DanMachi II – 10 – For Whom the Bell Tolls

I loved how many challenges and formidable warriors stood between Bell and freeing a single prostitute, because it just meant he’d have to beat every last one of them, on top of convincing Haruhime that yes, she actually is worth saving, stop saying you’re filthy and a burden! He’s there, and he’s going to finish what he started!

He may not be one of the heroes she loved growing up, who would never sully themselves with her ilk, but he was the hero she needed. Meanwhile, Freya’s forces have already set to work burning the pleasure district, while the goddess herself will seek out Ishtar for a goddess-to-goddess, woman-to-woman “chat”.

Bell’s next opponent is Phryne, who orders Haruhime to boost her level with Uchide no Kozuchi. Instead, Haruhime uses it on Bell, allowing him to fight on more-or-less equal footing with the giant Amazoness. After watching Phryne easily win every match she’s fought so far, it’s immensely satisfying to see Bell give her fits, until she falls through a hole in the floor her own substantial mass has created.

On a lower level, Phryne encounters Freya’s right-hand beastman Ottarl, who easily overpowers her. She pleads for mercy by offering her body, but ends up blaspheming his goddess’ name, so he pummels her. As awful a character as Phryne was, I kinda felt sorry for her in the end. After all, like Ishtar herself, she didn’t expect this battle to go so badly for their Familia, and so wasn’t sufficiently prepared to lose everything.

Aisha is Bell’s next opponent, and the fight is made fairer when Haruhime’s spell wears off. Still, Bell has a full head of steam and stays with Aisha, dodging her kicks and countering her Hippolyte spell with his own Firebolt, the bells tolling as he charges it up. It’s yet another glorious, fluid kinetic attack between two very different fighters who both know what they’re doing.

Unlike Phryne, I always liked Aisha, who after all had suffered a lot more than Bell, Phryne, or even Haruhime in Ishtar’s clutches. She also didn’t go mad with fury, but actually respected Bell’s transformation into a real man, someone who could impress and best her. I hope she lands on her feet somewhere after her Familia disperses.

That’s right: almost as soon as Isthar’s ridiculously rich, seemingly invincible empire showed up on the DanMachi scene, it crumbles to dust before Freya’s calm, elegant figure. She charms and strides right past Ishtar’s last lines of defense and delivers a divine bitch slap, sending her back to Heaven, never to return.

On the roof of the hanging gardens, Bell removes Haruhime’s collar and they bask in victory (and the morning sun) as Hestia and the others arrive. Turns out he didn’t need the cavalry at all. Just like that, Bell Cranel has played a pivotal role in toppling another great divine power. Now it’s time to head home and relax!

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DanMachi II – 09 – Your Hero is Here

After stewing in self-hatred for a quick spell, Bell regains the nerve to rescue Haruhime despite the consequences. Mikoto is with him; they’ll get yelled at later together, but with Hestia, Lili and Welf stopped at the gates, the two are on their own. Mikoto will sneak her way to where Haruhime is being held, which will require a diversion.

Bell provides that diversion by rushing the front door and spamming Firebolt at the waves of Amazons who come at him. That only works for so long, especially once a dual-wielding Phryne enters the phray. At her Level, she can swat his Firebolts away like flies. He’s “saved” by Ishtar, who figures it’s time to deflower the Little Rookie, but to her dismay he’s immune to divine charms—even hers.

Freya, another goddess whose divine charms are wasted on Bell, gets a report about Isthar Familia’s movements and starts to move, while it looks like Hestia’s party will also get in, just not in time to help save Haruhime (I imagine they’ll serve as the cavalry later). Mikoto gets to Haruhime, who continues to believe herself unworthy of being saved by a hero due to her profession. Mikoto isn’t hearing it. She’s getting rescued.

That means Mikoto has to go up against Samira, who’s a Level higher and batters her with her bare hands and feet. With Haruhime’s execution imminent, Mikoto pulls out some ninja trickery, pulling Samira into a hug and releasing a huge magical discharge before falling over the side of the building.

