DanMachi III – 04 – Seeking the Surface

Hestia Familia’s Xenos hosts provide food and beverage to celebrate the meeting of humans who will accept them. As Bell and the others drink, eat, and dance, they learn a lot more about these intelligent monsters. Like them, they collect loot from the enemies they defeat, be they adventurers or “dumb” monsters.

We also learn that while Lyd is presently the Xenos’ de facto leader, a stronger Xenos has awakened who could challenge his claim as the strongest of them. On top of that, there’s a faction of the Xenos who want no part of the humans, distrusting them every bit as much as the townsfolk on the surface.

Like last week once they reach the Xenos’ hideout, this episode spends most of its time explaining the bigger picture, with “former human” and sage, now skeleton Fels being a useful font of information while Ouranos tells Hestia a lot of the same stuff.

Just as Ouranos hopes Bell and Hestia’s Familia will be the bridge to make people acknowledge the existence of intelligent and peaceful monsters, Dix Perdix and the Ikelos Familia is working to maintain the status quo, killing, capturing, and smuggling the monsters without a moment’s thought to their intelligence.

But neither Fels nor Lyd brough Bell & Co. here to ask for their help, so much as to lay out their plight, as well as their most common desire: to reach the surface and see the sky (and in the Siren Ray’s case, fly in it). Ouranos even posits that it could be the Will of the Dungeon itself (which the Xenos call their “mother”) for Xenos to emerge and yearn to reach the surface.

This is because just as humans die, go to heaven, and are reborn in the lower world, monsters also have a cycle of death and rebirth that starts and ends in the Dungeon. This means someone like Wiene, who learned to speak and act like a human so fast, could have died and been reborn hundreds if not thousands of times.

It’s a lot of fascinating food for thought, but if there’s one demerit to this episode it’s that it is, a the end of the day, one in which everyone is sitting around either talking or listening to people talk about things, rather than watching much in the way of action. The information may be fascinating, but the manner in which it is relayed is somewhat rote.

That aside, the smaller but no less significant immediate ramification of Bell & Co. meeting the Xenos is that Wiene won’t—and shouldn’t—return to the surface to their home. This comes as a surprise to poor Wiene, who cries and screams for Bell not to leave her even though he must, with only a promise he and the others will return at some point.

As Bell & Co. return to the surface and meet up with Hestia to pool share what they’ve learned, the group of Xenos caring for Wiene fall into a trap set by the Dix and the Ikelos Familia, using a brutally tortured Ray as bait. What looks like the strongest of the Xenos charges Dix, and is swiftly killed.

Dix has a huge host of humans and demis under his command, and he clearly relishes the monster hunt to come. He and his ilk represent the extreme challenge any attempt at human-Xenos co-existence, as it will be everything the Xenos can do to simply continue existing period!

There’s also the matter of Hestia being reluctant to risk her children and Familia being branded enemies of their own kind and in league with monsters, thus destroying all the progress the Familia has made and resigning them to ostracization and worse. But if they don’t do anything to help Wiene and the Xenos, who will?

DanMachi III – 03 – The Fam Meets Xenos

The Guild hall is overrun by enraged humans and beastmen demanding to know what’s going to be done about the monster in the city that threatened a child. Tulle is pulled away by her boss, who has a very special task for her: she’s to deliver a Mission for Hestia Familia. It’s a simple directive: Take the “dragon girl” and go to the twentieth floor of the Dungeon. Unlike a quest, it cannot be refused.

Once the entire Fam is aware of the sitch, Bell apologizes for getting all of them into this, but Haruhime won’t hear of it. No matter what, he mustn’t regret saving Wiene. She herself was saved, and knows how happy it made her, and Wiene surely feels the same way.

Even mini-stick-in-the-mud Lili concedes that they’re a family, damnit, so they’ll support each other in this too. They come up with a plan for surviving a trip to the Twentieth, where they’ve yet to venture. For her part, Wiene is scared to go to the dungeon, but as long as Bell and everyone is with her it will be fine.

