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.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Familia Chronicle: Episode Freya

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

For the most part, along the course of the main DanMachi series, the Freya family has tended to function as Not-Quite-Villains. Particularly Freya, who has her sights set on Bell and making him hers. They’re not out and out evil… trust me, we know who the evil Familias are in this series. Indeed, we get another one in this spinoff. But they’re meant to be aloof and unlikable, the ones at the top looking down on everyone else, and the ones who fight each other constantly just for their goddess’s favor. As such, Episode Freya, which has her leave Orario and go out into the desert looking for her “Odr”, which seems to be used in the same way that we might use “soulmate”, only the implication is that this would not be an equal relationship. While out there, she finds a slave who’s really a royal, and gets inveigled in a massive war. Which, if nothing else, keeps her from being bored.

As promised, we see a better side of Freya here. She’s not exactly a nice person… indeed, the author takes pains to show that she really is exactly who you think she is. But it becomes very apparent in this book why she commands the strongest fighters in Orario, and it’s not that she’s “charmed” them with her goddess powers at all. Indeed, we see her essentially seducing the young prince, Ali (who is really a princess pretending to be a man, because male succession only, etc.) over the course of the book, and at the end Ali is genuinely torn about whether to stay and rule her country or just head off with Freya. Freya, though, makes that decision – Ali was attractive to her precisely because of the liminal space of “I am trying to gain back my kingdom and my people” – an Ali who followed Freya would not be attractive to her. (She does get a night in bed with the goddess, though – though it’s all offscreen, this book has far more sex than the other books.)

The book starts off light – Freya freeing over a hundred slaves because their despair makes the town less sparking is very her, and the scenes with her being the boke to Ali’s tsukkomi were hilarious. Sadly, there’s also a lot of tragedy here as well – the body count is high, both good guys and bad, and the carnage of war is very much on display. There are also two other stories in the book – the first one gives us glimpses of Ottar’s past, and how he got to be the Level 7 powerhouse he is, as well as showing us Mia and Ahnya from the pub back when they were in the Freya familia. There’s also short backstories for the rest of the family, but the biggest one may be the last… and I suspect it spoils Vol. 15, which is out next month in English but came out first in Japan. Let’s just say the fans’ first theories may have been right after all.

Very well done, and you have a much better sense of who Freya is now, though I expect when we’re back in the main series she’ll go back to being an antagonist of sorts. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another two and a half years for the next Episode.

Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? On The Side: Sword Oratoria, Vol. 12

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

This is not the final volume of this side series, the author hastens to reassure us in the afterword. There are more stories they want to tell. Which is fine, but it certainly FEELS like the final volume, and there’s no Vol. 13 on the horizon in Japan. It’s the longest volume in the entire series, and manages to once again pull off the specialty of this particular author in that it has a fight take up about 350 pages and still remain interesting. I have some grumps, many of which may be familiar to those who read my previous review – see below – but for the most part this hit the right buttons, has a few fakeouts and a few fake fakeouts, and shows us the good side of some antagonists gods and the bad side of some other gods. And the protagonists, Aiz and Lefiya, both grow stronger emotionally and physically, though Lefiya’s actual recovery may have to wait till future books.

The biggest fakeout impressed but also annoyed me. Last time I talked about media’s habit of the ‘dead lesbian/evil lesbian’ trope, and I wondered if Lefiya might turn a bit dark, but I must admit I was not prepared for Filvis being both the dead AND the evil lesbian. (Yes, yes, they’re not explicitly said to be gay, but come on.) It’s somewhat well prepared, pointing out the many times recently where Lefiya, accompanied by Filvis, has been noticeably in less danger than everyone else. That said, Filvis’ ability, which allows her to essentially clone herself an evil twin, feels a bit too on the nose, the sort of ability that was set up just for the climax of this volume, where Filvis can argue with herself about whether Lefiya has to die or not. Better done was Filvis’ relationship with the main God villain, who is a truly nasty piece of work (I guessed their identity, despite an attempt to distract, but I don’t think the mystery was the point), and the abusive and toxic nature of a “father” figure and his daughter.

The cast of the main series feature more prominently in this one, with Bell getting the big final critical hit in just like he does in the main series (Hestia only has a few scenes, but let’s face it, she’s the Index of DanMachi). As with prior volumes of both series, I remain fascinated by the interplay between Finn and Lilly, who is tacitly forgiven for her deception a while back by being allowed to disguise herself as Finn and take over the logistics of one or two of the battle points. It shows off Lilly’s growth as a tactician, but also really demonstrated Finn’s trust in her – again, if it weren’t for her love for Bell, these two would be an amazing power couple. Most of the rest of the extended cast also gets an attempt to show off, and we get introduced to a few more of Freya’s family, which is good timing as her spinoff is out in a couple of months. And of course there is Aiz, who is able to reconcile her feelings towards monsters, humans, and when it’s right to kill.

This started as an Aiz spinoff but rapidly changed into one about the Loki Family as a whole, and it’s for the better. That said, I don’t mind taking a break here. It’s been a bit exhausting lately, and these volumes got a lot more tragic than the main series. Still, fans of Sword Oratoria should find this a satisfying payoff.