Reviewby Theron Martin,
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? 2
A celebration of Welf leveling up and becoming a High Smith is cut short when members of Apollo Familia pick a fight with Bell, Lily, and Welf in a bar. That's just the start of Bell and Hestia's troubles, for Apollo has set his sights on obtaining Bell, and nothing gets in the way of Apollo's obsessions. For Bell to remain with Hestia, Hestia Familia must win a War Game against the much larger Apollo Familia, but what's he to do when he has no other familia members and Lily getting forced back to Soma Familia is also part of the scheme? Later, Bell and Mikoto find themselves caught in a conflict between Freya and Ishtar Familias when Mikoto discovers that a former playmate from the Far East, the renard (fox woman) Haruhime, is working as a prostitute in the Pleasure Quarter. Later still, the forces of Rakia, led by the god Ares, make a futile attempt to attack Orario, though his bumbling efforts do lead to Bell, Hestia, and Ais having a fateful encounter with a dying former adventurer in a hidden mountain village.
This direct follow-up to 2015's Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (hereafter abbreviated DanMachi) debuted in the Summer 2019 season. Though not quite as compelling as the first season, it was mostly worth the four-year wait.
The sequel's 12 regular episodes cover the 6th and 7th volumes of the source novels in their entirety and parts of the 8th volume. This breaks the story into two major and one minor arcs: episodes 1-4 constitute the Apollo arc, episodes 5-10 constitute the Ishtar Familia arc, and episodes 11-12 constitute the Rakia arc (or at least what got animated of it, anyway). Whereas the first season concentrated mainly on establishing the setting, Bell as a hero-in-the-making, and the two mainstays of his adventuring party (Liliruca and Welf), each of these arcs presents a wholly different challenge for Bell. As successful as he has been, he's still only a comparative newbie as an adventurer, and he has a lot of hard lessons to learn.
In the first season, what conflicts Bell (and to a lesser extent Lily) had were with individuals. The Apollo arc introduces him both to the concept of conflict between entire familias and to the full extent of what the obsessions of the gods can entail. Hestia adores Bell in a more innocent way, and Freya admires from a distance, but Apollo represents the greedy, lustful god who directly and relentlessly pursues his mortal interest. (Apollo was known to have male lovers as well as female ones in mythology, so “lust” is almost certainly not out of line here.) The arc also brings Lily's past with Soma Familia, and her difficulty in extricating herself from that Guild, back into the picture. The arc's resolution involves the long-awaited expansion of Hestia Familia as well as the familia gaining a new home; both are strongly implied by the opener and are logical developments, so I do not consider them spoilers. Sadly, the arc is hampered by some pacing issues – much of it will play out uncomfortably fast to anyone who has read the source novel – and primarily because of that, I consider it the weakest arc between the two seasons.
The second arc, concerning Ishtar Familia, is the most thematically and philosophically ambitious arc of the franchise to that point. It introduces the Pleasure Quarter, which logically had to exist but never even been previously hinted at in animated content, and puts an unwilling prostitute at the center of the events that transpire. Both words used to describe Haruhime – “unwilling” and “prostitute” – are critically important for entirely separate reasons. In the latter case, this introduces sexuality and sexual dynamics into a series which – despite occasional doses of fan service – had been virtually devoid of them prior to this point. It also posits a great conundrum for Bell: since prostitutes are traditionally the corruptors of heroes, is a prostitute worthy of being saved by a hero?
That's not the only problem that the prostitutes of Ishtar Familia pose. Whereas Freya uses her beauty to charm and manipulate, Ishtar uses sex. She sees sex as divine, equally worthy of both being enjoyed and used as a tool, and sets the example herself: she does not hesitate to overwhelm even the schemer Hermes with sex, much less a troublesome subordinate. Most of her children follow her lead, providing a cadre of prostitutes that are enthusiastic and aggressive about seeking out men to the point of being menacing in innocent Bell's eyes. (In fairness, their leader, Phryne, would be menacing in anyone's eyes.) Their attitude is embodied by a line from key warrior-prostitute Aisha during a fight against Bell late in the arc : “This is why we cannot stop fooling around with men! Cocky, wild, and strong! They get our blood pumping like nothing else can!” Haruhime, who is forced into prostitution via slavery, represents the diametric opposite: the pure soul who sees such service as tarnishing. Guess which one is the damsel to be rescued?
A whole essay could probably be written about the intended or unintended sexual symbolism inherent in this arc alone (in both a positive and negative sense), but I do not intend to dwell on that here. The arc is much more smoothly-timed than the previous one, and as a result generates some fairly potent drama and meaning. The latter is best summed up by a late line delivered by Bell, in which he is speaking as much to himself as to Haruhime: “Being looked down upon, and feeling dirty, is nothing to be ashamed of!” The dramatic events shown here have several long-lasting consequences, including establishing a new Hestia Familia member, introducing the quite interesting Aisha (who will reappear in significant ways in season 3), and depicting a plot shake-up that will have long-term consequences in both the main storyline and especially in Sword Oratoria; notably, one character who figures prominently into later volumes of Sword Oratoria is used here in a significant fashion as one of the recurring Amazon warrior-prostitutes in Ishtar Familia, something which was not explicitly spelled out in the source novel. The problem with this arc is a follow-up scene in episode 11 which is such an enormous cop-out that it partly undercuts the impact of the arc's conclusion. The blame for that rests on the original author, however.
