After months of curiosity, I finally decided to dip my toe into the light novel waters with Fujino Omori’s Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Volume 1. In the end, it didn’t make a fan of me, but it still made for some fun before-sleep reading.
Much of my reaction was due to the quality of the writing (or perhaps the translation). It’s full of awkward exposition dumps, dialogue with minimal transitions, and even dialogue that consists solely of punctuation. It all gets the meaning across, so it’s not that it’s hard to understand, but the former English teacher in me wonders how an editor even let that slide into publication. Even the title is clunky, though I do admit it does a better job of drawing attention than any possible abbreviation could have.
Once you get used to its general clunkiness, tough, it’s a cute little read. In it, Bell Cranell is a new adventurer who, well, wants to pick up girls in a dungeon. In the meantime, he must also work to support himself and his patron goddess, Hestia. In the world of Orario, gods live among mortals, with a few mortal limitations, though they are able to grant boons to members of their Familia so these people can literally level up in various skills. (The world is not subtle with its RPG inspirations.)
Despite the epic potential of the setting, it’s not an epic story at all. Mostly it consists of Bell being awkward around girls and looking at jiggly boobs – but he’s far from am oogler or peeping tom, which is what keeps the story palatable. In fact, beneath all his awkwardness and hormones, Bell is quite likable – courageous, well-meaning, and not nearly as stupid as protagonists of these kinds of stories can be. And let’s face it, he’s only 14 years old; most 14-year-old boys are going to be at least marginally fascinated by boobs, and it was refreshing to read about one who’s at least subtle and shy about his love of the ladies. Given the nature of the series’ premise, we could have been stuck with someone much worse.
That doesn’t make it a feminist work by any means, though. xP Nearly all of the girls in the series are things for Bell to have crushes on, and all fill some anime girl stereotype – the distant, aloof tsundere; the cute moe girl; the girl who greets other girls by honking their boobs 😐 , etc. Sitting down to write this review, I literally can’t remember much more about each one than that, but Bell’s interactions with them are still endearingly sweet, and the way he uses his various crushes to motivate himself to level up and be a more capable person (as opposed to a chick magnet) is refreshing. Plus, the monster fights are fun.
It’s not a complicated read at all (I mean, it is a light novel), and I imagine the best audience for the book is young teen boys who like to imagine themselves in situations like Bell’s (so, not me). It did make me curious to try the anime, just for comparison – and because the story wants so hard to be an anime – but it didn’t leave me wanting more.