The guild letter also features a very ornate border that catches Hestia’s attention. It turns out to be a hidden message only she could read, directing her to be at a certain place at a certain time. After seeing off her Fam, she follows the letter’s instructions and is approached by a grim reaper-looking person who is actually in disguise.

The reaper leads Hestia through a twisting secret labyrinth until they come to a staircase, and from there on Hestia is on her own. I feared for our beloved flip-flop wearing homebody’s safety, but turns out all this rigamarole was so that Ouranos could meet with her as privately as possible.

Meanwhile, thanks to Haruhime’s buffing ability, the Fam is able to reach the Twentieth floor. When they arrive at the spot indicated on the map, it appears to be a dead end, until Wiene hears singing that leads them to a crystal, which when broken reveals a new route.

The party trudges into a pitch-dark cave, which Bell scans with a torchlight until stopping on a massive Lizardman wearing armor and wielding swords. He’s not alone, and the party is soon surrounded by similarly armed and armored monsters, something they’ve never encountered before.

It’s a tough fight—this is their first time on the twentieth—and the show takes care to make that evident. There’s just so many foes, and not only are they strong, but they’re using weapons! Haruhime prepares to sacrifice her body to shield Wiene, but Makoto and Welf arrive in time to parry the Lizardman’s blade.

That gives Bell enough time to summon his Bell-Fist Attack, which he uses to punch the everloving shit out of the Lizardman’s face, sending him flying. Then something odd and wonderful happens…the Lizardman laughs a monstrous laugh that gradually turns into a human voice! He stands up, dusts himself off, and is joined harpy Bell and Welf first met in the woods.

The lizardman and harpy have names—Lyd and Ray—and the battle was merely a test to see if Bell and the others would turn tail and abandon Wiene when things got rough for them. They didn’t, and so they pass and are welcomed as friends of Xenos: a new and growing race of intelligent monsters.

Turns out Ouranos didn’t summon Hestia as some kind of nefarious plan, nor does it seem he’s a villain (at least not yet). On the contrary, Hestia Familia has already done with Wiene what he intends to do with all of Xenos: protect them. He very carefully reached out to Hestia because he believes she and her Fam can help bridge the gap between the species.

Not all monsters are monsters anymore. It’s a massive paradigm shift, and if not managed properly, it could spell doom for Xenos. I just hope Ouranos’ intentions are as honorable as they seem to be so far.

DanMachi III – 02 – An Adorable Bomb Waiting to Go Off

After consulting with gods she can trust, Hestia determines her Familia will only find answers about Wiene back in the Dungeon. However, Makoto and Haruhime stay home to keep Hestia and Wiene safe. Bell, Welf, and Lili manage to recruit Aisha, who just happened to be passing.

Ryuu initially didn’t want to take off work but is determined to protect Bell’s honor from Aisha, so she comes too. Whether it’s because Wiene is somehow sapping his power or the mere fact the monsters they face resemble Wiene, Bell’s fighting just isn’t up to snuff, something both Ryuu and Aisha find strange.

While Lili keeps the other two women busy, Bell and Welf return to the wood where they found Wiene. They don’t really learn anything, but they do encounter another talking monster, who has feathers and asks them if it’s possible to coexist rather than killing each other. They also cross paths with the gang-like Ikelos Familia, led by Dix.

Back on the surface, Ikelos is sent by Dix (he’s the odd god who is given errands, rather than issuing them) to investigate the missing vouivre, and Bell isn’t able to mask his shock about being asked about a talking one. Fortunately Hermes happens to be passing (seems to happen a lot with Bell while in Orario) and bails Bell out, while warning Ikelos he’d better not be up to no good (he is).

Back home, while Wiene plays hide-and-seek with Haruhime, Lili tells Welf, Mikoto and Hestia her earnest belief that their Familia should cease harboring Wiene. Taking emotion out of the equation, Wiene is no better than a bomb going off, so even if she’s despised for it, Lili knows they, and not Bell, must decide before it’s too late. Wiene overhears everything, is devastated, and flees.