The Rakia arc features the last of several short stories from volume 8. While the others focused on Mikoto, Lily, Welf, Eina, and Syr in turn and brought up consequential relationship developments and a smattering of significant reveals, only the one about Hestia was animated. (Each of the others would probably have required its own full episode.) In fairness, it is undoubtedly the most important of the short stories, as its first half directly deals with Ares and its second half is the first portrayal we get of life beyond Orario. It provides teasers for future developments (Ais's reaction to the village defenses is significant for a lot of reasons), features a rare retired adventurer, and explores the nature of the relationship between mortals and gods, a theme which ran through two of the unadapted short stories as well. Though it starts out light-hearted, it is easily the most emotional animated DanMachi content to date by the end.
The mythology at work here is also a bit interesting. Apollo is often considered the most “Greek” of the Greek gods, which essentially means that his passions know no limits. That manifests here in the form of his obsessiveness over those he sets his eyes on. Several of his familia members – Hyacinthos, Daphne, and Cassandra – have their namesakes in those either pursued or successfully loved by Apollo in mythology. Additionally, the mythical Cassandra was blessed with foresight but cursed so that no one would believe her predictions, and that is very much the burden of the Cassandra who appears here. The cult of Ishtar, a Mesopotamian deity associated with sexual love, beauty, and fertility (among other things), is believed to have engaged in sacred prostitution (although that is now in some dispute), which aligns well with her familia members serving as prostitutes in DanMachi's setting.
The technical merits of the series can be sharp in places, with one of the character and costume design highlights being the dressed-up versions of several recurring adventurers during a ball in the first episode; the other is the sometimes-scandalous apparel of Ishtar's warrior-prostitutes, which contrast sharply with the bucolic outfits Hestia and Ais wear while staying in the village in the last episode. Some featured battle scenes also sizzle, especially Bell's face-off with Aisha in episode 10. However, animation quality can be erratic throughout and quality control lags more often than in the first season. Graphic violence factors kick down a notch from the first season but the fanservice is more intense, albeit also more concentrated.
The first season had one of the finest and most potent musical scores of any fantasy anime series, and this season loses nothing by comparison. Keiji Inai returns to deliver a musical score which deftly mixes established orchestrated numbers with more folksy tunes for tavern scenes, sultry Middle Eastern-themed numbers for Pleasure Quarter scenes, and darkly ominous sounds; a favorite of the latter is the throbbing song with mystical vocals highlighting the arrival of Freya Familia at Ishtar Familia's compound at the beginning of episode 10. By comparison, new opener “HELLO to DREAM” and new closer “Sayakana Shukusai” are bother perfectly serviceable but not distinctive enough to be memorable.
The English dub by Sentai thankfully lacks the jaw-dropping lapses heard in the last episode of the first season, allowing for a good sound overall. Key roles that were hits last time are still hits now: Bryson Baugus does an excellent interpretation of Bell, David Wald is a perfect fit for Welf, and who else but Luci Christian and Hilary Haag could adequately voice Hestia and Liliruca, respectively? Among new roles, Joanne Bonasso is a definite hit as Aisha even though her voice is not as deep as the original performance by Akeno Watanabe, and Allison Sumrall is at least adequate as Haruhime. Lightly-used Vicki Barosh gives Phryne (Ishtar Familia's toadlike captain) a substantially different vocal interpretation but it also still works. Other roles are hit-or-miss, with weak points being Jack Ivy's Ouka and Margaret Lewis's Mikoto; the latter was a problem in the first season, too, but she had less lines so it mattered less.
Sentai's release of the Blu-Ray includes a clean opener and closer and Japanese promos as Extra. It also includes season 2's associated OVA – “Is It Wrong to Go Searching for Herbs on a Deserted Island” – which would be a welcome addition if it wasn't so incredibly stupid. It features prominent female characters frolicking in swimsuits and a really bizarre plot twist involving mushrooms. . . well, the less said about it, the better. Why not animate one of the skipped-over stories from novel 8 instead of engaging in another bonus fanservice fest? Its only real value is revealing who a couple of characters disenfranchised after the first arc wind up affiliating with.
The main series ends with a massive teaser for the upcoming season 3: the debut of the (literal) monster girl who will come to be called Weine and stand at the center of season 3's storyline. That caps a series which impresses slightly more on a second viewing, perhaps because watching a whole arc in one sitting (rather than weekly) helps each arc's themes coalesce better. For anime-only fans, it is still a good offering overall, though source novel fans know that a better arc is forthcoming.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Musical score, fresh challenges, emotional climax of third arc
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