Review

by Theron Martin,

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Familia Chronicle

Episode Freya

Synopsis:
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Familia Chronicle Episode Freya

Freya, Goddess of Beauty, has always been a fickle goddess in her interests, which has occasionally caused trouble for her eight most elite familia members: the level 7 Ottar, the level 6 catperson Allen, the level 6 elves Hedin and Hegni, and the level 5 prum quartet known as the Gulliver brothers (aka the Bringar). This time around the urge has come upon Freya to wander once again in search of her Odr (i.e., her destined person), and her wanderings lead her to the Kaios Desert and the merchant city of Leodo. There a slave girl piques her interest, for the girl is a lot more than she appears and has a complicated story that draws Freya to her. Can this girl be Freya's Odr, or is she just another destined to be entranced and overwhelmed by the goddess? Meanwhile, her elite followers surreptitiously provide escort, for even ones so powerful as they cannot go against their goddess's whims.

Later segments briefly explore how each of Freya's most elite familia members – plus one other – came to join her familia.

Review:

This novel – the second of the Familia Chronicle branch of the DanMachi franchise – is not directly connected to the main plot lines of either the core DanMachi series or Sword Oratoria. Despite that, this is essential reading for any franchise fan, whether that fan also reads the novels or just follows the anime and/or manga adaptations. The novel does not just delve into a familia and goddess that have, until this point, only been seen from the outside; it also greatly expands the world-building of the DanMachi setting and provides valuable insight about the motivations for why certain characters have acted the way they have in instigating incidents in the main storyline. And if the biggest hints up until now about the nature of a certain barmaid are dropped in the process, that's just gravy, right?

Freya and (to a much lesser extent) her familia have been involved in events of the main storyline on several occasions from the beginning of the story through the end of the second anime season, though always either peripherally or in the context of what Bell is doing or involved with. They have never truly been on the center stage before, which means that the 262 pages of this novel are littered with juicy insights and revelations almost literally from the first sentence of the first page to the last sentence of the last page. Among the biggest of the revelations is the first formal introduction of the dark elf Hegni Ragnar and the light elf Hedin Selrand, two level 6 magic swordsmen with starkly contrasting personalities who fill the remaining positions among the familia's elite. They were shown briefly in scenes from episode 9 and 10 of the anime's second season, but they did not have any lines or identification at that time. This is the first place where we get their names or learn anything about who they are and what they can do.

But that's just the beginning. This novel reveals that Freya Familia is an utterly different animal from Loki Familia, something which had only been vaguely hinted at before. Rather than valuing camaraderie and familia-wide teamwork, Freya Familia members constantly battle each other for supremacy to be the first before their goddess. Ottar stands at the top only because he is the strongest, not because he is respected or a great leader (he isn't, and does not care in the slightest about being one). The inter-familia antagonism is no less deep at the highest echelons: as one late scene shows, Allen, the elves, and the prums would take out Ottar if they could – or could at least work together to do so. Other than the Bringars' perfect coordination with each other, all of them have loyalty to their goddess and only their goddess, and the rest of the familia be damned as long as it wouldn't inconvenience Freya. In other words, it is quite the cutthroat environment.

The insight and revelations also include the character of Freya herself. She has always been portrayed as a whimsical goddess, but Episode Freya shows that it goes even further than that; she is only interested in the shine of a person's soul and whether or not that person may be her Odr, her fated person. Her interest in Bell in the main series stems from this, and the reason she always acts from a distance with him is primarily because of lessons learned in the main short story in this novel. That story also reveals much more about the true and potentially terrifying nature of her charm and why she does not use such a potent weapon more often.

The main short story, “Ali and the 8 Followers,” constitutes roughly ¾ of the novel. After some early initial scenes where Freya's elite discuss how to deal with her running off again (which has apparently inadvertently caused previously-undocumented trouble with Loki Familia in the past), the viewpoint remains firmly on Freya until she meets the slave girl Ali while journeying through the Kaios Desert, a setting that I do not believe has even been mentioned before. Upon Ali's introduction, the viewpoint progressively shifts to her and remains there until near the end of the story. That's fine because Ali's situation is interesting enough on its own, and the way Freya interacts with her is just as fascinating, including the first indication that Freya, like Ishtar, is not purely hetero. (This is even more intriguing considering that Freya Familia currently has no female adventurers among its elites.) This story also proves better than any other the “quality over quantity” argument concerning adventurers, which also came up during the Rakia invasion. The end of the story clarifies that it took place at some point not long before Bell's arrival in Orario, though its impact in the Kaios Desert region extends to decades later.