The rest is up to Bell, who deflects the killing blow of the woman tasked with killing Haruhime, and shatters the Killing Stone, rendering the ritual impossible. It’s yet another thrilling episode from a show that has proven time and again it knows how to pull off epic action. Mikoto really shone this week; I hope she’s okay.

As for Bell, well…maybe he can quickly get leveled up by Haruhime and at least hold his own until the cavarly arrives? ‘Cause he ain’t charming those Amazons off that roof…not after he just torpedoed their chances of beating Freya.

DanMachi II – 08 – Whatever It Takes

Mikoto arrives in the midst of Bell’s beatdown at the hands of Aisha, but the latter takes her down with one strike, then continues wailing on the Little Rookie. Turns out Haruhime, donning a red cloak, is the source of Aisha’s power boost. Phryne also gets in on the game, snatching up Bell for herself and chaining him to the wall of her secret love nest.

Bell is lucky he couldn’t manage an erection, because Phryne has to leave him to find an “enhancement” medicine, allowing the one other person who knows about the dungeon—Haruhime—to sneak in and rescue him (after slipping the keys to the captured Mikoto).

Bell mentions his and Mikoto’s present efforts to buy her, for which she’s grateful to the point of tears, but it doesn’t seem like she’s interested in going anywhere or doing anything other than what was decided for her long ago: as Take tells Hestia, she’s to be sacrificed to the Killing Stone, a magical object that optimizes Renard power.

In Haruhime’s case, she’s able to provide a level boost to Aisha, but once the ritual is complete and the stone shattered, that power can be spread to many other Ishtar Amazons, giving them the offensive edge they need in a war against the more powerful-on-paper Freya Familia.

Once Haruhime gets Bell back to the Pleasure District and urges him to flee, Mikoto meets up with them, having learned about the Killing Stone thorugh books in Ishtar’s palace. Aisha also arrives, and snatches Haruhime back up. She dares Bell to do something—anything—to try to get Haruhime back, but Bell freezes. In that moment, he wavers between the desire to save her and his reluctance to get Hestia Familia tangled up in a war they can’t win.

He’s so frozen in hesitation, Mikoto has to grab his hand and run before the other Amazons can capture him. In short, this episode was a bit of a downer, as Haruhime has seemed to be a doomed character ever since her introduction. One wonders if her fate is sealed now that Bell lost his last best chance to save her, or if he can summon the same resolve Haruhime has and risk everything to challenge her death wish.

Heck, even if Bell wasn’t particularly emotionally invested in Haruhime’s fate, it just seems like a very bad idea to let Ishtar gain such a dangerous military advantage, considering she basically screws her underlings (like Aisha) into obedience. Here’s hoping for some kind of light at the end of this tunnel.

DanMachi II – 07 – Symbol of Destruction

When Hestia learns Bell went to the Pleasure District and spent all night there, she’s not happy to say the least. Still, Mikoto, Welf, and Lili pitch in on his punishment (cleaning up for the neighbors), since it was Mikoto’s fault they all ended up in the district.

As it happens, Haruhime was the renard Mikoto was looking for. Despite Haruhime’s line about being no good for a hero, he wants to help Mikoto save her. Lili warns the two that nabbing Haruhime would likely start a war they probably can’t win against Ishtar; Welf agrees.

Hermes, fresh from being ravaged by Ishtar, wants to speak to Freya, but only ends up getting the ear of Syr, who is very concerned that Ishtar somehow found out about Bell. Not that Hermes had any choice; it’s clear he’s the lesser god in that particular equation.

At the Guild, Eina is as unsettled as Hestia that Bell spent the night in the Pleasure District, but also confirms Ishtar Familia’s formidable economic and military power, telling him that many of its Amazon soldiers may be grossly underrated in the official books—not a crew to be trifled with, but we knew that.