As if to underscore Lili’s very legitimate concerns, it only takes a couple of minutes for Wiene to cause havoc, by no fault of her own. When she saves a little girl from falling cargo after a rope snaps, she uses one of her wings to do so. When the girl turns around, she doesn’t see her hero, just a vicious monster. A mob soon gathers and starts stoning her. Before Bell leaps out to save her, Lili goes ahead of him in Elf Mode.

Meeting back in the secret room of Hestia’s old cellar, their original home, Bell holds Wiene and tries to comfort her. But neither he nor anyone else can ease the pain of knowing that on the possibility of her being able to stay with Bell and the others, it’s not looking good at all!

This season of DanMachi is taking a good hard look at the long-established structure of society in its world, tossing an adorable bluish-gray wrench into the works. Yes, monsters have always been mortal enemies of humans and demihumans. But Wiene clearly isn’t. She doesn’t belong in either world right now, but not we know she’s not the only one.

That means either she and her brethren will be destroyed, or the world will have to change to accommodate their existence. Whether Lili likes it or not, Bell and their Familia has been chosen as the ones who will either keep the cycle of hatred and death going, or herald a new era of coexistence.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi III – 01 – Monster in the Family

Cranel Bell and the Hestia Familia are riding high after their recent victories, but all that could be threatened by one chance meeting in the woods of the nineteenth floor of the Dungeon.

Bell happens upon a naked and positively terrified little monster called a vouivre, who is being attacked by humans and stronger monsters alike. With a heart as soft as his hair, Bell protects the monster, covers her up, and brings her along when the party returns to the eighteenth.

The problem is, once the monster trips and reveals she’s a monster (and not another girl Bell has picked up in a Dungeon) everyone but Bell pulls out their weapons and orders Bell to step away. That’s because monsters and human/demihumans have never and will never get along. It’s just The Way Things Are.

While Bell doesn’t dispute that basic truth, the fact is it’s possible there are exceptions to that truth, and that this monster could be one of them. For one thing, she starts to say words, something nobody has ever heard a monster do. More importantly, she’s not trying to kill them. She seems far more frightened of them than they should be of her.

The other Familia members allow Bell to bring the monster home where Hestia can issue a ruling, but despite being a goddess this is uncharted territory for her as well. For now, she has Bell take responsibility for something that looks like monster but is acting like a human girl, and has him name her Wiene.

From there, Bell spends all his time with Wiene, showing her the ways of the human/demihuman life goes. Haruhime assists and organically comes to take a very maternal tack in caring for her, making sure she’s clothed, fed and happy.

Then there’s an scary, heartstabbingly sad moment when Wiene is just having fun roughhousing with Bell, and her monster claws accidentally dig deep into his arm, causing a spray of blood. After hours of harmless fun, everything seems poised to go sideways in a split-second.

But ultimately what matters isn’t the act of scratching Bell, but the intent—there was none; it was an accident—and her reaction—she’s shocked and terrified to tears. More importantly is how Bell responds, not with anger, but with a warm smile and assurance that everything’s okay. When he smiles, Wiene knows she can smile too.

Mikoto admits to being afraid of Wiene despite how harmless she seems—it’s hard to overcome millennia of instinct. Even so, when Wiene praises Mikoto’s cooking, she gradually joins Haruhime in the Wiene Fan Club.

Even Welf files her claws down into stylish black nails, allowing her to playfully poke Bell’s face without hurting him. It seems the entire Familia is chipping in to take care of the poor girl—and they’re starting to see her as one of their own.

When the whole Familia is relaxing in the living room, Wiene learns the word “love”, and Haruhime leads the charge in declaring her love for Bell. Hestia, Welf, and Mikoto echo the words, leaving Lili as the sole holdout, who finally relents and admits she loves Bell too when Wiene flashes those big orange eyes in her face. Bell in turn tells everyone he loves them too, because that’s what a family is.

