“The dungeon is a cunning thing. Each incident that happens there may be small in of itself, but as they add up, they become a death of a thousand cuts. When its prey is grasping for breath, moaning in pain, and thoroughly weakened… that is when the dungeon bares its fangs.”
-Dungeon Episode 10 Translation, Crunchyroll
Dungeon portrays the life of Bell Cranel, who after being inspired by his late grandfather’s tales of being an adventurer decides to become one himself. An adventurer is a person that makes a living by exploring the depths of the dungeon, fighting any monsters that they happen meet along the way. Every adventurer belongs to a Familia, a pseudo-guild that is governed by a god or a goddess. In Bell’s case, he and his goddess Hestia together create their own Familia and start their lives in the adventuring world by scratch. Together, they’re at the bottom of all social standings, but with some charisma and a little luck, they begin taking this world by storm. The only issue is that Bell’s grandfather’s mantra was to pick up as many girls as possible in his explorations.
Describing something as “fun” is vague, but if you ask most people who like Dungeon why they like the show, they’ll most likely tell you, “it’s fun.” However, sceptics or potential viewers don’t want to hear, “I don’t know why the show’s good, but it’s good,” they want justification and reasoning. Though Dungeon has proven to be one of those anime that somehow eludes most quantifications, an answer to why it’s “fun” is still very predominant. It’s simple; the “fun” entirely stems from the fact that Dungeon quite literally is The Enjoyment of Playing a Videogame: The Animation.
Dungeon, being so relatable to a video game, is able to easily pique the interest of people who’re familiar with the enjoyment video games regularly enable. Have you ever played a video game? The answer is most likely yes, but what about an RPG, or an MMORPG? No matter the case, you can probably recall that driving feeling you got when you woke up in the morning and wanted to start a new quest or continue your exploration. It didn’t matter what you were doing, as long as you were in that video game’s world, you were content. Dungeon harbours this same feeling; it’s almost as if you’re playing the show, or better yet, it’s like you’re watching your friend experience the joy of playing video games for the first time.
Dungeon’s similarities to an RPG primarily harbour satisfaction, but it’s good to keep in mind that just like how your friend may make poor decisions when playing a video game, the characters of the anime have moments that make you similarly question their thoughts and intentions. This however is one of the beauties of the show. In almost every scenario, you can take the actions and reactions of the characters and relate them to choices that could be made by people playing a real video game. Not surprisingly, you can amuse yourself using this method of viewing, and doing so is highly recommended if you haven’t seen the show yet. It’s honestly amazing how often you can look at a situation and say, “Hey! I could totally see that happening in an RPG,” or, “Those choices definitely make sense in an RPG setting.” Even in the rest of this review, there are countless times where a line like, “This relates back to the RPG/video game topic,” could be inserted, and you’ll definitely notice this.
What makes the world of Dungeon special are the minute and enticing intricacies of the dungeon itself. The dungeon has been said to have a mind of its own; it’s almost as if it decides how much harm it will spawn based on the adventure that’s challenging it. If the adventurer is too confident, it’ll rain on them hard. If the adventurer is in a pinch, it’ll pinch them more tightly. If the adventurer runs into an accidental bind, it may even help them out. There are levels to the dungeon that cater to each adventurer’s skill, and boss levels that require a team to surpass them. The further you go down, the harder it becomes, and even the most skilled adventurers reach their limit at some point. This setup is sure to reel you in, or at least make you curious of what lies beyond the edge of what’s already been explored.
Living in Dungeon’s world as an adventurer seems like it would be awesome. Get up in the morning, go meet your party, go to the dungeon, kill monsters, collect drops, return from the dungeon, sell your drops, buy new weapons and armour, re-equip yourself, go to the tavern, tell stories as you eat and drink, go home, evaluate your statistical improvements, go to bed, repeat. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it? Not only that, many people would probably prefer living this life over their own. You’d be able to lead your own adventure, and test your own skills. You’d be able to join others in quests and venture into undiscovered depths. Everything you conquer in the dungeon, despite how insignificant it may be, adds to your perpetual growth, whether it be contributing to your wallet or your statistics. Clearly, the fun would never end. It’s easy to see why the show is said to be fun; the success and the happiness of the adventurers prove what an amazing role it must be.
Positivity and ambition are qualities that fuel an enjoyable experience, and our main protagonist Bell resonates with these tones. Bell plays the role of an underdog in Dungeon, so it’s easy to see how his ambition comes about. Any new adventurer is almost seen as a hinderance to experienced ones and is an easy weakling to position as the target for humiliation or bullying. Bell is initially treated no differently, but he doesn’t let this get to him. Rather, he sets out into the dungeon only with the goal of becoming stronger in mind. He consistently works hard through his struggles with a positive attitude, leading to advantages that he deserves and fortunate improvements of his skill. He’s the kind of character that every viewer wants to root for.
