Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 17

By Fujino Omori and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan as “Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Dale DeLucia.

The term ‘gaslighting’ has gotten so overused lately that I hesitate these days to mention it in a review. But, I mean, the definition of gaslighting is ‘manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity’, and that’s exactly what’s happening for most of this 17th volume of DanMachi, so… there we are. I expected this volume to be really dark, and indeed it was, with the first half of the book in particular being nothing but punches to the gut over and over again. But that’s something this author specializes in, and for once we don’t have to worry about the turnaround and hope spots coming in the next volume. No, this is not the end of the arc, but at least this book is allowed to come to a definite emotional conclusion, as Freya plays her last desperate card and ends up losing. Now it’s just a question of what’s going to happen to her… assuming that her Familia don’t just murder everyone.

After Syr is rejected by Bell at the end of the last book, Freya finally snaps. Hestia’s family is taken out in approximately two seconds, and Freya basically tells Hestia “give me Bell”. Hestia refuses, and Hermes reminds Freya of a rule that shows off to the reader the ludicrous timescale of this entire series. As a result, Freya decides to go all out and brainwash ALL OF ORARIO, including the Gods, into thinking Bell has always been with Freya Familia. The exceptions to this are a) Freya herself, b) Bell, who rapidly loses his mind when everyone seems to recognize him as someone else, c) Hestia, who fired off all her divine power at once to avoid this, and d) Asfi and Lyu, who were able to escape the city in time. Now Hestia has to figure out a way to stop this before bell finally breaks and accepts that he’s under a memory “curse”.

I joked on Twitter that Books 1-10 supposedly starred Hestia, but really starred Aiz, and that Books 11-20 were the same but with Lyu. Hestia has been Bell’s goddess, but as a character she’s always played a supporting role in the series, and sometimes barely shows up. Thus it’s nice to see her actually managing to save the day, and her entrance at the end is appropriately awesome. That said, once again the thing that saved Bell from cracking and giving in is not Hestia, or any of the other women in love with him, but Aiz. All of the women with strong attachments to Bell are less affected by Freya’s mind control (and bravo to Eina, who gets a great scene of defiance before she’s beaten down by EVEN MORE MIND CONTROL), but it’s seeing that Aiz is able to remember a different past with Bell, one where she trained him, that gives him hope and strength. All the other female leads are still chasing after her.

And so we’re ready for another War Game, with Freya Familiia vs… well, possibly everyone else, though I suspect the rules will winnow down the opposing team a bit. Still it, should be great fun to read whenever it comes out. It’s still not out in Japan. But this was an excellent psychological torture volume with a pump your fist ending.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 16

By Fujino Omori and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan as “Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Dale DeLucia.

Look, I know the spoiler. You know the spoiler. Most readers following this series have long since figured out the spoiler, if only as they googled the name and were redirected in a spoilery way. But yeah, this review is gonna talk about Syr, so if you say to yourself “oh, the shy but also sly waitress who likes Bell!”, I’d advise not reading this till you’ve read the book. We’ve seen Syr in action in one of the spinoff books, where she and Lyu go to a casino and she absolutely destroys a group of gamblers. But we’ve never quite seen Syr like this. This is Syr’s Last Stand. In the last volume we had a festival of remembrance, and in this one, hot on its heels, we have a festival of harvest. It’s meant to be a happy, joyous occasion, and is very popular with couples. As such, when Syr asks Bell out on a date, all hell breaks loose.

Admittedly it’s hard to pretend you’re avoiding a spoiler when the cover also heavily references the spoiler. So yeah, Syr is Freya. We all had guessed this by now, especially if we knew any mythology, and the derivation of the name Syr. That said, there’s another twist to it (hinted at in the Freya spinoff that came out last year) that makes things more interesting. For a good 3/4 of this book, however, this is really a cute romcom – something the author admits they were going for. Syr is, for obvious reasons, protected by the Freya Familia, and if she’s going to be dating Bell Cranel, then by God, she will be dating the BEST Bell Cranel, leading to a hilarious 5-day training from hell trying to teach Bell how to be a sexy boyfriend. (Poor Cassandra.) At the same time, Hestia is flipping out, and she and Aiz team up to follow Bell… as do Lyu and the rest of Syr’s co-workers. There’s funny moments, there’s sweet moments, there’s touching moments.

