powers, Noir must indulge in his most hedonistic desires. That sounds like the premise of a hentai manga more than anything, and we'll doubtlessly get there eventually, but for now he's such a potato that his idea of living it up is hugging his sister and best friend occasionally. But don't worry, both those girls very obviously want to invite him to their own hidden dungeons, so it's only a matter of time before things get raunchy, I'm sure.
If the dangling carrot of TV-censored softcore isn't enough to entice you, though? There's nothing here. The characters are static cardboard standees or body pillows with all the charm of dead fish. The setting is an insultingly generic RPG world that, of course, runs off of game mechanics and literal player levels. The humor is the most basic kind of self-aware snark that thinks highlighting the distinct lack of effort is the height of comedy. It is a total wet fart of a premiere, and all but the most heinous of isekai adaptations is more worthy of your time.
For being based on source material that I truly disliked, the first episode of The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter isn't that bad. Of course, the story hasn't really gotten to any of the parts that I liked the least, but the only major criticism I can level here is that the pacing is too fast. For a story based around protagonist Noir being the only person in 200 years to pass through the doors of this specific dungeon, he spends very little time down there – at least, time that we see.
That's largely because of what the story's really about: Noir's harem. It even has a specific excuse as to why the girls Noir gets involved with warrant more focus than the super-secret dungeon: upon his first venturing into the dungeon, he runs into the woman who was the last person to enter it, Olivia Servant. Olivia is now trapped in Death Chains, which keep her in suspended animation (taking them off would kill her, hence the name), so she's really not using her remarkable cheats, er, skills, which means that she's happy to pass them along to Noir. In the source novel, Noir notes that Olivia's skills are basically broken, and while that observation is left out here, he's not wrong, because Olivia gives him Editor, Bestow, and Get Creative. The first allows him to alter skills, the second to grant people skills, and the third to just make skills up out of whole cloth. The catch is that all of them will cost him LP (life points), which can only be gained and restored by doing something pleasurable. So you see, Noir really really needs to kiss his childhood friend, indulge in hugging her so he can feel her large breasts, and use his sister's lap as a pillow. He quite literally dies if he doesn't!
Okay, so maybe there are two major criticisms I can level against this episode. By dint of saying that it's for the protagonist's continued existence, The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter has come up with a way to render its female cast sex on legs rather than actual characters, and although we can see that Emma has a crush on Noir (and so might his sister Alice), there's not really any effort put in to developing her beyond that crush. In fact, not only is she introduced breasts-first, she also comes up with the first excuse for the story to pursue this plotline by telling him that kissing may reduce or do away with the migraines that using his one pre-Olivia skill, Great Sage, produces. Look, I get migraines too, so I understand how desperate they can make you. This still seems highly suspicious to me, even in a fantasy world.
Between this, the lackluster visuals, and the fact that, other complaints aside, the pacing really does feel too fast, this episode doesn't have tons going for it, especially with Noir's need of LP undercutting the fact that he's a “nice guy.” (Although he does ask for permission before touching Emma and Alice in this episode, which is good.) If you're hurting for fanservice, this will hold you over until something better shows up, but if you're in the mood for a fantasy story, maybe look elsewhere.
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