This is our season review! Check out our first impressions for more details.
by Cruz, Contributor.
Not only is it completely acceptable to pick up girls in a Dungeon, but for Bell Cranel it’s as easy as killing a level one monster. Bell’s status as an irresistible ball of kitten-like adorableness manages to avoid leading the series into a mindless train of harem, but just barely. Dungeon often finds itself hard-pressed to generate interesting elements to fill the gaps left by the complete lack of any romance. The first season is reminiscent of the low-level grind of an online multiplayer game: the quests are slow, the monsters are weak and redundant, and there’s plenty of aimlessly walking around. Yet for some reason you want to continue on, motivated by nothing greater than the curiosity of what will happen when you finally reach a boss battle.
The best description for Dungeon is “endearing.” The inviting, lighthearted feel that was present at the start of the season persists through the majority of its run. The animation style trends toward soft and comforting colors and is neither overly complex nor too simple. Even within the monster-infested dungeon where Bell slays baddies for a living, there are no truly malevolent atmospheres. Dungeon elicits nostalgia for Saturday morning cartoons (if such a thing still exists and allows gratuitous panty-shots). Subjectively, it’s difficult not to feel enamored with the series for no better reason than its resonance with the classic adventure sagas many of us dreamed about as kids. We’re critics though, damn it! Critically, Dungeon feels childish and is quite devoid of any intellectual depth.
Bell brings a lot of the warm-and-fuzzy to plate all on his own, serving as a classic hopeless hero. He’s innocent to the core with a strong desire to help everyone around him. Predictably, Bell is also completely oblivious to the obnoxious amount of women swooning over him. Even when people intentionally sabotage Bell and leave him for dead, he forgives them without hesitation. Bell is the equivalent of eating too many brownies and throwing up all over a puppy. He’s got all the perfect Mary-Sue qualities to such an excess that he actually manages to become fairly offputting.
Despite all our denial, it’s still impossible not to feel connected with Bell on a few levels because he often behaves in ways real people would. When Bell gains the ability to use magic for the first time, he doesn’t behave like a Hollywood tough-guy and save it for the exact moment it will save the day in the face of insurmountable terror. Instead, he goes sprinting through the dungeon in the middle of the night nuking everything in sight until he passes out. The adults in us like to claim we wouldn’t do this, but our inner twelve year-olds certainly know better.
Despite some authentic humanity shining through, Dungeon suffers from a copious lack of courage when it comes to its extensive list of characters. The danger is never quite convincing because we learn early that no one ever dies and everything always works out. The jaded old men we’ve become can’t help but wonder if anything interesting or thought provoking is ever going to happen. Bell continuously finds himself in trouble, but we can always depend on love interest Aiz Wallenstein to show up out of nowhere to save Bell in the most emotionless, chemistry-less way possible. If Aiz doesn’t happen to be around, a conveniently overpowered deus ex special move will suffice. In a realm where gods have descended to the mortal plane to grant their divine blessings to the adventuring mortals, one would expect epically high stakes. Instead, we’re given Bell being rescued from swarms of demon rabbits by a girl with the personality of damp cardboard.
The goddess Freya is sometimes alluded to as the main antagonist of Bell’s adventure, yet she’s done nothing but sit in her tower wearing Freddie Mercury’s hand-me-downs and presumably collecting amounts of Bell memorabilia that would be undeterred by any number of restraining orders. Freya’s obsession with the 14 year-old hero is never truly elaborated upon and her very sparse appearances make it impossible to feel sad, fearful, angry, or even confused about her role at all. While it’s easy to find yourself excited for Bell’s progression as he gains power, the dull complacency of a story offering no real antagonist gains a firm foothold over the entire series.
The things that were done well in the beginning continue to be done well throughout the season. The use of music is tasteful and unintrusive. It’s used skillfully as a mood-setter and is almost never noticeable unless you’re actively listening for it. At risk of beating a Level 2 respawning demon-horse to death, the use of the music and sound effects are very aligned with what one would expect from a video game series. The tunes play quietly in the background until changing based on the escalation of the action, while sound effects feel real and serve to draw us into the scenes.
The combat scenes are surprisingly limited considering the series promises to follow an adventurer who’s fighting all the time. Though scarce, these scenes become tastier morsels as Bell gains more experience and knowledge. His speed and spring-loaded fighting style are animated in excellent detail, fully utilizing unintrusive CGI to enhance the combat visuals. Add in those juicy sound effects and smartly used camera angles and the fights are seamless and exciting. By the time Bell reaches Level 2, you’re left wishing you could grab a weapon and head to the dungeon for some of your own monster-slaying action.
While Bell is the center of attention, he manages to pick up a few companions to form a monster hunting group. Unfortunately, most of the people surrounding Bell are just as one-dimensional as he is. While the followers are each given a turn at telling their sob stories, the tales’ static nature makes it difficult to care about them. Welf “Ichigo” Crozzo is a
shinigami blacksmith of high pedigree who refuses to make magical items because that would be too interesting for Dungeon. Supporter and orphan-trope Lili carries a chip on her shoulder as big as her ridiculous backpack until, naturally, she falls for Bell and forgets her hatred of the big bad adventurer types.
The patient will be rewarded with a sparkling gem of a season finale. While the first 12 episodes offer glimmers of excitement and relentless intimations of the greatness just out of reach, we felt let down time and time again. It’s almost as though the writers were purposely taking the more mundane routes to avoid giving us the satisfaction they knew we desperately wanted — no, not nudies of Freya — that final boss fight in which the characters are pushed into a situation dire enough to reveal strengths and abilities we had yet to see, but were hoping for throughout the season.
Although the final episode finally delivers the fun experience teased by the rest of the series, this doesn’t make up for an entire season of mediocrity. The boss battle that fills 99% of the last episode is ultimately less interesting than the parting monologue the god Hermes offers in the final seconds before the credits roll. Thirteen episodes later, we finally get a taste of what the true storyline might be about and where Bell’s place is in the grand design, but it’s much too little far too late.
At best, the series is a guilty pleasure for RPG veterans. Those of us who hold our geekdom near to our hearts will relate to the situations more than the characters. We understand when Bell doesn’t want to ditch his party, we groan at the incompetence of his guild master, and we fume when other adventurers train monsters onto him to save themselves. However, it’s the characters themselves which hold the show back. With the possible exception of the goddess Hestia (Bell’s admiring fan and Familia leader), everyone is very much a redundant reminder that what you see is what you get.
Title: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (DanMachi)
Original Source: Light novel
Source Writer: Fujino Omori
Source Publisher: SB Creative
Director: Yoshiki Yamakawa
Writer: Hideki Shirane
Music: Keiji Inai
Studio: J.C. Staff
Run Start: 04/2015
Review Date: 06/2015
Episodes Reviewed: 01-13