By now, I’m pretty sure you guys are aware that I’m a huge fantasy nerd. The whole D&D obsession, coupled with the fantasy stories I share here, and of course, that thing where I got a fantasy novel published, probably gave that away at least a little.
If you hadn’t figured it out, my apologies for shocking you with this. I can’t imagine how your image of me has changed. Like, really. I can’t.
Point being, my love of fantasy and my love of anime don’t always cross over as much as I’d like. Sure, there’s the whole Taken To Another World sub-genre, and as I discussed a while back, that’s brought us some really great shows. Still, it isn’t really my first choice when it comes to fantasy.
Mostly because I don’t want to see someone from our world saving another. It’s fun and all, but for me, it breaks the immersion a bit. The real joy of fantasy, for me, is being taken wholly and completely to another world, and learning about it.
I guess the best way to put it is that I want to visit another world, without being reminded our world exists. Our world kinda sucks. We can’t save ourselves. How can a schlub from here save a whole different world?
Yes, yes, I’m picky. You have no idea how much.
On those occasions a truly disconnected fantasy anime comes along, it isn’t always as good as I’d hope. Some key element is always missing, leaving the whole thing feeling a bit underwhelming. All of which makes it hard to go pick out four true fantasy animes for this month, that I can fully recommend.
Because, when I get right down to it, there are things I want, and expect, from fantasy, that we just don’t do anymore. Things that have made the genre what it was, and the absence of have left it less than it could be. Things that I can’t help but feel, people have forgotten how to appreciate.
The first thing wrong with most modern fantasy, is that we’ve somehow decided it needs to be realistic. This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Fantasy is fantasy because it isn’t realistic. When I say not realistic, I don’t mean Smurfy, either. I mean that we’ve somehow come to accept that fantasy shouldn’t have magic, wonder, a sense that the impossible is possible, and generally, that everything has to be explained using real world science.
How boring can you get.
Fantasy is fantasy because it doesn’t need those things. It engages the imagination directly, and dares us to dream of wilder skies than we ever did before. It is a pure form of wonderment, and awe. It doesn’t need to explain itself, because it is fantasy. Everything you need to know is there in the genre name.
Still, that said, there are certain things I look for in fantasy, be it movies, books, or anime. Obviously, good characters are one of them. I think I’ve beat that horse til it was a zombie. Solid world building is another.
Now, world building doesn’t mean the world has to make sense according to our understanding of science, and physics. Just that it has to make sense in context to itself, and that everything proceeds logically from there. As long as a story can do that, and keep building on it, without contradicting itself, it’s doing a good job of building the world.
Finally, I look for it to be epic. My favorite kind of fantasy is the epic kind. Not even that the story is epic in scope, but rather, that there are moments where the characters are epic. Where they have those moments of such profound greatness, that you can’t help but be in awe of them. If the story itself is epic as well, that’s just gravy.
The reason I’m going into all of this is so you really get just how picky I am when it comes to fantasy anime, and what I look for, enjoy, and want from it. As well as how rare it is that I find it.
Surprisingly enough, Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon ticked off every single thing I want, and love, about fantasy. How that worked out, I’ll never know, but here we are.
Also, seriously Japan, we need to talk about how you name things. This is officially out of hand now.
DanMachi, as it is more commonly called, because that full title is a bit much, is a 13 episode 2015 series from J.C. Staff, the makers of Azumanga Daioh, Slayers, Toradora!, and, well… a whole fucking ton of other great shows that I’m not gonna list all of, cause really, you guys should know this stuff by now.
It’s gonna be on the test. I’m just saying.
Set in a world where the God decided Heaven was boring, and come down to live with mortals, the story follows Bell Cranel, a beginning adventurer, and the sole follower of the Goddess Hestia. During a particularly harrowing encounter with a Minotaur, Bell was saved by Aiz Wallenstien, the Sword Princess of the Loki Familia, and fell in love with her. The only problem, as he sees it, is that he’s a wuss, and Aiz is awesome, so he wants to get stronger, so he can be worthy of her.
This is what first sets him on his path to becoming an epic hero. Along the way, he runs into lots of trouble, makes friends, and tries to keep his clingy Goddess happy, all while trying to understand just why it is he’s growing so fast as an adventurer.
If that sounds cheesy, well, on paper it is, but in practice, it’s epic as hell. Partly because Bell is a throwback to the heroes of old. Fated, chosen people who could do things no one else could. Add to that, Bell is a painfully kind hearted person, and you have the sort of classic hero we don’t see anymore.
I love a flawed character as much as anyone, but sometimes, it’s nice to see a hero who really is just a good, decent person, doing right, because it’s the right thing to do. Even a jaded cynic like me wants to believe humanity is capable of being like that.
Even when someone betrays him, Bell forgives them, and tries to help them. It drives Hestia nuts most of the time, but the truth is, that’s just who Bell is, and why he’s a hero. That sort of pure hearted character is considered by many to be old fashioned, and passe these days, but c’mon guys. Deep down, you wish you could be like that, and be rewarded for it.
Reality may not work that way, but fantasy, it can. Which makes Bell’s continued progress, advancement, and recognition all the more rewarding. Because for a bit, it let’s us believe that such a thing can happen. It inspires us to want it to happen, and maybe, to try and make it happen. That’s what fantasy is, and what it does. Dragging it down to realism takes that away. It tarnishes it.
Well, that’s just my opinion, of course. I suppose other people have a right or something to their own, stupid and wrong, opinions, too.
Point begin, Bell gets a ton of epic character moments. His battle with the silverback early in the series is amazing, but nothing compared to his later encounter with another Minotaur. As the show progresses, Bell’s battles get more epic, and he does, too.