That night, after Aisha gifts Haruhime with some candy from the Far East, Mikoto stops by to say hello, only to be rejected. Haruhime has clearly closed the book on the part of her life before she became a prostitute, so as far as she’s concerned, Mikoto is a stranger. Aisha catches the whole encounter, and if anything, looks guilty.

Mikoto fills Bell in on the details of her past with Haruhime; she and Chigusa lived in a shrine with other kids and gods; Haruhime was a noble lady, but alone. Sensing her loneliness, Mikoto led nightly raids to set Haruhime free to run and play with them.

They eventually moved to Orario to seek their fortune, but Haruhime was deceived by a “heartless person”—I’m thinking Aisha, who may not be so heartless—and sold into sexual servitude.

After a chance encounter with Hermes, he echos Lili and Welf’s worries about crossing Ishtar, but proposes an alternative: if you have enough money, you can buy a prostitute; one of Haruhime’s purportedly low status would only cost 2-3 million; a very doable fee for Mikoto and Bell.

He also mentions to them, as friends, that he delivered an artifact to Ishtar the other day called the Killing Stone, and tells them to make of that what they will. Back at Ishtar’s palace, she orders her top soliders (including her Captain, Phryne) to hunt Bell down, capture him, and bring him to her unspoiled. Once she’s done with him they can do with him what they will.

She’s also gung-ho about starting a war with Freya, so whatever Bell and Mikoto do or don’t do, a sizable war is inevitable. Eager to make the money needed to buy Haruhime quickly, Mikoto and Bell head to the dungeon to waste some beasts; Welf and Lili heard their plan and agree to help out.

Only Ishtar’s people are lying in wait, and once Bell is separated from his party, he’s scooped up and attacked…by Aisha, who seems to have gotten buffs thanks someone who looks like a disguised Haruhime. As a Level 3 going on 4, Aisha is more than a match for Bell, and soon has him on his back. Barring an unforseen miracle, it would seem Ishtar has her prey, and the perfect provocation to spur Freya to war.

DanMachi II – 06 – Orario Vice

When Bell, Lili and Welf are concerned about Mikoto acting weird, they follow her one night, and to her surprise she ends up meeting with Chigusa and entering Orario’s famous pleasure district, which is run by the wealthy and powerful Ishtar Familia (Ishtar is the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love, war, and fertility).

Turns out Mikoto and Chigusa are searching for an old friend of theirs from their original home in the Far East, where she was a noble. Chigusa spotted her in the district and came to Mikoto, who saught confirmation before coming to the rest of Hestia Familia.

Lili, and certainly Hestia, would rather the adorable Bell be anywhere but the pleasure district, where he is  almost constantly approached, accosted, and embraced by dozens of beautiful, available women, including Aisha, one of Ishtar’s higher-ups. Separated from the others, Bell never had a chance to escape their clutches.

Right before he’s surrounded and picked up and taken to Ishtar’s palace to be passed between several eager Amazonesses, he spots an ethereal, yukata-wearing fox woman in a window, who judging from the glimpse of her last week, is the person Mikoto and Chigusa were looking for.

Ishtar herself has no time for a first-timer like Bell, but her underlings are all but willing to suck him dry, so to speak. The start of their fun is interrupted by the huge and grotesque Phryne, and Bell uses the distraction caused by the Amazons’ bickering (and his adventurer’s sneaking skills and speed) to slip away.

He ends up in the courtyard of one of the district’s fancier-looking brothels, and who does he encounter within one of the rooms but the straw-haired fox woman, named Haruhime, who assumes Bell is there to buy his first sexual experience.

It seems despite being more experienced than Bell, the sight of his collarbone still overwhelms her, giving him the opportunity to tell her he’s not there for sex, just to hide from the Amazons. She can understand; it’s tough to be a first-timer in a district where it’s the occupation of so many women to kidnap and have their way with you.

