It’s been a while since Danmachi has enjoyed the volatile attention of the anime community, so much so that I wouldn’t recommend jumping into Season 2 with only a passive recollection of the events or world set up by the previous season...frankly, to passive viewers of this show, I wouldn’t recommend jumping into Season 2 at all at its current stage. Danmachi sits at an interesting crossroads for a lot of people, it seems. On the one hand, it’s mired in so many narrative inconsistencies that the veritable onslaught of criticisms lobbed its way effectively chip at its armor. But on the other, it is often lauded as a treasure trove for guilty pleasure enthusiasts. However, I can’t say my loyalties exactly align with either camp to a T. It’s difficult to frame a review around this series in particular, because it’s the source of an ongoing headache of conflicting feelings for me.
My biggest problem with Danmachi is the identity crisis presented by its content. Is this a stupid show that’s well aware of its faults yet wants to be taken seriously? Or is this a flawed show that wants to be viewed as dumb fun? I can’t parse with that level of minutiae. It’s infuriating. And if these first 4 episodes are any indication of what’s to come, Danmachi has mostly stayed consistent in its ability to somehow comfortably inhabit this middle ground. This is the same old Danmachi, and if that’s exactly what you want, more power to you.
This season is not looking to impress an audience that wasn’t there to begin with, this is quite literally the same old Danmachi. However, in its insistence to give the audience what they want (which is more of the same), the conflict feels safe at best and the pacing of its plot progression has screeched to an ironic halt. The pacing of these first 4 episodes is break-neck, however, because the overarching plot is so stagnated, it feels like watching an elongated B-story in place of receiving any form of significant plot or character progression. The set-up for the conflict between Hestia and Apollo’s factions could have made for an intriguing story arc, but that potential is disappointingly squandered by the second episode.
The first red flag came in the form of a D-tier clairvoyant character essentially spelling out how this arc is going to end with about as much subtlety as a hammer to the face. Even if I tempered my expectations of the heroes proudly bearing their victory scars, it doesn’t exactly mitigate the fact that even the bystander characters have become self-aware to the predictability of the conflict unfolding before them. I can budge on the predictability of Danmachi being a non-criticism, with these kinds of shows, you get what you pay for. Therein lies the issue, despite it almost being self-aware in its predictability, heavy use of tropes, and unnecessary fan-service, Danmachi tries way too hard to play it with a straight face.
I’d like to coin this phenomenon “Fairy Tail syndrome”, wherein which a show with needlessly campy assets attempts to inject seriousness into its narrative, making for a final product that feels tonally dissonant. There’s a particularly egregious moment in the second episode between Bell and Hestia in a sewer. I’ll keep it vague for the sake of people interested in this second season, to provide some context, before this scene occurs, there is a relatively “tense” action sequence, but to cut at the tension, there is an amorous comedic bit between Bell and Hestia that thoroughly undercuts the tension. Not only that, but there is a serious lack of needed tension in the forced romantic relationship between the two that any interaction between them feels like an utter waste of screentime. Any time this show tries to get serious about the romantic interaction between any of the love interests and Bell, it comes off as tasteless harem antics with indulgent and predictable fan-service situations. And it’s never funny.
I enjoy this series to an extent, and I can come to terms with its mass appeal. I have a soft spot for shows about underdog dorks slowly inching their way to momentary success, even if it requires some suspension of disbelief when those small victories feel heavily contrived. Even if it is a predictable formula to pace into, it’s hard to not raise an eyebrow when characters manage to best annoyingly pompous antagonists. Hestia is indeed “Bestia”, or at least her extremely iconic design and charming personality facilitates enough anime-tiddy Twitter-feed fodder to convince me otherwise. Her rapport with Bell almost occasionally convinces me that I’m not watching a show about a woman who’s fallen madly in love with a dungeon diving slice of Wonder Bread slathered in Miracle Whip.
Speaking of characters, Danmachi has a pretty colorful cast of them. I can’t speak much for Bell Cranel, as protagonists go he’s pushed so far into the corner of typical harem anime protagonists that he just sort of bleeds into the mix with the rest of them. There’s nothing engaging about his backstory to latch onto and his disingenuous underdog act produces many an eye-roll worthy moment when he “miraculously” comes out on top. Hestia is the mascot, rightfully so because she’s just that charming of a character. Inori Minase is THE cute anime girl voice and provides a needed dose of energy in the sluggish pace of this show’s story. Some people find her annoying but her character reminds me that this show’s concept could’ve worked had they played to the comedic aspect a little more. Think Urusei Yatsura except with a Dungeons and Dragons type setting. Her design also bothers some people for the excessive sexualizing of her character but fan-service has never bothered me TOO much especially if it’s in a show that’s fully committed to exploiting it to a satirical degree. However, Danmachi doesn’t seem fully committed to that tone so whenever there are egregious body/POV shots of her character model, it can take away from the seriousness of the tone of a scene or distract from the dialogue.
Besides the main protagonists, the secondary and tertiary characters have distinct enough personalities and designs to at least stick with you on a shallow level, so it doesn’t just feel like they’re there to populate the world. However, the story never lingers on any one character long enough for them to feel fully realized. Lily’s backstory is further explored in this season and it should be noted that she’s probably the only character in the previous season (besides Bell) that got significant attention. However, after her storyline felt mostly tied up in the previous season, it didn’t seem to me like there was much else to do with her character, so when the story eventually did shift its attention to her it just felt like extraneous BS.
With tonal dissonance, shallow characters, forced comedy, predictability, and a stagnated plot taking the forefront can Danmachi Season 2 at least bring up the rear on a technical level in its first 4 episodes? Despite pretty standard direction, Danmachi is at least consistent in its animation. There are no set-pieces that stand out to me as far as key animation, and even the change in director didn’t exactly do so much as to change the shot composition slightly, but on average the show is passable enough to distract from its pretty inert direction. I also think Danmachi sports some pretty good character designs despite the overall look of the characters being relatively simple.
Danmachi can’t seem to compromise with its tone. It’s still not quite at the point of no return however as it continues to march to the beat of its own drum, it seems perfectly content in staying in its lane. There are aspects of this show that I like and at some point, I’m sure it will be able to actually rise to the challenge of weaving together a subversive or effectual story arc, but as of this first handful of episodes, that still might be far off on the horizon. There’s a part of my subconscious that just wants to press its finger against my lips and silently whisper, “shut up, don’t think about it too much”, but that’s asking too much.