This is in no small part because of the people around him, however. Hestia, the Goddess he serves, may be needy, clingy, and a busty loli, but she believes in him more than anyone else. She busts her ass for him, and does everything she can for him, because he always stands by her, even when more powerful Gods try to draw him away. Her faults aside, Hestia is a great example of what a deity can be in fantasy. As dedicated to her followers, as they are to her.
Which is where the world building of DanMachi really shines, in the whole concept of the Gods and their Familia. This is what drives most of the main plot, outside of Bell’s adventures, and forms the backbone of the setting. Most of the Gods are constantly seeking new followers to add to their Familia, even going so far as to steal followers from other Gods. It’s pretty competitive, and gets pretty nasty at times.
Bell being Bell, he garners a lot of attention, but his commitment to Hestia never wavers, because again, he’s the hero of this story. It’s also what ends up earning him the friendship of many people he meets, such as the supporter Lili and blacksmith Welf, to badass Elf Ryu and even Aiz herself. It’s his honesty and integrity that earns him their respect, admiration, and friendship.
Almost like there’s a lesson in there, ain’t it?
Many of the Gods of DanMachi are based on the Gods of myth and legend from our world, but have been heavily altered, so really, beyond the name’s being familiar, they bear little to no resemblance to the ones we’d known. Which works out pretty well, as it teases a bit of familiarity, then yanks the rug out from under you and forces you to learn these new versions, what with this not being our world.
Yes, I like when fantasy is a bit dickish, too.
One last thing I want to address about the show itself before I get into the particulars. It is a bit fan servicy, but I forgive it, because it’s fantasy. It isn’t as blatant, or as dumb, with it as, say, High School of the Dead, but if you get bent out of shape easily by fan service, you’ll probably be screaming at your screen a lot.
Personally, I say save your breath. Fantasy is the one genre that can get away with it, and it not be offensive, stupid, or distracting. Because it’s fantasy, and in a fantasy world, a woman can walk around three quarters naked, not fear for her safety, and be treated with respect. Cause, duh, fantasy.
Now, I know, a lot of folks will say that I’m missing the point. How this about male gaze, or something else. Do me a favor, and please, spare me. Any other genre, and I’ll agree with you. Fantasy, I won’t, because fantasy is the one genre where it doesn’t matter what kind of armor or outfit a female character wears, she is respected for her skill, talent, and capabilities. That’s literally what those people say they want, but then piss and moan when they have that presented to them by fantasy.
We need realistic armor! Why? What difference does it make? It’s fantasy. Mages throw fireballs, and dragons use realistic armor as a toothpick just as easily. Seriously. The armor that women wear being realistic or not makes zero difference to their survivability in a fantasy world. None at all.
So, yeah, DanMachi is fantasy right down to the core. I’m okay with that. Because fantasy shouldn’t be held to the standards of reality. In any way. It should be allowed to do whatever it wants. Even when you don’t like. Even when I don’t like it.
Which, when I get right down to it, is why I actually loved this series. It’s pure, grade A, fantasy. The kind you don’t really see anymore.
In terms of animation, DanMachi is just gorgeous to look at. The character designs are superb, the backgrounds are lush, and everything moves super well. There’s never any real dips in quality, either, which is pretty much what I expect from J.C. Staff, so isn’t surprising. Over all, DanMachi is a real pleasure to watch, just from the visual standpoint.
The music was arranged by Keiji Inai, and holy fuck is it awesome! I mean, seriously! The music for this show is mind blowingly good! Just fucking listen to this shit!
Inai, by the way, has a very short list of credits still, and appears to be an up and comer in the industry. With scores like this, it isn’t hard to see why. He also arranged the music for Alderamin in the Sky, Heavy Object, and Tokyo Ravens, by the way, but DanMachi is by far his most ambitious soundtrack. He really captures the fantasy genre beautifully.
Yes, I’m gushing. I loved the music for this show.
The series was directed by Yoshiki Yamakawa, who doesn’t have a lot of other directing credits to his name. He’s been a character designer with Madhouse, but even then, I couldn’t find much of his work that I was familiar with. Outside of the odd storyboard for a high profile show, there wasn’t a lot to go on in terms of his capabilities.
Except, of course, that DanMachi is directed with such mastery, I’m shocked to learn it wasn’t a masterful director with a ton of credits to their name behind it. Yamakawa really knows how to frame a scene, how to make it move, and how to keep everything focused on what matters the most, no matter what’s going on. His handle of fight scene choreography is amazing, and I’d love to see this cat direct some more fantasy anime.
The writing was handled by Sideki Shirane, based on a series of light novels by Fujino Omori. In both cases, the ability to mix humor, action, suspense, and the epic nature of fantasy to perfection is evident. I’m not familiar with Omori, outside of DanMachi, but Shirane has worked on scripts and series composition for a crap load of shows, such as Date A Live, Yami to Bōshi to Hon no Tabibito, a show I reviewed way the hell back, and one of the entries in the bafflingly long running Queen’s Blade series.
Yeah, I know what I said, but Queen’s Blade is shit no matter how you look at it, and is just trying to cover that shit up with boobs. Which it also sucks at doing.
If you love fantasy, especially the classic heroic fantasy, then DanMachi is exactly what you’ve been looking for. If you aren’t familiar with fantasy enough to know just how varied the genre is, then this is a great place to start, because it really does present all the the best aspects of the genre in a genuinely compelling story, with well crafted characters, and some wonderfully epic moments.
Next week, we take a look at a fantasy anime that is truly epic in every way.