Bell is the type of character that can only see the good in a situation; when faced with struggles that would otherwise leave anyone else furious and vengeful, he takes the initiative to step back and think of how he can form the negativity into something positive. He’s never afraid to brighten the mood, nor does he hesitate to lend a helping hand. Even if he’s obviously getting scammed or being taken advantage of, he’s able to change the heart of the person doing so. It’s not so much an unexplained power as it is like he simply has a mindframe that everyone can idealize, and this changes people for the better. The habitually positive examples that Bell displays in and of himself are amazing, and should anyone look to him as a role model, the reason why is obvious.
It’s Bell’s simplicity that really makes him shine. There are moments in the show where you can tell that Bell is thoroughly appreciating his life as an adventurer and that nothing can stop his enjoyment. For example, the instant he learns his first magical spell, he heads straight to the dungeon even though it’s the middle of the night. Rather than carefully thinking through the situation at hand, he just go in there guns blazing, without a care for his manna limit. To no-one’s surprise, he passes out, but his utter happiness had him with a giant smile on his face until the last second. It’s times like this where Bell’s mentality rubs off on you; every ounce of fun that he’s having seeps into your skin and just makes you feel good.
No matter which quest or adventure our main characters are on, it will assuredly end with a climax that delivers. There’s nothing in Dungeon that gets your blood pumping more than the boss fights, and there’s no better way to say it than, “Bell is a f***ing badass.” It’s not like he’s overpowered, he just puts forth his best effort in every scenario and performs well when he is relied on.
Every boss battle is like an orchestrated performance. Each fight is unique in direction, and is accompanied by the best musical number in the series. They each take enough effort and time to give you a complete feeling when the fight is finished. They always end with a satisfying explosion after the final blow, making it rewarding when this payoff happens.
Dungeon is set up for limitless expansion. Of course, some people may not like the fact that the show could go on forever, but it’s good to know that the option is available. To put it simply, the dungeon, its surrounding city, and the gods’ domain are currently the only known destinations in Dungeon, and even so they haven’t been explored to their fullest. More monsters can easily be designed, more levels can be added to the dungeon, and so on. Unfortunately, the fact that there’s room for more does imply that the first season doesn’t have a concrete conclusion. Does this make the anime bad? It may if you were wanting a show with a solid conclusion. However, the first season ends with a bang satisfying enough to make the whole thing feel worthwhile. While the show leaves you with many questions unanswered, it’s good to remember that this season is but the prologue to an adventure left undiscovered.
Bell’s behaviour can easily be seen as incomparably naive. In situations where almost everyone would flip tables in anger, Bell just accepts that not everyone is perfect. Even if the viewers want to see him beat the spit out of the person that harmed him, he’s like, “naw that’s fine, let’s go for lunch.” To say he’s naive is definitely not a baseless conclusion, but there’s an underlying fact that shouldn’t be missed: Bell’s niceness prevails in the face of conspiracy and trickery. His chosen actions and interactions lead him to his desired destination, whether he intends this or not. He’s either a charismatic genius or truly naive, but lucky as hell. However, there’s nothing to prove it to be either way.
Throughout the whole show, there’s some sort of secret about Bell going on and no-one cares to explain it until the last episode. There are scenes that come and go with little explanation, all you know is that the evil people in them have some sort of beef with Bell. These characters are very questionable from any standpoint, seeing as they never get any real exposition. Their existence begs questions like, “Who the hell are these guys?”, “What’s their true intention?” or, “Why can’t the show explain any of this?” However, during the last episode a line is dropped by someone that shines a light on much of this, but to pull such a move is surely a hindrance for many of the viewers.
Bell’s grandfather is a manwhore and even though he tries to pass his methods on, Bell is not like him. Despite the suggestive title that this show has and the behaviour of the girls that surround Bell, this story is not about trying to pick up girls in a dungeon. The full title of this show (in case you’ve somehow missed it) is Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Now, there are a couple things about this title that I’d like to point out. From what you can probably conjecture, given everything I’ve said about the show thus far, this title is misleading. It makes it sound as if the series is a straight up harem, or a story that at least puts a harem at its focal point, but that’s not the case. Sure there are more than a few girls that are fond of Bell, but at no point does he go out of his way to “try to pick girls up in a dungeon,” nor is he even of this mindset. By no means does this make the show bad, nor would it be better if it did play its harem fully, but the fact that it boasts such a title makes it seem like the creator thought it wouldn’t succeed if they had used a proper title. If you’re going to make a show that is of the adventure genre, display it as an adventure, not as something that blatantly devalues the series.