But later that night, as she lies wearily on the couch, Lili tells Welf that something isn’t sitting right. If they play their cards wrong and word gets out they’re harboring a monster, it could mean the ruin of Hestia Familia. That aside, she just can’t trust a monster, even an obviously adorable one in Wiene. Things can’t stay the way they are.

Bell and Hestia likely realize this as well, but Wiene’s well-being, comfort, and happiness are coming first because they are kind-hearted, nurturing people who will protect the weak and help those who need help. Is Bell getting too emotionally attached?

Wiene’s disturbing “dreams” where she’s “very angry” and everything “gets dark and red” seem to support Lili’s worries about her; she may not be a monster now, in bed with Bell and Hestia, but they have no idea if or how the monster within could emerge.

It’s a complicated development to open the third season. Both Bell and Lili’s positions have their merits, but hopefuly a compromise can be made that doesn’t end up hurting Wiene (if she doesn’t end up being a threat). Meanwhile, Hermes’ Fam is searching for monsters being smuggled as well as chasing rumors about talking monsters; maybe others like Wiene?

In addition, we’ve a harpy character waiting in the wings (no pun intended), a dragon dude who can make a stone clone of himself (I think!) and a moment in the ED when Ais points her sword at Bell—will they end up on opposite sides of this issue after getting along so well last season? We’ll soon find out. DanMachi is back, and it’s humming as usual.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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 II – 05 – Assets and Liabilities

In what is very much a post-climactic battle, catching-your-breath episode that doesn’t skimp on the fanservice, Hestia Familia familiarizes themselves with their sprawling new digs, which have been purged of Apollo’s, er, distinctive decor.

As thanks for joining her familia, Hestia also made sure Mikoto had a huge cypress bath and Welf has a well-stocked forge for blacksmithing. It’s nice to see Hestia and Bell somewhere other than dilapidated ruins.

Considering how all of Apollo’s assets were seized in addition to his mansion, such relatively extravagant renovations don’t seem like a problem; Hestia is rolling in cash now, and everyone in Orario wants to join the David that defeated the Apollo Goliath.

Only one problem: while Hestia is rallying the new recruits, Mikoto happens to find a debt slip in the amount of 200 million valis, incurred by Hestia for Bell’s blade. Bell faints upon hearing she spent all that money she didn’t have for him.

Just like that, the hordes of recruits scatter and Hestia’s children are contemplating some overtime in the dungeon. But she’s committed to paying back the debt on her own, and reiterates as such after overhearing Bell speak such kind words to her in the bath. As for Apollo’s money? All spent on renovations. Not the best with money, this Hestia!

Hestia Familia’s going to be alright; at least, depending on what news Shigure delivers to Mikoto about a certain fox/dog-eared woman—who features prominently on the show’s promo art and is thus probably going to play a sizable role going forward.

DanMachi II – 04 – The Lightning Rises

With Liliruca successfully rescued and Bell sufficiently trained up, he arrives home to find his familia has grown by three, with Lili, Welf, and Mikoto official Hestians. Ryu, merely a helper and not a familia member, keeps her distance, but is with them all the way.

The night before the siege, Cassandra relays to Daphnie what many a Star Wars character would call “a bad feeling about this,” particularly when she sees their pint-sized ally Luan entering the fortress at the last minute and pulling a wagon carrying a massive cargo. Who do we know who’s that small and can lug that much?

Cassandra calls this a Trojan Horse, and that it will seal their defeat. Who am I to argue with her?!

Every eye (and a good chunk of cash) in Orario is trained upon the magical viewscreens transmitting the War Game, from the adventurers in the tavern to the gods in their meeting place. Outnumbered 100-5, Hestia gets off to a rousing start, with their elven masked mercenary Ryu rushing the walls wielding not one but two of Welf’s magical swords, one fire, one lightning.

Ryu expends every drop of magical power in both those swords carving through as many Apollos as possible, including a fellow elf who is outraged by her use of the same swords that burned through their villages. Ryu feels helping a friend in need is more important than keeping the fires of hatred burning. She also makes such a rukus that Mikoto easily dashes right through the lines and into the castle courtyard.

