Dungeon Busters: Pokémon Go But You Don’t Get Hit by a Car (Volume 1 Review)

I love myself some JRPGs (even if I don’t have time to play a lot of them anymore). The fantasy settings are (usually) very vibrant and pretty (I wish I could sleep in some of these settings), and you can hunt animals for money without having to worry about a mass extinction! Dungeon Busters brings the idea of living in a JRPG to our world.

In Dungeon Busters, a middle-aged salaryman named Kazuhiko Ezoe finds a dungeon in his backyard. When he enters, he initiates the “Dungeon System”, which will cause dungeons to appear all over the world. In eleven years, all the monsters of any uncleared dungeons will destroy all life on Earth. Kazuhiko is determined to clear all the dungeons and save the world.

Well… technically, he doesn’t clear all the dungeons himself. His goal is to grind up enough money to start funding his own organization to take down dungeons. As someone who likes JRPGs, it feels good to see Kazuhiko evolve and gain skills (and min-maxing, of course). The “game” mechanics are also very well thought-out. It is quite repetitive with exposition dumps, but that’s because Kazuhiko kind of has to reiterate it a lot in the context of the story; it shouldn’t be like this moving forward.

Like any incomprehensible phenomena that impacts the whole world, the dungeons get political. As you can expect, all of the governments of the world respond less efficiently than one man’s individual efforts. At the very least, they tackle the real-world impact of an infinite source of money and energy, ordinary humans being able to grow stronger than a pro wrestler, potions that can restore body parts, and other videogame tropes. The weird thing, however, is the fact that every nation except for Japan has a different name (also, the president of the U.S. is based off of Trump, which will very shortly make this series quite dated). This could be foreshadowing a twist, since the opening chapter shows the world—curiously enough—already being destroyed. What if Dungeon Busters IS an isekai, only it’s an alternate version of our own sekai?

As someone who’s read so many light novels, the writing of 99% of them feel exactly the same. Despite that, there’s a wild sense of variance in quality. Dungeon Busters doesn’t feel like it does any writing differently, but it’s more than sufficient for some reason. There is one problem, however: the P.O.V. changes are awful, sometimes switching into a minor character who never appears again. They also don’t show you who they’re changing into after the first time shifting to that character. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be an issue if the cast had personality, but sadly… that’s not the case. Kazuhiko is likeable enough at least. He’s down-to-earth, as to not come off as a sociopathic a-hole, but he at has some definable personality quirks; he’s very composed and utilitarian, always considering all the possibilities of the situation. Kazuhiko is essentially a chiller version of Seiya from Cautious Hero.

Dungeon Busters wouldn’t be a light novel without some controversy, and this leads into the inevitable harem. There is a card mechanic where you can summon monsters and items and stuff. The rarest type of card summons a girl straight out of one of those “waifu mobile games”, and Kazuhiko gets two of them. His first, Akane, is a sexy ninja girl who’s constantly trying to have sex with him. She’s at least a legal adult, but Emily, his other waifu card, looks like a twelve-year-old. Both of these girl cards only serve to discuss dungeon mechanics and be waifus. And it gets worse with Kazuhiko’s niece, Mari. She seems harmless enough; just your typical moe blob who exists just to pander. However, there is one scene that implies that she might have a crush on her forty-year-old uncle. 

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Finally, a decent light novel debut! Dungeon Busters isn’t perfect, but it at least has standards (ooooh, burn!). I’m curious to see what direction this thing goes in (and how much more political it’ll get). I recommend it to fans of DanMachi and slice-of-life fantasies.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Volume 12 Review

Cover of volume 12

Last time on DanMachi, we finished off the Xenos Arc. All kinds of chaos ensued (including a gripping fight between Bell and Aiz) as Hestia Familia tried to help the Xenos escape from Orario. However, Hermes created a fake notebook to trick them and force Bell to kill one of the Xenos. Double however, Freya had other plans. She had Ottar direct Asterios, the black minotaur that Aiz injured earlier, to Bell. Turns out that Asterios is a reincarnation of the very first minotaur that Bell fought all that time ago. Their battle is enough of a distraction for the Xenos to escape into the Dungeon, but Bell gets his ass handed to him by Asterios. After the battle, the beast returns to the Dungeon, to train up for the last of their best-two-out-of-three-match. Bell cries for a bit, but continues to move forward as usual.

So, guys, did you know that there’s a massive, underground labyrinth called the Dungeon right underneath Orario? It’s kind of been a while since the story actually involved going there. After the incident, Bell’s rank increases to Level 4, which brings Hestia Familia’s overall rank to D. At this rank, the Guild will now send them off on regular expeditions in the Dungeon, with each ending off on a floor that they haven’t been to before. Finally! But here’s the thing, floors 25 and onward are called “the New World” (*cough* not a ripoff of anything *cough*), and this is where the Dungeon takes the kid gloves off.