As they spend the rest of the evening chatting, discovering that they share a love of stories about heroes that originally drew them to Orario, Ishtar has a meeting with Hermes, who has delivered something to her that is of importance in her ongoing rivalry with Freya. When Hermes is reluctant to tell her what other weaknesses Freya might have that she can exploit, she removes what little clothing she is wearing in order to force the issue.

Haruhime tells Bell that while she loved those heroic stories, she no longer sees herself as someone worthy of being saved or protected. Despite her noble appearance and cushy digs, she doesn’t seem to see any nobility in her profession, only filth. It really brings Bell down, who doesn’t agree that she should have to sacrifice her dreams simply because circumstances, many of them not of her making, landed her in a brothel.

Still, he runs off into the night none too soon, as Aisha shows up immediately after to escort Haruhime back to her chambers. As for Ishtar, she gets the information she wanted out of an overwhelmed Hermes in bed: Freya is obsessed with Cranel Bell, and she can hurt her by stealing him from her.

So now Bell finds himself in the sights of not one but two distinct and powerful goddesses of love, war, sex, and fertility, and almost certainly doesn’t want his first encounter with Haruhime to be his last. If he’s the hero he thinks he is, he’ll no doubt try to find a way to free her from servitude.

DanMachi Gaiden: Sword Oratoria – 01 (First Impressions)

This spin-off of the original DanMachi follows the powerful sword princess Ais Wallenstein, newbie mage-with-potential Lefiya Viridis, and the rest of Loki Familia as they explore Level 50 of the Dungeon below the city of Orario.

Lefiya’s mentor, fellow mage Riviera Ljos Alf, wants her protege to get some practical experience on the front line in order to build up some nerve to go with her magical potential. Ais and the Amazon twins Tiona and Tione bail Lefiya out, to the chagrin of their comrade Bete.

The Familia runs into a foe they’d never before encountered on the boundary between Levels 50 and 51: colossal caterpillars spewing highly caustic acid. The party’s heavies sweep into action to relieve their less powerful comrades, only to find their conventional attacks aren’t that effective.

Riviera again charges Lefiya with performing the incantation that will summon the magic that will turn the tide of the battle, which is a mage’s job. That means standing there and chanting while all hell breaks loose around you, and not losing your nerve.

Lefiya…loses her nerve, so Ais has to use her Tempest ability to slice through the nearest caterpillars. Bete uses some of her power to make his kicks stronger, and Tione, tied up with caterpillar tongues, gets pissed off and tears her captors apart, with no regard for the integrity of her skin.

After that, Riviera herself chants a long and grandiloquent incantation that serves as a coup-de-grace or overkill move, mopping up the remaining caterpillars. With a number of injuries and no idea what else is beyond, their leader Finn orders a retreat for now.

Up at Level 17, a huge force of Minotaurs busts out of the walls, but they’re essentially small-fry to the higher-level adventurers like Tiona, who has a bit of fun running up to a Minotaur and icing him with one swift, brutal bicycle kick. Suffice it to say, I had no complaints about the combat animation, nor the dramatic but very appropriate battle music.

While the Minotaurs are no match for Ais or the Amazons, if any were to escape to the higher levels, it could mean big trouble for one of the lower-level adventurers, like, say…Cranel Bell! Hey, guy, wonder where you were at! It’s not his or Hestia’s story this time, however.

Instead, we see everything that led up to him being rescued by Ais…including him simply running away screaming after she did so. As Riviera said to Lefiya, Ais has problems too…they’re just different ones.

This was a solid re-introduction to the world of DanMachi and the vast and hazardous dungeon below the city of Orario. It seemed designed to shake us from our slumber by throwing us into one big battle after another, while also showing us how well-sorted Loki Familia is.

Mind you, I do miss the warm friendship between Bell and Hestia; we’ll see if Lefiya and Ais can carry a season. They certainly have plenty of supporting cast backing them up.