…and then it all goes to hell. Another slight spoiler, but the end of this book absolutely sets the table for the next arc, which I suspect is going to be “Freya Familia tries to kill all of Hestia Familia over and over again”. It has nothing to do with Bell figuring out Syr is Freya – he doesn’t. It’s simply that Syr left all her emotions and love on the table, begged Bell to accept her, and he CAN’T. He loves Aiz. (This is not stated explicitly with her name, but, um, see the previous 15 books). And it’s devastating and tragic until the last five pages or so, when you realize that oh shit, no, it’s going to be “fuck it, burn it all down” for Freya as she decides to have Bell Cranel By Any Means Necessary. It’s a stunning ending, and made me appreciate the comedy in this book all the more – I doubt we’ll see it in 17.

As with the wait between 15 and 16, 17 is not yet on Yen On’s schedule. Still, I hear 17 isn’t the end of the story arc either, so if you want to wait to binge, I’d advise against it. This works well as a stand-alone showing us what happens when someone who can get anyone she wants falls hard for the boy who won’t sleep with her because it would be wrong.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 15

By Fujino Omori and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan as “Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Paul Starr.

This volume is similar to Volume 8, in that it is essentially a short story collection with wraparounds. The stories are all (almost) on a basic premise, which is “let’s lay out the backstories of how everyone arrived in Orario and how their lives have improved 8000% now that they have family and friends”. As such, there is an air of melancholy to this book, as while we do admire how far everyone has come, we’re seeing a depressed Bell, a rejected Hestia, an abused Lilly, a disillusioned Eina, a frustrated and angry Welf, a bitter Lyu, and… well, we’ve mostly gone into Mikoto and Haruhime’s stories already, so theirs is the exception to the rule. And then there’s Aiz, who doesn’t show up till the end, but who provides the perfect capper to the book, even if it leaves you with an ominous feeling. After several volumes in a row that are just dungeon fights, this one also seems happy to give everyone a chance to rest.

Bell and Hestia are on the cover, and they get the first flashbacks, as they (independently) recall how they arrived in the city. Their stories are downbeat, but end on a high note as they meet each other. There’s a later mirror of them with Lyu’s story, which features similar beats – she really needs to join a Familia, but her preconceptions and prickly nature are driving everyone away. Lilly’s story was a high point – showing off how wretched her life has been from the moment of her birth (sorry, Soma, giving Lilly potato puffs once does not make me forgive you) while contrasting it with the glee and happiness she feels as Hestia tells her that she’s gone up to Level 2. That said, when it comes to her past, she’d still prefer to deal with it indirectly rather than confront it head on. Which is her own choice, of course.

Welf’s story is fairly predictable, and Haruhime and Mikoto’s suffers from being the ‘light’ story in the book (though it is nice to see Haruhime slowly try to get herself out of “clumsy foxgirl” status – the maid stuff really doesn’t help). The epilogue, though, is the true best part of the book. It features the one day a year when the city mourns all its fallen, something that has to be explained to Bell (who, we are reminded, has not even been there a year yet). Seeing the funeral elegy being sung by everyone – even those such as Freya – was hauntingtly beautiful. That said, Bell and Aiz are not headed down the same path, and this epilogue serves to underscore that. Aiz is not here to be anyone’s hero. And, while Sword Oratoria readers already have a good inkling of her past secrets, here Bell finally connects the dots, and is stunned.

Unfortunately, the 16th volume only came out in Japan two months ago, so we may have another long wait. And, given the cover to 16 has Syr and Freya on it, Aiz may not even be the focus. Still, for a collection that was written as “take the short stories from the anime releases bonus DVDs and create wraparound material”, this is surprisingly solid.