Previously I’d watched the anime of this and I absolutely loved it. I’ve been hesitant to try the light novel given I’ve already seen the story, but after enjoying Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash I gave it a go.
For those unfamiliar, the story mostly follows Bell Cranell who has travelled to Orario after the death of his grandfather to become an adventurer in the labyrinth known as dungeon. His motives aren’t exactly the best however. Bell had a great fondness for his grandfather’s stories and the part that really stood out to him was how the hero always saves the girl and then gets surrounded by a harem. Bell is quick to learn there is more to exploring a dungeon than finding a girl.
I’m going to avoid comparing this to the anime as much as possible so I’m going to get the major point that hit me while reading this out of the way and then simply focus on the book. Aiz actually has a personality afterall. While the anime left her pretty blank and dull in the early stages, the book actually makes me interested in her from her first scene. What a novel idea. I honestly don’t know how that got lost in the adaptation process but it was definitely a loss.
Okay, onto reviewing the book as a book. As I venture further into reading light novels there are certain patterns that I am definitely picking up. One thing that is a little bit odd is that they seem to have no concern about shifting perspective. While more than half of this story is in first person from Bell’s perspective, the rest of the story (and it is a significant proportion) is in third person and jumps from allowing the reader insight into Hesita’s thoughts as well as Freya’s, Aiz’s, Eina’s, Hephaistos’ and probably other character that I’ve forgotten. While at times it is jarring because sometimes it is a few lines into a new section before the current perspective is clear, it does help to round out the support cast and their motives (certainly if we waited for Bell to notice anything we’d be waiting a very long time, and he’s also not involved in every scene). However, I have to wonder if the consistency of the story might have been better served by leaving Bell’s parts in third person as well. There seems no reason for us to hear it in first person when third person has worked fine to convey the feelings and thoughts of other characters.
Outside of the weird perspective jumps, the writing in this is pretty good comparatively with the other light novels I’ve read. It isn’t exactly going to challenge the great literary minds of the ages, but it flows well and is quite descriptive. This is kind of important given there’s a lot of information and world building in this first book as the way adventurers level up is explained, as is how monsters spawn in the dungeon, as is the nature of the dungeon, and how the gods came along and started making familias. There’s a lot of information coming at the reader throughout this and if the writing hadn’t had a generally fun and easy style it probably would have become tedious quite quickly.
As to the story, it was pretty good. Bell is a very likeable character. He’s a bit of a dork, but he’s hardworking and nice. His odd motive aside, he really is someone you want to get behind and they do an excellent job during the climax of the book (monsterphilia incident for people who watched the anime) at making you genuinely worry about his safety. I won’t lie: I cheered while reading at the end.
Bell’s relationships with the other characters are crucial to making this story work and not just become another generic harem story, and for the most part these are fairly successful. Bell and Hestia have quite the complex and yet amusing relationship with Hestia being extremely attached to Bell. However, this relationship isn’t one in name only. It is one that causes both characters to act at various times and you can see the genuine connection that they have which is something many harem stories miss as they go through the motions of having characters proclaim love but don’t seem motivated by that emotion to do anything more than pout and cling. What makes this more interesting is Bell can’t see Hestia as a romantic interest because to him she is first and foremost a goddess. This isn’t the random she’s a year older, she’s my sister, she’s interested in someone else block a lot of other protagonists might face. This is a genuine emotional hurdle Bell would have to overcome if anything was ever to come of this relationship in future volumes. Meanwhile, he does love Hestia fiercely. She is his goddess and his family and he acts in accordance with this motive. Kind of refreshing really.
Meanwhile, the object of Bell’s very immature affections, Aiz, is at the moment beyond his reach in his view. Again, this one is clearly established through the use of the level system and Bell and Aiz’s levels are worlds apart. Furthermore, they aren’t in the same familia which apparently also can lead to issues so Hestia and Eina both kind of discourage his pursuit of that relationship. Interestingly, though Aiz and Bell hear about each other fairly often they have no direct interactions outside of the opening sequence where Aiz saves Bell in the dungeon and he runs away.
Now, there is the issue of Bell’s protagonist plot armour. His unique ‘skill’ literally helps him get stronger just by willing himself to become stronger. It doesn’t happen instantly and it isn’t as though he doesn’t work, but his progress is ridiculously fast. Also, despite a couple of very dangerous situations, which are actually written with some good tension, ultimately Bell comes out fairly unscathed. He doesn’t even lose a finger or break a bone. So while the situation in the moment might seem dangerous, logically as the reader you more or less know he’s going to be just fine. For some people, this factor is going to be the one that kills the story because while I was pretty invested in the fights and found them pretty exciting, I know some people find the knowledge that the main character will be okay a bit of a buzz kill.
For me though, this was a fun read. It had excitement, danger, dungeon exploration, the forging of unique and powerful weapons, great character relationships being established, and a lot of growth potential as there’s a lot going on in the world that might be expanded upon in later books. All and all, I’m really glad I decided to pick this one up and I’m looking forward to when I can get the second book.
If you’re interested in reading Is It Wrong to Try To Pick Up Girls In a Dungeon Volume 1 it is available on the Book Depository.
Thanks for reading
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