Contrary to its long yet unforgettable title, Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (DanMachi for short) isn’t actually about a fantasy anime Johnny Bravo’s attempts to get a girlfriend in a dungeon. The show’s protagonist, Bell Cranel (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka), strives to explore the mysterious Dungeon in the city of Orario and get stronger so that he can stand equally beside Ais Wallenstein (Saori Oonishi), a famous and high ranking adventurer whom he falls in love with after she saves him from a Minotaur. Despite the love bug, Bell is a pure soul through and through and he never hits on Ais or any girl for that matter. Instead, he unwittingly gets girls falling in love with him through his persevering and good deeds. Some of the girls, including Bell’s goddess Hestia (Inori Minase), aren’t the least bit shy about expressing their feelings towards him.
In a glut of fantasy light novel anime adaptations, one has to wonder what sets DanMachi apart from the rest. And it’s true that DanMachi has all the typical hallmarks: a medieval setting, the use of RPG mechanics as shorthand for worldbuilding, an absurdly powerful protagonist, and a harem for said protagonist. The difference ultimately lies in execution and DanMachi‘s is more than competent in that regard.
The fantasy world presented in the show has some neat quirks. For starters, all the adventurers are divided into factions or “Familias” led by various mythological Gods who descended to the mortal world in search for fun. In Bell’s case, he’s the sole member of Hestia’s Familia. RPG statuses are explained as blessings from the Gods and skills, spells, levels, and stats are curiously obtained independently from each other and for various reasons. The dungeon crawling even makes surprising sense as the respawning monsters and item drops justify an economy to be based around and for adventurers to come in and out of the place. All these little details help make DanMachi‘s world feel thought out and interesting, something which a lot of recent fantasy anime neglect to do.
Action is particularly an element that DanMachi excels in. Every fight scene has terrific choreography and animation. Not only that, they generally also happen for a specific narrative reason and move character development forward. For example, there’s a fight midway through the series where Bell encounters a minotaur, mirroring his encounter with the species during the beginning of the series. It not only serves to show off some quick, visceral close quarter combat and spell casting but also to reflect on and progress Bell’s growth. The only fight that perhaps feels shoehorned in is the one in the season finale but even so, it’s undeniably enjoyable in terms of spectacle.
Most importantly, DanMachi has a very likable cast. Bell Cranel may not be the most unique anime protagonist but he does have the writing backing him up. While he does get absurdly strong, you never lose interest in his growth. There’s a nice underdog angle to Bell as he overcomes various preconceptions about him as well as his own low self-esteem. The show smartly pits him in situations that still give him trouble, implying that not everything in the dungeon will be a cakewalk for him. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka’s performance as the character also plays a big part in making Bell appealing. Not only does he sell Bell’s timidness and bravery, he’s just downright hilarious when playing the character. There are some lines of dialogue and bits of physical humor that are side splitting thanks to Matsuoka’s delivery.
The other characters are just as likable as Bell. Hestia can be a little annoying with how possessive she is of Bell but she shares the underdog aspect as a goddess with no followers were it not for Bell. The sheer faith and concern she expresses for the boy also comes across as genuine and charming. Ais isn’t too prevalent in the story (she has her own spin-off series after all) but the show does a good job establishing her as more than just someone for Bell to crush on. The two gradually interact more with each other; the most interesting of which comes when Ais offers to give Bell some pointers in how to fight and grows interested in the rookie’s growth.
Towards the second half of the season, Bell gains a party comprised of supporter Liliruca “Lili” Arde (Maaya Uchida) and blacksmith Welf Crozzo (Hosoya Yoshimasa). There are some bumps to their introductions. Lili’s arc gets overkill with how dark it gets and Welf is frankly introduced pretty late into the season. Their chemistry with Bell works to great effect however with Lili’s initial distrust in adventurers fading as she befriends (and falls in love with) Bell and Welf appreciating Bell’s genuine interest in his craft. The bickering between the two are also pretty entertaining and adds a refreshing angle to the dungeon crawling.
The one issue with the cast is its size. From the staff of a restaurant Bell frequents to the various members of other familia, there are ton of people in this show and there is obviously not enough time for any of them. It doesn’t help that the show keeps introducing characters even as its first season comes to an end (again, take Welf for example). That can be forgiven since this is only based on a portion of the light novels and it’s not that hard following who’s who. Nevertheless, the amount of introductions and names can feel overwhelming, especially when watching the show for the first time.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is a much better anime than it has any right to be. It may be based heavily in tropes that were already getting tired when it premiered in 2015 but its execution of said tropes prevents them from feeling tired. The world is thought out, the characters are well-written and likable, and the adventuring is action packed. Fans of this kind of anime are very likely to find something to like here and those who aren’t should at least give the show a try before writing it off entirely.
Thanks for reading!