Why Danmachi Works: Moe and Family Soften the Heart

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference in my personal response to the first couple episode of Danmachi (aka Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?) from the reaction of the wider anime-watching public. If you’ve been pretty much anywhere online where discussion (or, in this case “discussion”) about anime happens, you’ve probably seen the Hestia fanart craze that blew up pretty much from the moment the first episode of Danmachi finished airing. The reason? Her, uh, unconventional method of supporting her breasts—known around the fandom as the “boob string.” But, for me, the blue ribbon encircling Hestia’s torso was never something that really caught my attention before the fanart craze and meme running started and I found myself actually a bit peeved by the intense focus on a relatively inconsequential element of a show I liked for other reasons. But why should this be so?

Danmachi

If you follow me on Twitter, you should be well-aware that I’ve been very outspoken from the beginning of Danmachi‘s airing about my feelings on the anime’s protagonist, Bell Cranel—specifically pertaining to his cute factor.

But, I assure you, there’s more a point to my campaigning for Bell’s moeboy status than just sharing the cute (although that’s certainly part of it). As someone who occasionally caves to the desire to oppose the crowd just for the sake of opposing the crowd, I think part of my pro-Bell rantings have been born out of a desire to create a sort of equalizing force against the massive power of the Hestia craze. I’m well aware it’s a futile endeavor, but I think it’s important because, as I see it, Danmachi is a lot more than just Hestia and her ridiculous attire. In fact, I’d argue that Bell’s presence in the anime is a critical part of what makes it such a charming experience for me.

To put things in the show’s terms, Bell is part of Hestia’s Familia, the name given to a god/goddess and the followers they’ve chosen to bless with their powers. In the context of Bell and Hestia’s relationship, it really is a perfect name. Despite all the romantic affectations we see from Hestia and Bell’s constant refrain of calling her “Goddess,” these two characters are a family: they both work every day to support each other, they offer each other emotional and practical support, and they’re both willing to do whatever they need to do to help the other. Bell seeks to get stronger, at the risk of his own life; Hestia humbles herself on a daily basis to keep food on the table.

Danmachi

…dang, they’re adorable.

And that’s the other part of this, the reason I’ve struck out on my campaign to get Bell recognized as a kid able to stand on equal ground with Hestia in moe power. When I watch both Bell and Hestia go about their respective adorkable attempts to support the other, dashing out of bars with hurt feelings or leaping around with joy when a knife is successful forged, I don’t see two typical teenage anime characters on the screen. Their naivety, innocence, and utter lack of guile reveal them to be exactly what they are—two kids trying to make it in this fantasy world. And I can’t help but root for them.

That’s why I can tolerate Bell’s patented shounen harem lines about “getting stronger” far more easily than I can with protagonists who have actual hints of self-awareness. It’s why I can tolerate the stupid boob jokes in the party, because they’re representative of the kind of humiliation Hestia knew she would have to deal with in order to get Hephaestus to make Bell’s knife. I say tolerate (rather than excuse) intentionally, but the point remains that the lines drawn from Bell and Hestia’s actions to their motivations are quite clear. And those motivations, both of them wanting to support the other, are enough to charm me with this image of a tiny, foolish family working in their own ways to keep the Familia together.

Danmachi

Maybe it’s kind of an insubstantial thing to latch on to in a show rife with other issues, but I just can’t look away from two adorable kids working as hard as they can for the other. Basically, it just hits me right in my weakness for moegirls and moeboys, and for people showing that they love each other through their actions. I think it’s very much to Danmachi‘s credit that we don’t just see Bell working while Hestia sits at home—the modes of their action may be different, but they’re both still doing something. Better yet, it’s pretty much stated that, socially, Hestia working a job to help support her Familia is outside of the normal role of a Familia’s patron. In both this and in begging Hephaestus to make Bell a weapon, Hestia steps outside of her divine privilege to make sure she can support Bell.

Viewed alongside Bell’s adventures in the Dungeon, Hestia’s willingness to take upon social disgrace and personal discomfort for the sake of maintaining their Familia lends the relationship a balance that I really appreciate: Bell can only adventure because of the power Hestia’s given him, Hestia can only continue to be his patron because he works to keep the Familia upright, and yet he can’t yet do it on his own, so she does what she can. And both of them talk constantly about supporting the other, which is something I think has generally been missed in commentary on the series thus far thanks to the generic familiarity of Bell’s “get stronger” rhetoric.

Danmachi

I know this has been kind of a wandering reflection on a show that’s really very silly, but I just can’t ignore the fact that, despite Bell’s puppy love for Aiz Wallenstein, it’s his relationship with Hestia that’s been at the center of this series so far—and I’ve loved. Director Yoshiki Yamakawa’s talent for generating chemistry between characters (something that was on full display in Kill Me Baby) has made this relationship endearing and funny, besides heartwarming. The comedic timing between Bell and Hestia is excellent, even if the jokes themselves are standard light novel fare, letting the genuine warmth that clearly exists between them shine through.

We’re very nearly out of first volume of the light novel’s material, so I don’t know where things are going from here…but, at least for now, I just want to chime in with my take on why Danmachi, for all of its problems, is a show that I’ve really enjoyed watching thus far, and why, despite the unknown of where it might go from here, I’ll be watching for the rest of this season. After all, how could I go more than a week without side-by-side moe toothbrushing?