Bell can’t differentiate heads from tails when it comes to women. In particular, he’s got Hestia clinging onto him every chance she gets, telling him that she loves him constantly, and he must think it’s all a joke. Aiz, another adventurer, has her eyes on him, and even though that’s the damn girl that Bell likes, he can’t seem to notice this fact. Not only that, there are too many instances where he has a golden opportunity to form a bond with Aiz, but instead of doing the logical thing and speak to her, he turns into a pool of wimpiness and human cannonballs away. Not only are these two girls affectionate towards Bell, but there are more than just them that follow the same suit. Come on Bell, it’s not too hard to get some confidence or composure when it’s so blatantly obvious that every girl in your life is attracted to you. If you’re gonna be the star of a show titled like such, at least play one of the relationships through to the end.
It’s not as if Dungeon is incoherent, but it has a flaw: there’s no plot per se. Now, I don’t say that in a literal sense, of course there’s a beginning middle and end, but there’s nothing that exists that conventionally drives the story. The procedure of events is almost erratic as the story jumps from point to point with no rhyme or reason. There are settings, characters, motives, interactions and what have you, but we’re only getting a glimpse into the daily lives of these adventurers. There’s no big bad guy, no overarching reason to fight, nor anything that truly justifies what’s going on; the closest thing to a driving factor is that being an adventurer is an occupation. Again, this first season feels kind of like an entry point to a much larger series and does well with its exposition, but with a lack of something to base goals on, there’s a noticeable lack of accomplishment. Hopefully in the future this something will be introduced.
Obviously, an anime that has this kind of title normally has sexual content in some way. Dungeon of course adheres to this presumption, and the most predominantly sexual aspects are some of the female’s character designs. Why they’re sexualized is self explanatory, but when you get to the point of Hestia’s design, you’ve gone too far.
“It’s like a Halloween ‘Sexy Pauper’ dress.”
- Exile, Ani-TAY Author and part-time fashion designer
Hestia’s character design is the groundbreaking limit of what is possible in non-pornographic animation. She’s fitted with what appears to be a ripped tablecloth garment that barely nestles her bosom and rides so high that the average t-shirt is longer. This is probably due to the fact that she’d likely choose to be naked at all times when around Bell, but at least she’s got the common decency to actually wear clothes. Now, it’s not her garment that strikes me as extraordinary, nor is it her silly twintail clips with… what appear to be cowbells? As you can probably guess, it’s her boob ribbon. What purpose does it even serve? It’s not like it’s holding anything up. Maybe it’s there to serve as a pseudo-bra when her back gets tired from her giant knockers which most certainly aren’t accompanied by a bra. If this thing is an attempt to start a fashion trend, then please burn it with fire (not Hestia, just the ribbon).
Whether or not you’re okay with the sexualization is up to you, but in no general context is it necessary in Dungeon. It’s almost as if the creator doesn’t trust their story and world enough, so they have to rope in people with such ploys. The series is definitely interesting and entertaining enough to justify a cleaner depiction, but instead they made the choice to be sexual and in turn certainly deterred people from the enjoyment it gives. Even after a string of episodes well past the halfway mark were completely clean, the writer decides to push in sexual cliches that truly serve no purpose; people that have made it that far don’t need any of that to convince them to continue watching the show. In fact, I’m sure it only makes people shake their heads.
Dungeon is a Go For It. There is only one reason that should lead to my advisory for you to stay away from viewing it: if you’re someone who can’t handle any amount of fanservice or female sexualization. It doesn’t extend this to a point nearly as terrible as some other productions, but do be warned. Other than that, even if you’re someone that likes to see a full conclusion, I’d say that Dungeon should stand as an exception to this evaluation. The show, despite ending in such way, does not leave you disappointed. In fact, its conclusion is grand, just not in a conventional way. The anime absolutely shines under all other aspects; the characters are well-written, the setting is enticing, the action and progression are well directed, there’s enough originality to make it its own, and it’s the underdog upbringing that we all know and love. Dungeon probably won’t stand as the best anime of 2015, nor will it likely make my top ten, but it’s one that surely delivers five hours of pure fun.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? can be watch in North America on Crunchyroll here.
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Special thanks to the one and only Protonstorm for editing. Without his help, Senpai will surely notice us.