Holy shit. Just... wow.
DanMachi Season 1 was fun, but its immediate follow-ups didn't impress me until I did a marathon rewatch. I'd expected the show to become harem garbage, but in fact Season 2 was a big improvement on Season 1. This third season, though, goes through the roof. Season 4 won't maintain the upward trajectory, because I don't believe they could do anything stronger than this.
The show's about dungeon adventurers. Every day, they kill monsters without even imagining that mercy could be an option. That's their job. That's what Oratorio's economy is built on. Monsters are monsters, after all. If you don't get them, they'll get you. It's a slightly strained distinction, since "human" in DanMachi includes elves, dwarves, halflings and assorted beastmen, but people don't run on logic. Say "monster" and the world says "kill". Disagree with conventional wisdom and you might get branded an ally of the enemy.
(Oddly, this is almost a minority view in fantasy anime. Interviews with Monster Girls, Interspecies Reviewers, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, etc. tend to treat all races fairly, from undead to dragonkin. Let's ignore those here, though. DanMachi is telling its own story, in its own world of gods and mortals.)
One day, Bell Cranel is dungeoneering when he meets a child. She's got claws and wings, but she's terrified. Bell doesn't kill her... and creates a world of trouble for himself.
This world's ingrained thinking is portrayed powerfully. Even Bell himself gets uncomfortable with his own decisions, while his party are even more ambivalent. Lily opposes it. She thinks they should dump this monster (which Bell calls Wiene) and wash their hands of the matter, even though the Ikelos familia is hunting and enslaving sentient monsters for profit and fun.
The Ikelos familia are horrifying, by the way. (Their deaths are too easy, but then again any death for them would have been too easy.) It's not just the slavery and killing. It's the way they'll overpower a group of sentient monsters (called Xenos), capture them all, have them at their mercy... and then decide which ones to murder in cold blood. Oh, and they're also rapists. Before killing a helpless prisoner, their leader gives permission for his men to gang-rape her first. Technically there's room for doubt since it didn't actually happen, but it would have been either rape or torturing her to death.
I hated them. Really, really hated them.
Until now, I'd been blasting through forty-odd DanMachi episodes at top speed. This season slowed me down a bit. It's strong, yes, and nothing would have stopped me from watching it... but you know things are going to get ugly.
Wiene is adorable. The loyalty of Bell's friends can be lovely. People are horrible (and, which is almost worse, understandably) and it makes complete sense that not all the Xenos are comfortable with trusting humans. Bell will find himself fighting some of the scariest enemies in Oratorio, whom he'd normally call allies. The gods watch the chaos and either enjoy it, try to help or play chess games. (In Greek mythology, Ikelos was a personification of nightmares.) Plans go to hell. It's painful partly because our heroes are trying to bring about peaceful monster-human coexistence, but we can see how that's going to work out.
Ep.11 is the strongest. Bloody hell.
Unimportant observation: the animators weren't even trying when it came to making some of the monsters' mouth movements look like speech.
The OVA, on the other hand, is silly nonsense with a public bath, a clothes-dissolving spray and a bit of family-friendly nudity. It made me laugh a couple of times, but it's liable to ham up its jokes and I'm not a fan. I get the impression that someone was trying to throw a bone to any fans who didn't want DanMachi to be too serious.
It's amazing to compare this with how the franchise started out. A harem fantasy with a joke title has grown to become a strong contender for Best Anime of 2020. This season made me cry. That said, though, it's also often good fun and it frequently made me laugh. It's not gruelling.
Oh, and I'd like to thank Hestia so much for that kick at the end of ep.12.