Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, aka. DanMachi was a surprise hit and has since spawned quite a big franchise. It's a fantasy series about adventurers who go down dungeons and fight monsters, as with all D&D-like RPGs, but with the twist that in this world the gods live among us and directly sponsor "familias" of adventurers. Here's what's come out in anime form so far:
- Season One (2015, thirteen episodes) = I enjoyed it
- Sword Oratoria (2017 spin-off, twelve episodes) = okay, but less charming than its parent series
- OVA (2015, single episode) = I wouldn't bother with this if I were you
- Movie (2019) = this didn't impress me either
- Season Two (2019, but I hadn't watched it when I did this marathon rewatch) = a lot better than I'd expected
- Season Three (2020, ditto) = holy shit.
- Season Four (2022-23, ditto) = almost as powerful as Season 3. In some ways, I'd even call it better.
...but I doubted my own reactions. I hadn't seen the original DanMachi for years, so maybe I'd like those extra bits better if I did a marathon rewatch? Furthermore, Sword Oratoria is a spin-off during the events of DanMachi season 1, overlapping with them and sometimes even retelling the same scenes from another character's viewpoint. I'd wanted for a while to rewatch everything in chronological order.
That's what I did. Here's a watching order I got off the internet. It works. There's some repetition and non-chronological order, but nothing that's any problem.
- Sword Oratoria 1
- DanMachi 1
- Sword Oratoria 2
- DanMachi 2
- Sword Oratoria 3
- DanMachi 3-4
- Sword Oratoria 4-5
- DanMachi 5
- Sword Oratoria 6
- DanMachi 6
- Sword Oratoria 7-8
- DanMachi 7
- Sword Oratoria 9
- DanMachi 8
- Sword Oratoria 10
- DanMachi 9-10
- Sword Oratoria 11-12
- DanMachi 11+
Result: I was impressed. The results are better and more interesting than either show on its own. The combined story becomes broader and richer, with something you can't see always happening somewhere else.
DANMACHI SEASON ONE
The strength and weakness of DanMachi Season One is that it's wish-fulfilment fluff. It can be dramatic when it wants, but Bell Cranel is an "insert viewer's face here" void protagonist and all the girls will love him. Anime's been here before, I know... but it's often charming. Bell himself is incapable of not being super-nice, while the stories unfolding around him are warm and sometimes strongly emotional. (Lily's the main example, but Ryuu Lyon became possibly my favourite character after I'd heard her backstory in DM12.)
The show's problem, I think, is that damn title. It's funny, but it locks the show into an unfortunate genre even though it's a misdescription of Bell's character. He was indeed a harem seeker before the show started, thanks to his sleazeball grandad, but the first thing we see happening to him is that he gets rescued by Aiz Wallenstein, instantly falls in something and loses interest in other girls. Despite this, though, he goes on lots of not-quite-dates with assorted girls and gradually collects admirers. There's Aiz, obviously, although so far it seems to be one-sided on Bell's part. There's Hestia, his big-boobed goddess who's loudly and possessively in love with him from the start of ep.1. There's a waitress, Syr Flover. Bell will recruit a female adventurer (Lily) into his party and she'll fall for him too. Tiona can be very flirty. In the movie, there's Artemis.
...and those are just the obvious ones so far. It's not too bad during Season 1 itself, but the OVA and movie turn Hestia and Lily into a squabbling harem double act, which is annoying. (Hestia's always been like that, admittedly, but it's tiresome to see Lily reduced to that level too.)
Furthermore, Bell's a non-character. He's an audience insert figure, as usual in the lower ends of the harem and isekai genres. (Fortunately, though, this isn't an isekai. Bell didn't come here from another world, so the narrative has to do more work to give him Super Mega Awesome powers.) His niceness makes him likeable and there are moments where he's genuinely cool, e.g. giving half the loot to Lily. However, in practice, he has no motivation, beyond a low-calorie version of Shounen Hero ("I want to be stronger"). He's entirely reactive and incapable of saying or doing anything bad. Even him being an albino adds to the sense that he's a cut-out hole in the story, not an active protagonist. Bell's emptiness is part of what kills the movie, because it's impossible to buy the Artemis-Bell love story.
...fixes all that.
Suddenly, the universe no longer revolves around Bell. Here, we're following the Loki familia, who are far stronger and more professional. They have scarier enemies. They're more aware of the darker stuff in the background. They're certainly aware of Bell, but their average opinion of him can be negative, if you consider Bete (who hates everyone) and Lefiiya (who's hostile towards Bell because she sees him as a rival for Aiz's affections and is jealous). Lefiiya's usually useless and not a particularly interesting character, to be honest, being basically a gender-swapped version of Bell himself, but she feels like a person in a way Bell doesn't manage.
I ended up loving Lefiiya, simply because she's a female character who's immune to him. I also like her relationship with Filvis (which again is a Bell mirror, from him and Ryuu).
Sword Oratoria's problem had always been that it's a bit charmless. The Loki familia (bar Aiz, in her mildly autistic way) are a bit too efficient and job-focused to grab the audience's hearts. The nearest they get to wackiness is Loki herself and she's a serial molester. Interleave the episodes with DanMachi, though, and you'll have charm to spare.
THE INTERLEAVED STORY AS A WHOLE
It starts dreadfully. Female characters are introduced as one-dimensional romantic fixation machines, except when talking about their boobs. The bit in ep.1 when Tione and Tiona introduce themselves to minotaurs before killing them is meant to be fun, I think, but I found it chilling. It's like serial killers saying "hello". The first worthwhile thing that happens is Bell running in terror from minotaurs and then in even greater terror from his rescuer, Aiz.
It soon recovered, though. Bell and Hestia being no-status nobodies is a really engaging way to start the series, although technically it's just mixing up the light novel cliches with shounen hero ones. The show grows a plot, tough opponents and emotionally resonant storylines. The mixed viewpoints from the two series are interesting, e.g. when Bell's sweating blood on floor 16, while the Loki familia are heading for the HOLY FLAMING SHIT of floor 59... but they're both capable of putting their heroes in genuinely scary danger.
It falls apart a bit with the OVA and movie, though. My first impressions of those weren't wrong. They're not very good and they ramp up the harem nonsense.
Bell's party needs a healer.
Are the gods sexually frustrated? Hermes, Hestia, Loki...
I dislike Bell's Argonaut skill, which might as well have been called "vague handwave arse-pull to look heroic in finales".
That was an interesting experiment. The effects of combining two similar-but-very-different series were so intriguing that it's made me want to try it in other contexts. It's a shame that DanMachi is so far the only one of the two series to continue, although the original Sword Oratoria light novels are still ongoing even now. I'd have lost patience fast with DanMachi had it stayed on the slippery harem slope, but there's enough strong material here to buy goodwill. A lot more cool than I'd expected.