There, she repels dozens of arrows and lets herself get surrounded by as many Apollos as possible before unleashing a spell that took a few minutes of incantation to cast, but is well worth it from a tactical perspective: it’s high-level gravity magic that immobilizes everyone who pursued her, taking still more Apollos off the board.

Proving each one of the five party members is worth at least ten Apollos, and that big, bold moves by every one of them is absolutely essential to snatch victory from such lopsided numbers, “Luan” “betrays his god and opens the front gate for Bell and Welf. Turns out he’s not Luan at all, but Lilisuke in disguise, who snuck in the night before. The huge wagon wasn’t the Trojan Horse, she was.

Welf covers Bell as he rushes to the central tower where Hyakinthos has so far been comfortably watching. Daphnie holds Welf up, but as one of the two main DanMachi themes blares (“Heroic Desire,” an all-timer that always gives me chills) Bell slides right in and blasts a massive Firebolt straight up, reducing the tower to a pile of rubble and bringing Hyakinthos right to him. He also wastes no time snapping his prized sword.

Cassandra almost spoils the upset when she tackles Bell, letting Hyakinthos unleash his special attack, but Lili tackles her just in time to let Bell dodge it enough to survive. Bell also got some help from that pendant Syr gave him before he went off to battle—one bearing the symbol of Freya Familia.

That moment, when he is so close to defeat and Hyakinthos so close to victory, is what Ais drilled into his head was the moment to wait for. When it comes, Bell doesn’t waste it. He knows Hyakinthos is about to finish him, so his opponent is basically opening himself up. Bell evades his dagger, kicks him off his feet, then delivers a knockout punch.

War Game Over: Hestia Familia is the winner.

Those who voted for the ultimate underdog get one hell of a payday while all of Bell’s friends who cheered him on rejoice, from Ais to Syr and even Freya. Even better, Hestia does NOT go easy on Apollo, who tries to backtrack and pretend he was just messing around because he found Bell cute.

Hestia confiscates all of Apollos property, declares his familia disbanded, and banishes him from Orario forever. She then takes her newly-expanded familia to the front gates of their new palatial home, and scrawls a new symbol to represent them: the guardian flame of Hestia, combined with the bell of…well, Bell.

I’m duly impressed by the speed with which DanMachi II has gotten things done. Here I was loathing a long, drawn out, multi-episode arc involving just the war game with Apollo, complete with constant reaction shots from the assembled spectators, changes in momentum, and cliffhangers.

Instead, the show understood that, outnumbered 100-5, the Hestians had to get shit done in a hurry if they wanted to win. And they did, in a superbly breathless battle helped in no small part by a cinematic orchestral soundtrack by Inai Keiji that absolutely fucking OWNS. Nice to see the little guys win one going away.

DanMachi II – 03 – Finding an Opening

Soma’s commander, Zanis, claims that the whole point of helping Apollo attack Hestia Familia was to bring Liliruca back into the family, but all he really cares about is her transformation magic, with which he intends to make a fortune. Lili’s prison guard, Chandra, snorts at Zanis’ arrogance; portending his giving a helping hand to Lili later.

Hestia meets with Welf, Takemikazuchi, Ouka, Mikoto, Chigusa, Miach, and Naza to arrange a rescue mission. When they ask whether the upcoming War Game with Apollo Familia should be her priority, Hestia retorts that all she has against Apollo is Bell, but he can’t fight 100% as long as he’s worried about his supporter, so Lili must come first.

As for the meeting of the gods in which the terms of the War Game are set out, Hestia by way of Hermes draws the worst possible lot: a siege. When Hermes says that the situation is just too unfair unless Hestia is allowed helpers, and Freya mocks Apollo for being afraid of allowing them, Apollo caves to the crowd and declares that Hestia Familia shall be allowed *one* helper, but they can’t be from Orario.

