[Synopsis]: In the city of Orario lies a labyrinthine structure of floors called the Dungeon to which adventurers and craftsman journey from far and wide in attempt to make a name for themselves and explore the mysterious Dungeon. Adventurers partner up with gods and goddesses to form Familias in order to better vanquish the monsters of the Dungeon and form guild-like communities with one another. Bell Cranel (Matsuoka, Yoshitsugu), the sole member of the Goddess Hestia’s (Minase, Inori) Familia, is a fledgling adventurer with aspirations of love and heroism. Along with his goddess Hestia, he strives to become a strong adventurer so that he can fulfill his dreams
The characters were a minor point of strength for DanMachi due to its fairly large recurring cast as well as the small quirks and abilities exhibited by each character. The show didn’t focus too much attention on the development of characters outside of Bell and his companions and so the side characters came off a little flat however their basic traits and designs worked well enough to keep them interesting and occasionally memorable despite this. At the same time however, the show offered up a great deal of fan-service and many of the characters, especially the more uninspired members of the cast, frequently showed up for no real reason beyond this point which somewhat cheapened this element within the show.
Bell Cranel, the protagonist adventurer of the show, is good-natured and exhibits most of the traits you would expect of the action show protagonist. One thing I will say is that he has quite a timid disposition – especially around women, however this somewhat sets him apart from the more typical shounen leads in that he gives him a good place to start from in the development department as well as an extra point of comedy and interest. He is amiable to nearly everyone he meets however also proves fairly thick-headed to any romantic interests exhibited by other members of the cast in typical fashion for a show with harem undertones. He has legitimate development throughout the show however only so much as can be expected in its 13 episode length and therein doesn’t change drastically but rather in more subtle ways.
Hestia, the lonely goddess who inducted Bell into her Familia after failing to recruit others, is extremely protective and caring of Bell and works hard in all that she does in order to better help him in his quest to become a strong adventurer. While she, as a goddess and head of a Familia, has some plot relevance as a character, she mostly occupies a comedic role within the show. She is often jealous of other women that try to get close to Bell and can be quite petty in how she brushes them off and covets Bell however at the end of the day they have a good relationship and her affection for him is genuine beyond that of a comedic dynamic. One of the real problems with Hestia – and this is a problem that I see elsewhere in the cast as well, is that she exists almost purely for the sake of comedy and fan-service however the show, while cashing in on these aspects, attempts to paint her as a more legitimate figure. This approach doesn’t quite work for the show and by the time it wanted me to take the character of Hestia seriously, I simply couldn’t and anyone that was able to was most likely swiftly undermined by another gag or a crotch shot.
There are a good deal of somewhat interesting characters elsewhere in the cast and some probably more so than the main duo at times as those close to Bell also receive character insights and development. There are antagonistic presences in the show but no great overarching enemy which needs to be defeated – despite this the show avoids feeling overly formulaic in this aspect and the obstacles Bell must overcome are not so straightforward in their depiction yet the show still exhibits a pretty predictable course of events.
I feel that the first thing to talk about in this section are the wonderful designs from Yasuda Suzuhito – his style is conveyed well in this adaptation and each character feels quite visually unique without feeling outlandish amongst the other members of the cast. People that have enjoyed his work elsewhere would do well to watch the show if only for this reason.
The character designs aside, the animation of the show was consistent throughout and was played up for the more important scenes in exciting fashion. There were a couple quality drops here and there infrequently but never during a key moment and not so often that they would become distracting from the scene or setting. As the show deals primarily with venturing into the Dungeon, I would be remiss to not give some critical attention to the monsters that dwell within. They weren’t all that creative or even innovative, featuring mainly things like minotaurs and corrupted beasts however overall they felt pretty par for the course and at least each represented somewhat of a formidable threat and in that way avoided being truly dismissable.
The story, while not necessarily a strength of the show, was done well enough and primarily succeeded in its minor character introduction arcs and it’s finale. The story itself is more or less what you would expect from the premise and so the fact that nothing drastically different and more complete grows out of it should come as no surprise. The end goal of picking up girls and of becoming a hero are a bit abstract and so the show doesn’t work so directly towards these things – choosing to build itself up to key moments and at other times meander about in a more comedic and laid back manner. At the end of the day the show is about adventure and so the lack of a more typical core story doesn’t really hurt the show. One of the negative things I will say about the plot is simply that it felt like the 13 episodes adapted up until a point in the light novels and then ended. This is not to say the show arrived at a good conclusion and didn’t have a thrilling finale, simply that the ending does not leave the viewer with a feeling of completion or full on closure due to it’s source material being on-going.
Between Bell’s initial escapades and the introduction of his companions and acquaintances the show features primarily action and adventure however will have the odd episode occasionally which is more comically inclined and so someone who can enjoy both sides of the show will ultimately enjoy it more however the show does not forget itself so much to lose its audience who is more interested in the world and the Dungeon. The actual system at play within the world is quite reminiscent of the classic MMORPG elements found in shows like Sword Art Online and so DanMachi is often compared to them for this reason. I think the show does enough for itself to at least stand out differently than its similar cousins however at the end of the day, there is monster looting, guild-like communities, and a protagonist voiced by Matsuoka Yoshitsugu. Despite these similarities, one should not base whether or not to watch the show on their previous enjoyment or lack thereof of things like SAO because DanMachi is ultimately a different show and goes about things differently. The only reason I would give for someone avoiding the show on this topic is if the viewer in question had a problem with the system of things that SAO originally tried to capture and not because of any other qualms about the show.
The music was definitely a strong point of the show and worked well with the show’s intense action scenes and occasional monologues. The soundtrack was never exploited in a way where I felt that the show relied on one or two songs too heavily and so the music felt fresh and exciting throughout.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
Coming from the action/fantasy/comedy genre I think it is fair to say that the show aimed to be fun and I think it achieved that. It didn’t take itself seriously enough to be a full-blown action show however it certainly had its moments and even a majority of the time was spent in that way – it kept things light while still investigating darker themes which I felt worked well for the show. The plot may have come off as a little stereotypical and overly pandering to the interests of it’s audience but I don’t think these things had the power to ruin the show.
While I may have enjoyed a few characters such as Ryu and Aiz, the majority of the cast came off as pretty bland however not quite forgettable because of their individual abilities and the way the show chose to highlight these minor intricacies especially near the end. While the show attempted to offer a wide range of characters whom I could invest myself in, I was only able to do so with a select few because of characters like Hestia who trivialized the rest of the cast and mainly furthered the show’s harem dynamic.
I gave DanMachi a 4 because at the end of the day, while it was enjoyable and had some fun characters and action scenes, whatever qualities within the show that weren’t enjoyable or where’t aimed at me were enough to outweigh what elements I did. It wasn’t as good as a good many other action shows and I don’t think it did anything particularly innovative however if I had to summarize whatever praise I have for the show, it would be that it offered up a fun cast of characters (regardless of their shortcomings) alongside a well established and quite typical action/fantasy story. It’s a bit more entertaining than some other shows done in the same style but ultimately it isn’t able to differentiate itself meaningfully from the stereotypical fantasy MMO light novel.
I would recommenced DanMachi to any fan of great action sequences and the more typical shounen action show dynamic. It did these things well on top of providing mediocre to decent comedy. Fans of SAO would feel right at home watching this however at the same time, those who disliked SAO I feel would be safe giving the show a shot despite its similarities. Those interested in the romance or the harem elements of the show would perhaps find enough content to sate themselves however I would warn that the show doesn’t explore the romantic side of things all that much though it does have more romantic comedy than I thought it would.