The second short story, “The Origins of the Strongest,” is 34 pages long and delves into the backstory of Ottar while describing his effort to duplicate Aiz Wallenstein's solo victory over Udaeus, the skeletal floor boss of floor 37. It takes place roughly three months after Aiz's effort, which probably puts it in the narrow gap between the end of the Rakia invasion (in anime season 2) and the beginning of the Xenos arc (in anime season 3). The most interesting point it presses home is that Ottar has more in common with Aiz and Bell than he would probably care to admit, in that he is also climbing a mountain to reach a pinnacle still beyond even him. These flashbacks also confirm something which has been revealed in the DanMemo game but only vaguely implied in the novels and not mentioned at all by this point in the anime: that Mia, the proprietress of the Hostess of Fertility, is a former Freya Familia captain and that her predilection for feeding people well-predates her retiring to run the tavern. The flashbacks also make oblique references to Ottar's encounters with the most powerful of both Zeus and Hera Familias back in the day, and the levels involved there make one wonder just how strong the One-Eyed Dragon has to be if it was able to “quickly decimate” both of those familias.

The last entry, “Their Various Pasts,” covers 17 pages and consists of several short snippets describing how the other noteworthy Freya Familia members came to join. This provides a lot more insight into why their loyalties to Freya are so fierce, as in some cases Freya saved their lives as children and in other cases showed them new possibilities. It also finally confirms a point long speculated about: that Syr is a formal member of Freya Familia. Sadly, her short piece does not elaborate much on this besides strongly implying again that she has a high status within the familia because of a special relationship with Freya. This revelation causes a lot of little details in both the main storyline and side stories concerning Syr (and the Hostess of Fertility) to make more sense and raises the questions of whether Syr's behavior is deliberately patterned off of Freya's and whether her interest in Bell is independent of Freya's.

As with a lot of Fujino Ōmori's other novels in the franchise, this one is awash with mythological references. In some accounts of Norse mythology, Odr is Freyja's husband, and she is mentioned as deeply lamenting his absence. Hedin and Hegni, the two long-time enemy elves here, are a reference to a Scandanavian legend about a never-ending battle between two warriors. Hegni's magic and title, Dáinslef, is a reference to the sword of wounding that his mythological counterpart wielded, while Hedin's signature spell, Caurus Hildr, and his title Hildsleif could be references to the daughter of Hogni who was kidnapped by Hedinn; also, Hedin in this story was a king, while he was a prince in the mythology. Folkvangr, the home of Freya Familia, refers to a meadow ruled by Freyja where half of those who die in combat gather. The names of the Gulliver brothers reference the four dwarves who crafted a necklace for Freyja, an incident replicated in part here. (In the mythology she slept with each of them, but does not do so here.) Also, Allen is referred to as the Chariot of Freya in the novel, and Freyja was recorded as having a chariot pulled by cats. Resheph, a god who comes up in the Kaios Desert, is a reference to a Syrian/Egyptian god of war. That Syr is also an alternate name for Freyja has been pointed out previously. Doubtless there are some other references here that I missed.

In terms of writing quality, this is one of Omori's better efforts. Major battle scenes flow better here than in most previous franchise novels because they are not dragged out needlessly, and characterizations are clear and to the point. Despite the mostly-serious subject matter, room is allowed for some lighter moments and one prominent fanservice situation. The cover art, interior color pages, and occasional black-and-whites are done by artist nilitsu, who also did the art for Episode Lyu (under the spelling Niritsu), but it is not an improvement over the artistry of the main series and Sword Oratoria. The ending profile is of Ottar.

In the Afterword, Omori speculates that he might use future Familia Chronicle volumes to expand the world outside of Orario, with Haruhime implied to be a possible future focal point character. Whatever the next volume ends up being, these side stories are worth looking forward to.

Grade:
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B-

+ Provides ample new insight into an often-present but little-explored faction in Orario and its goddess
More elaboration on one character would have been welcome

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Story: Fujino Ōmori

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