Meanwhile, Zanis reveals his true nature by dropping the whole “family” bit with Lili: she’s a resource he’ll use up and discard for his own gain. Once Zanis leaves, Chandra tosses the keys to Lili to do as she will; he can’t stand that guy! Once free, Lili finds a rescue raid in progress that she doesn’t even want. When she tells Hestia and the others to leave her, Hestia tells her how important she is to Bell—to all of them—and that they’re not leaving without her.

Lili tries one more time to get Soma to take a break from his winemaking and do something, but typically he’s left everything to the corrupt Zanis. This time, he offers some wine to Lili, and if she is still able to ask him for help, he’ll do as she asks.

To Soma’s surprise, Lili does not become a drunk slave, and still has the lucidity to beg him to stop the battle, which he does, even allowing Welf to zipline in and sword-slap Zanis in his shitty face.

With Lili safely rescued, she promptly officially transfers from Soma to Hestia Familia, and she’s not the only one. Mikoto asks Takemikazuchi for a transfer to Hestia, and wanting to help Hestia, he agrees. Welf also gets Hephaistios to let him transfer, while Hermes and Syl convince Ryu Lion to be the one helper that Hestia is allowed to recruit.

With Hestia Familia appointed the attacker in the War Game siege, and Bell training hard with Ais and Tiona, the odds of a Hestia victory are starting to look a lot less hopeless!

DanMachi II – 02 – White Rabbit Howl

Apparently, Apollo’s sole reason for challenging Hestia to a War Game between their familias is his infatuation with Bell, but Hestia flatly refuses and storms out of the banquet with Bell. Of course, the matter is far from over, as Bell and Hestia wake up to a full scale ambush of their home.

Woefully outnumbered and without the high ground, they only have one choice: run. If there’s a silver lining in this chase for Hestia, it’s that she gets to be princess-carried by Bell for most of it.

Their destination is the neutral guild, though Eina and her boss lament that no amount of fines will deter the ridiculously wealthy Apollo from doing what he wants. Daphne warns Bell that Apollo will never stop pursuing that which he wants, while one of his strongest lieutenants in Hyakinthos has added incentive to capture Bell, believing Bell stole his god’s affections.

Even Ais’ hands are also tied for the duration of the chase, as it would not be proper for her to be seen as assisting the Hestia Familia (plus Finn plain won’t allow it). Bell is no match for Hyakinthos, and gets severely slashed up.

He’s only saved from having a limb removed by the scornful Hyakinthos by sniper arrows from Miach Familia’s Naaza, along with last-minute backup by the Takemikazuchi Familia and the arrival of Welf, Lili, and Miach, who heals Bell’s wounds. Able to run again, Bell takes Hestia and continues to flee while their allies fight Apollo’s forces.

But there’s something strange going on: some of the fighters are wearing Soma Familia’s emblem, and when Welf and Lili are briefly separated, we learn why: Zanis has come to bring her back into the fold, and either due to brainwashing or some other psychological trauma (why not both?), Lili obeys him, leaving Welf behind.

As Bell and Hestia stop to rest under a bridge, still far from the guild, Hyakinthos announces from the rooftops that no matter what happens, Apollo won’t stop until he has Bell.

Hestia tries to get Bell to return her romantic feelings for him, but when he says he “respects” instead of “likes”, she gives away their position by screaming her displeasure, and they’re nearly blasted away by Apollo mages.

Rather than keep going for the guild, Hestia has Bell turn southwest, and they arrive at Apollo’s palace. There, she throws Prum’s glove in Apollo’s face and officially accepts the war game. Apollo calls off his attack forces and declares that the details will be forthcoming as adventurers come out of the woodwork to celebrate the first War Game in a long time.

Bell is going to have a tough time fighting all of Apollo on his own, but knows where he can receive the training he needs to get stronger. When he’s turned away at Loki’s gate by Tione, but not before she mutters something to him under her breath.

