Synopsis: The Dungeon stands tall above the town, and seems to extend infinitely beneath it, each level crowded with ever-tougher foes. It’s the perfect place for adventurers to explore, find loot, and level up. A fledgling adventurer, Bell Cranel, has recently come to town with dreams of greatness. Now that he has found a Goddess to serve, and with only the clothes on his back and a knife, it’s time to pursue his dreams… and maybe find romance along the way.
Review: I admit that I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of a show called Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? And indeed, all of the fanservice you would expect is present in the show, sometimes without any explanation or reason. Despite this, I found myself really enjoying the show because of how solidly its world is built, and due to the likeability of many of the characters. It ended up being a pleasant surprise, and a show I’m now fond of despite its shortcomings.
Let’s talk about those first. Right off the bat, this show could be mistaken for a harem anime if it weren’t for all of the RPG dungeon-crawling action. Women throw themselves at Bell, seemingly for no reason other than he exists. With his Goddess, Hestia, it at least makes some sense, as Bell is the only person that serves her initially, and he’s pretty important to her as a result.
Every other waitress in the inn is similarly infatuated with him, despite his total interaction with them consisting of a few sentences or less. It’s certainly more bizarre than it is romantic in any way, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it never did. Then there’s Eina, who advises Bell on exploring the dungeon safely. She, too, develops feelings for him, taking him on several dates in the guise of item shopping. Or Tione and Tiona, two sisters that fall for him… well… even I’m not sure why.
Even the woman who becomes Bell’s romantic objective in life, one of the greatest living adventurers, Aiz, seems to fall for him almost immediately after rescuing him from the dungeon.
On top of all that, the other Goddesses become interested in him solely because Hestia is, leading to the feeling that every woman on Earth will chase him at the drop of a hat.
As one might imagine from a show like this, fanservice is often present. Rather than describe it all, have this gallery of examples.
All of that wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t also a strong sense of pandering to a male audience. Bell is special because he can gain strength so quickly (more on this later), so he’s able to start off weak, get strong quickly to put his detractors in their place, catch the eye of seemingly all the women, and do so while being an earnest nice guy.
Take, for example, one of the silliest and most transparent straw men I’ve ever seen a show set up. Bell is sitting at the inn, looking over at Aiz, who hasn’t noticed him and hasn’t talked to him since the day she saved him. She’s at a table with the rest of her adventuring party, which includes some kind of wolf man. For seemingly no reason, and without even noticing Bell is there, he proceeds to ask her, at length, whether she would ever consider going out with Bell.
Wow. Male viewer, don’t you wish you had S-ranked abilities? The ladies simply cannot resist such a man.
But the worst example is probably Lilliluka, who I (and the show) will gratefully just call “Lilly”. She is a supporter, a person that assists adventurers for pay, usually by packmuling or with supportive abilities. Her backstory is one long, tragic disaster that doesn’t so much try to pluck at your heartstrings as slam them with a ham-handed mallet. Orphaned at an early age…
…and left for dead.
All this despite pretty much all of the adventurers we’ve seen up until this point being pretty decent people, and having no other mention in the show of supporters being regularly mistreated. It’s the perfect setup for wonderful, nice, caring Bell to come along, forgive her for leaving him to die horribly…
D’aww. Doesn’t that just warm your heart, male viewer, because you could be a halfway decent human being too, and apparently that’s nothing short of the Second Coming in this universe? It’s just so… blatant, it’s almost insulting, really.
All right, so that was an awful drubbing I just gave the show. What could there be that would still allow me to recommend it to you? There are two things, really – the world, and, surprisingly given everything I’ve just said, the characters.
Let’s start with the world. It’s a pretty clever and detailed take on what an RPG would look like in “real life”. To start with, there are the Gods and Goddesses. These are the various deities of a number of cultures (Greek and Norse mythology feature heavily, with a smattering of Japanese and Indian stuff thrown in) that have come down to Earth to live alongside/help the mortals. A mortal that wants to become an adventurer joins a deity, becoming part of their “Familia”. In exchange, the mortal is granted the ability to become much stronger and gain skills, magic, and levels. This is much more direct than usual – a character’s stats are printed right on their back:
Even skills and magic are tracked this way. One key aspect is that, while there are all the stats you’d expect, including MP, there is no HP stat – characters can take exactly as much punishment as they would without being an adventurer, with only their improved stats making them better than a normal human (so no one can just tank hits because they have thousands of hit points). Many of the other trappings of RPGs are present as well, with inventive twists to make them fit better into this kind of storytelling medium.
Leveling up is not a matter of just improving your skills; it requires a life-changing event, like a boss battle, after a grand adventure.
Parties of adventurers become necessary for survival as one descends into the Dungeon. The town has a complex economy – one can buy equipment from up-and-coming crafters for cheap, splurge on an item from a big name, or make a contract with a blacksmith so that they will be the sole person creating your equipment. Magic weapons are powerful, but break after too much use, and there is debate among adventurers as to whether or not they are worth it.
Quests can be issued by deities at the adventurer’s guild if they need help, and the guild provides a service that is like a personal trainer for dungeoneering.
What I’m getting at is that this is a richly imagined world, where many of the common systems found in videogame RPGs are present, but in clever ways that feel natural. It’s clear that this world was really thought through, and that’s what separates it from just being a harem with fantasy or RPG trappings. I love the idea of the “Familia” – each one is essentially a guild run by its governing deity, who oversees the growth of his/her adventurers. They are immortal and their adventurers are not (and death is quite common), but the legend created by each of these Familias is what endures.
The other thing I liked, pandering and fanservice aside, are the characters. Bell’s eventual adventuring party of Lilly (once we’re past her tragic backstory) and a blacksmith named Welf make a good team together. Hestia, the Goddess Bell is pledged to, may be a bit silly but clearly cares for him. Many of the other adventurers met along the way are interesting in their own right, and there’s plenty going on besides Bell’s personal story.
Still, it’s hard not to like Bell in his pursuit of Aiz, his struggle to become stronger, and his relationship with those around him. It’s refreshing to see a character that really has to work, to train, to get better.
One of my favorite moments is when he finally acquires a magic spell, Firebolt. Magic has been something he’s always wanted, and he is overjoyed to have it. Immediately he runs into the dungeon, using his spell for all it’s worth, and it brought a smile to my face to watch him go.
An honest, earnest lead is quite the long-toothed trope in anime, but Bell really sells it in a way that feels unforced, natural. He’s impossible not to like, and his exploration of and exploits in this carefully crafted RPG world are worth a watch. Just try to ignore all the fanservice.