The main narrative of this volume is that they end up discovering a rare monster that has grown stronger  by gaining XP from other monsters. Although it’s not Asterios, it ends up proving to be quite a challenge because it’s also much smarter than most monsters that aren’t Xenos.

Overall, it’s a good volume, but the biggest issue with this volume is the lack of further character development. It’s undeniable that the characters have grown immensely throughout the series; Bell has better judgement, Lily and Welf are better fighters, Haruhime even gets a new move, and more. The character arcs for most of these people feel more or less complete, which is both good and bad. Good because the series can focus primarily on the Dungeon like it was meant to, and bad because there’s still a lot of story left but it needs chutzpah to stay interesting. Hopefully the new development at the end of the volume will give it that chutzpah.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Sorry for the short post today, but there really isn’t much to say here. This is a good breather volume, and one that we really needed. It doesn’t have a huge revelation or anything, but it’s still DanMachi.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Overview (Volumes 1-11)

How did this seemingly stupid series- titled Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (published in English by Yen Press)- utterly sweep me off my feet and win my heart?! It’s a silly ecchi series with an overpowered, self-insert protagonist has no grounds through which to actually be taken SERIOUSLY. Yet here we are, after eleven volumes, and DanMachi has become one of my favorite light novel series of all time.

DanMachi‘s premise is dirt simple. Bell Cranell, the self-insert boy, has moved to the Dungeon City of Orario to become an adventurer for the sole purpose of picking up girls. This little fart of an idea would somehow spread into a massive cloud that covers the light novel market and never goes away no matter how much you wash it.

The backbone that forms DanMachi is its worldbuilding, or rather, citybuilding. But hey, Orario alone has more engaging worldbuilding than most entire WORLDS in modern fantasy. This city is built on top of the Dungeon, a sprawling labyrinth full of monsters that are constantly birthed from inside its walls. It’s dangerous as heck. Prep work is everything when going into that place, and it shows in the series’ opener when Bell almost gets gutted by a Minotaur. 

Fortunately, people have the gods on their side. There are a myriad of gods who run little clubs called Familias, and they use a special power to record markings, called Falna, on their members’ backs. DanMachi runs on JRPG physics, and this is literally how they explain the existence of stats. The important thing to note is that characters can only gain stats by reporting to their god after gaining all the experience. There is a lot of depth to this system- including the rules and regulations regarding Familia themselves- and not letting you experience it all for yourself organically would be a disservice to DanMachi. Just note that it’s very intuitive and explained in a very engaging way compared to most other fantasy novels.

The city of Orario itself is insanely fascinating. The city has a lot of setpieces that help make it memorable. The best part is that it’s all introduced gradually; just when you think you’re familiar with the Orario, it throws you a curveball that hits you square in the bottom jaw.

But like in any city, the most important aspect of it is its people, which is my segue into discussing the large and amazing cast of DanMachi. Bell, as previously mentioned, is kind of a generic, “gotta-save-the-waifus” guy who has plot armor. However, due to the fantastic prose of the author, his nakama power actually feels like genuine accomplishments and moments of utter catharsis.

Meanwhile, we have Hestia. She’s one of the gods of Orario, and one of the worst in terms of social class. In fact, at the start of the series, Bell is the only member of her Familia! But not that far behind are Lily and Welf. Lily starts off as kind of damsel in distress, but her analytical nature makes her very resourceful when it comes to dungeon crawling. Welf is a blacksmith whose family is stained with tragedy. Naturally, both of these people enter spiritual awakenings when they meet up with Bell.

Outside of the main cast is a whole slew of important side characters. Notable characters include Eina, an elf who is charged with looking after Bell and making sure he doesn’t get killed. There is also Aiz Wallenstein, one of the strongest adventurers in Orario and Bell’s idol, as well as Freya, the goddess of beauty who is Bell’s stalker. The reason why someone like her is obsessed with Bell is actually contextualized as the narrative progresses. There are a ton of other characters but I won’t spoil them for you.

The art is the weakest aspect. It’s kind of bland and the character designs lack detail. When it comes to light novel art, I want more detail, mainly because they’re much more sparse, thus the illustrator has the time to make it stellar. But due to that sparseness, it’s not really an issue.

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Verdict: 9.25/10

DanMachi is a series that’s meant to ease you in and let your guard down before it goes for the jugular. It begins as a decent, light-hearted comedy fantasy, but starting from around volume 5, it becomes so much bigger and more intense than ever before. If you love fun fantasies that also have great worldbuilding, then I HIGHLY recommend DanMachi, provided that you can get used to some of its tropes.