So, I’ve got a few shows under my belt I wouldn’t normally have watched at all if it weren’t that I’d decided to watch the first episode at least of the shows I picked for Fantasy Anime League on My Anime List. This explains why I ever bothered with Shokugeki no Soma, and High School DxD BorN, which were both, predictably, not at all to my tastes. It also was what had me checking out the first episode of Dungeon PUA, but unlike the previous two, I found myself enjoying it mildly, much to my shock.
Dungeon PUA is about the fairly hapless young adventurer Bell, who nearly gets himself killed in the first scene alone because his grandfather gave him horrible advice when he was a kid – if he wanted to get a girl, he should go hang out in the Dungeon and save weak girls from monsters since they’d then fall madly in love with him! Bell, though, is fairly new at being an adventurer and not really up to going to the lower levels, so its a good thing when a pretty swordswoman saves his rear end. He promptly falls madly in love, so so much for his grandfather promoting weak girls as the ideal romantic partner. Bell spends the bulk of the remainder of the episode trying to find out more about her, being dismayed about how out of his league she is, and then trying to work his guts out to be worthy of her. We also learn that he lives with a goddess and is the only member of her “family”, the guilds of this world. All families are headed by a god or goddess, as they came down from the heavens some unspecified time before the show begins to live among humankind.
It is a big boost to Dungeon PUA that Bell is such an earnest, decent young man, and that the framing of this opening episode is more along the lines of “boy falls for someone seemingly unattainable and decides to work hard to be good enough for them” than it is harem. Having a crush on a cool, attractive person that one feels they can’t compare to is a pretty common experience that’s easy to relate to. Bell is also helped by the fact that he is neither useless nor perfect, as the milquetoast and the Gary Stu were never interesting to begin with and have long since become fully stale. He’s cheerful, he’s energetic, and he’s committed to working hard; at my age he comes off as endearing in a sort of little brother sense (and based on the reaction from the elf he talks to a lot toward the start of the episode, I don’t think I’m the only one who sees him that way).
The other thing that helps advance Dungeon PUA’s cause is that it just doesn’t feel very harem yet (although doubtlessly this will develop soon enough). Bell interacts with four attractive women in some manner, but only the goddess, Hestia, is hot for him. Waitress Syr is nice to him apparently in service of increasing business for the bar at which she works, while swordswoman Ais saves him simply as a matter of course. I’ve already covered how elf Eina regards him. As it stands, then, we’ve got an age old tale of girl being mad about boy, and boy being mad about other girl and oblivious to the first’s feelings. Not original, but preferable to harem.
But if I’m talking about what works for the series, I must touch on what really hurts it, and it’s the really bizarre presence of RPG terminology and systems without the justification that the story is about a bunch of people inside a video game. If they were going to take this sort of route, they should’ve just called it a video game and been done with it, although that in turn would unfortunately destroy the whole “gods and goddesses came to live with us” thing. Although, it could’ve been interesting if it was done as – gods and goddesses are actually people from the “real world” who are playing this video game, while “people” in the video game are just NPCs. I think that would’ve resulted in a completely different show, though (and now I’m sorry that we don’t have that show, too).
The other issue with the show is Hestia herself. If Bell is largely what made the show work for me, Hestia is a cold shower of typical tsundere. Not much else to say about her other than that.
Although I’m leery of saying so, I did like Dungeon PUA a fair bit. I’m skeptical about feeling similarly in the long run, but as a fairly generic fantasy series, its perfectly fine.