The latest of my anime adventures has been a short fantasy anime with a really long name: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? With just 13 episodes in the first season, it’s been a very digestible series to watch, and I was very glad to hear that it’ll be coming back for a second season and a film—there’s a lot more of this story to be told!
Though the title of this series is awfully suggestive and silly (and reminiscent of a Fall Out Boy song title, if the members of Fall Out Boy were all obsessed with D&D), the series itself is much more heartfelt and earnest than that would suggest. The story follows Bell Cranel, a young solo adventurer who’s trying to make a name for himself among the groups of famous heroes in his town. The world of this story is essentially that of a typical role-playing game—professional adventurer is the most popular career path, and these adventurers regularly visit the town’s dungeon to fight their way through the various floors in hopes of leveling up by gaining special skills, and they make their living by collecting the items dropped by the monsters they defeat. If they’re extra lucky and/or extra skilled, they can become high-level warriors who gain the right to battle on the deepest floors of the dungeon and compete for the rarest items. There are plenty of NPC-style people in this world as well; much like in a traditional RPG, these characters create weapons and armor for the adventurers, staff the inns where they come to drink and brag about their exploits, and generally fill in the background of the world of the story.
All adventurers are part of groups called familia, all headed by minor deities who act as the adventurers’ leaders and patrons. Deities from all traditions lead these groups—everyone from Loki to Hephaestus to Ganesha—and most lead large groups of prestigious warriors. However, our hero, Bell, is unique in that he’s part of a group of one. He serves the goddess Hestia as the only member of her familia, and they live together like haphazard roommates in a decrepit chapel-like building. It’s obvious from Hestia’s behavior that she has something more romantic in mind for her and Bell’s relationship, but as Bell is entirely oblivious to this, such a thing isn’t likely to occur anytime soon.
As the story begins, we learn that Bell is an inexperienced warrior who’s just getting his start as adventurer, and his skills show it. But what he lacks in prowess he more than makes up for in enthusiasm—he’s determined to go from rescuee to rescuer and to become a high-level warrior who’s as famous for his skill as his idol and crush, the legendary Aiz Wallenstein, who’s known as the Sword Princess. Through not much more than sheer determination (and a special skill he gains in a stroke of luck the first time he’s rescued by Aiz), Bell quickly gains a host of new skills and starts leveling up. But will he learn what he needs to know before the monsters in the dungeon get the best of him? And will he ever realize his dream of fighting as Aiz’s equal on the deepest floors of the dungeon?
From the beginning, my favorite aspect of this show is the overall concept. I love the idea of seeing what a fantasy RPG world would look like if real people leveled up and hunted for legendary items, and this series does it in a way that’s pretty believable and logical, all things considered. The system of organizing everyone by familia is really interesting, and the use of deities as the familia leaders is a fun one. It echoes the way that a lot of RPGs tend to pull ideas from real-world legends and traditions to flesh out their worlds, and it fits this setting in a logical and compelling way.
Another highlight of the show is the characters themselves. Bell is the type of character I’m glad to be seeing more and more frequently—a hero who, while determined and persistent, is fighting to become the best on his own merits without trampling on anyone on his way to the top and is still unsure and afraid sometimes even though he’s steadily gaining skill. In short, he’s interesting and charming without being a jerk, and when there’s someone who can do something better than he can, or when he truly needs help, he’s not too proud to let someone else step into the spotlight, even though it may make him look weak or afraid. The people surrounding Bell have their own great character arcs as well. Lili, Bell’s supporter (who carries his extra items and watches his back in the dungeon), may seem small and unassuming, but her checkered past keeps coming back to haunt her in unexpected ways. And even Aiz, who seems almost invincible and has never met a monster she couldn’t defeat, has her moments of uncertainty and seems a bit nonplussed as to why Bell admires her so much. Even in such a short series, the major characters all have an important role to play in the bigger picture and have their own struggles and hopes, both in relation to Bell and in their own right.
My main critique of the show is the same beef I have with a lot of anime—namely, that the fanservice aspect is played up a lot more than I care for. There are quite a few unnecessary slow-pan shots of attractive characters’ bodies, and lots of costumes that are extremely skimpy and/or form-fitting for no apparent reason. It’s a tiresome, obnoxious trope, and one I’ve seen time and time again in the realms of both anime and fantasy. I’m hoping for the day when artists stop relying on it to make their characters and stories appealing; in my case, at least, it has the opposite effect. Thankfully, it isn’t something this series particularly lingers over—in most cases, it’s there for a moment, and then the story moves on—and I’ve been able to ignore it for the most part and enjoy the great story anyway. I’d enjoy it even more, though, if that aspect wasn’t there at all.
Despite this flaw, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is on the list of anime I consider well worth watching. The pacing, great characters, and fun setting work together to make this show immensely watchable and easy to follow, and it’d be a great choice for anyone who’s intrigued by the idea of a fantasy setting taken to its logical conclusion. As I mentioned, although the first season tells a good, complete story on its own, it sets up a ton of possibilities for what’s to come in Bell’s world, and I can’t wait to see where the creators take this story. No matter what, I’ll be looking forward to spending more time with Bell, Hestia, Lili, Aiz, and the rest very soon!