Danmachi

16 thoughts on “Why Danmachi Works: Moe and Family Soften the Heart

  1. Maybe it’s kind of an insubstantial thing to latch on to in a show rife with other issues, but I just can’t look away from two adorable kids working as hard as they can for the other.

    Nope, not at all! Everyone experiences anime differently, so everyone’s entitled to their interpretation and their likes as long as they can back it up. And you’ve shown that beyond the fanservice, DanMachi delivers on the heartwarming factor of two very good friends.

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  2. This, this, this!

    I think the appeal of Danmachi lies in its cuteness. Before the Hestia craze ever started, it was the endearing relationship between Bell and Hestia that drew me to the show. For me, it’s an anime about cute people, not just cute girls. When it comes to relationships, it takes two to tango!

    That said, I wasn’t really able to tolerate the bad boob jokes in episode 2 like you were able to. I thought these characters were shown to be more genuine than that, so it was doubly disappointing for me to see them go down such a cheap route. Also, I don’t really like the scenes depicting Hestia crushing on Bell and him being oblivious about it. The more serious moments also rely on really convenient tropes and lazy writing, so I don’t think it’s a case of a well-written story having the occasional fanservice you need to tolerate. It’s pretty amateur writing all round.

    But you know, I think the familial relationship between Bell and Hestia is worth it just on its own. Those small quiet moments and subtle visual cues really inform a lot to the viewer. I think it works in spite of the bad writing. It’s a lot easier to appreciate the underlying tension in their little family unit (i.e. “family” is a performance they put on for each other; Hestia can’t actually see Bell as a sibling, and Bell continues to distance himself from her by calling her “Goddess”) when the romcom stuff isn’t the main focus. I agree that Yoshikawa did really well to depicting the chemistry between our two leads 🙂

    To conclude: Hestia is the string holding up the cleavage that is Bell.

    Okay, that was really bad lol. I give you permission to shoot me.

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    • I’m just gonna ignore that last bit because I don’t think I can tolerate it… 😛

      I guess I should note that when I say tolerate, it’s much more of an “okay, this is a stupid anime thing I have to sit through that I’m gonna try to divorce from my headcanon of who these characters are” thing, and then trying to abstract the whole thing into a digestible conceptual plot event (i.e. shows how Hestia is outside of prominent deity society). It’s mental gymnastics to try and avoid letting the moment entirely ruin the show for me. Maybe it’s a bit disingenuous, but I’d rather do that than not be able to watch the show anymore. (Not that I’m ignoring it entirely, just acknowledging and then trying to move on.) I definitely agree that the writing is really lazy and amateur.

      What I think we’re both hitting on is that there’s a good foundational essence in Bell and Hestia’s relationship that you can latch on to, something genuinely good amongst all the other icky/badly done stuff. It’s cute people being good to each other. And that’s a good thing to get to see.

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  3. After Ep 3, I’m warming to the show. I still don’t think Bell is a very good or interesting character, or a strong lead, but he’s getting better. Hestia is basically carrying the show at this point, but Bell is improving.

    Bell basically lacks the charisma or presence a good lead has. Hestia has that in spades. In some ways it’s similar to the problem Rolling Girls had. The actual leads had far less charisma/presence than Ma-chan/Shigo did, and the show became much weaker when it focused on the actual leads.

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    • I definitely don’t disagree that there’s not a whole lot to Bell’s character—a lot of his charm, for me, resides in the very superficial fact that he has a cute design.

      That being said, I don’t mind him being kind of a spirited wimp. I find it decently endearing, which is good enough for me at this point.

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  4. Ha! “Moe toothbrushing” – I love it!

    You know, with every new anime series I like, I always have to weigh whether it’s one that I really want to talk about on fansites, or just enjoy it on my own. This is one of those shows where I’m very happy to avoid the fandom and enjoy it on my own terms, without getting sucked into a huge pile of wank. I already know exactly why I like Danmachi – which has mostly to do with the same things you discussed in this post, and I also already know that most “fans” aren’t going to want to talk about things like this because for them it’s all about boob strings and Hestia hype and Hestia hype backlash. So there’s no point even bothering.

    That said, I did get a good chuckle out of this article on Anime Maru last week.

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    • Better than other infamous anime toothbrushing, that’s for sure…

      And yeah, the fandom can be a double edged sword. Stuff like the boob string craze is fun for some people, and for others it’s just kind of a nuisance.

      & yeah, I liked that article. Very timely, heh.

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  5. “This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Ya. Still good.”
    Stitch in Lilo&Stitch

    Although there’s some moe and fan-service in DanMachi, for me the most important thing of this show is that makes me feel warm, and fuzzy, and happy. You can see that Hestia and Bell share a real bond. Maybe they are a goddess and an adventurer, and a few hundreds of years apart, but they trust each other and care for each other. I’m usually annoyed by harem-protagonists, since the girls from the show think they have a lot of qualities and I fail to see a single one. They’re bland, unappealing and indecisive. It’s not the case with Bell, he can be strong-willed, and caring, and funny, and kind. Even I can why some girls can like him. I’m quite hopeful for this show.

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    • While Bell definitely suffers from a lot of the typical flaws of badly written light novel protagonists, I do find his honest, innocent, and childish persona to be quite nice to watch. Syr’s profession of love in episode 3 was a little eh for me because it felt very obligatory (and I dislike how it feeds into the whole “girls will like you if you’re strong” thing), but Danmachi more than made up for it with Hestia’s “I love you,” which was entirely free (I felt) of any romantic subtext—instead, it was just some real love for an important person in her life.

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