Those words lead him to a more secluded spot where Ais and Tiona are waiting. Neither are able to be seen with him in public, but in the interests of a fairer fight against Apollo Familia, both are eager to help train him. With the added need to rescue Lili from Soma before the War Game begins, Bell suddenly has a lot on his place, and will need all the help he can get.

This was a thrilling chase episode, starting with a bang and continuing to escalatie until poor Hestia had no choice but to give in. The weather turned from a morose cloudy gray to a more hopeful golden sunset as the chase ended, with Inai Keiji’s stirring score lending both urgency and majesty to the proceedings. I can’t wait to how Bell avoids becoming the latest part of Apollo’s collection—and who else pitches in to help him.

DanMachi II – 01 – May I Have This Dance?

After a four-year pause, DanMachi resumes, starting with Cranel and his party (Lili, Welf, and Mikoto) on thirteenth floor, taking care of business. The baddies are threatening; the action is smooth, slick, and packs a punch. Mikoto is a nice addition with her lightning-quick, multidirectional katana strikes.

While unwinding at the tavern, talking about the future of this party full of members of different Familias, Bell is suddenly verbally accosted by a young pipsqueak, backed up by a group of his friends all wearing the same military uniform: that of the vaunted Apollo Familia.

He says a couple of the wrong things about Hestia, and Bell gets mad, but it’s Welf who stoves in the kids face with a flagon. One of the kids’ much tougher (Level 3) friends quickly rearranges Bell’s face and nearly chokes him to death; he’s “saved” by Bete, complaining about the noise.

Hestia, ever the goddess of warmth and kindness, is proud of Bell for fighting for her name, but impresses upon him how sad she’d be if he got hurt again for her sake (Lili tends to Welf).

The next day, after reporting the fight to Eina, Bell is approached by two Apollo’s children—Daphne and Cassandra, whom I’m sure we’ll see later—who present him with an invitation to a Banquet of the Gods.

Since Hestia and Apollo have a sour history (she rejected his offer of marriage—Poseidon’s too—choosing instead to remain pure), there could well be some unpleasantness, but Hestia is excited nevertheless, in part because she gets to take a child plus-one.

It’s an occasion when everyone gets to show off how nicely they clean up, and while his hair remains stubbornly messy, even Bell looks pretty damn dapper in his tux.

It’s also an effective way of re-introducing all the gods, goddesses, and children after a long hiatus. Still, it’s hard to feel easy at the house of Apollo, the Familia Bell & Co. “disrespected” so recently. You can’t trust a god with children that…sophomoric.

Hestia and Loki snipe at one another as Bell and Ais give each other eyes, but neither has the guts to defy their goddess right in front of them. Even so, Bell lingers a bit as Ais walks away, and once he turns his head, Ais turns back too. Though members of different Familia, particularly those whose gods don’t like each other, don’t often mix, Bell and Ais clearly don’t feel that way.

While out on the balcony, Bell spots the Apollo child who almost killed him talking to someone and gets suspicious, but is saved from locking eyes with him when Hermes shows up and, after hearing Bell explain why he became an adventurer (at least in part to meet cute girls), steers him in the direction of one with whom Bell should dance.

A completely unexpected but utterly delightful dance scene between Bell and Ais ensues, the two looking absolutely killer in their classy duds, but looking even better because of how much goddamn fun they’re having dancing with each other.

I was gradually reminded of a similar dance scene in FFVIII (that was top-notch CGI in 1999!), starting out awkwardly but becoming smoother as the two grew more comfortable. Even if it was shameless bait for AizBell shippers, I don’t care; it was freaking beautiful and I loved every moment of it!

Unfortunately, the episode’s crushing low immediately follows its dizziest high, as Apollo pulls the plug on the pleasantness and reveals his resting crazyface. Yep, he’s one of those…gesugao or whatever…

Previously described as “spiteful”, he demonstrates he’s petty too, calling Bell and Hestia out for the bar fight his children started, then using it as a transparent excuse to challenge Hestia to a “War Game” between their Familias. And if he wins, he’s claiming Bell.

And there you have it: one of the littlest Familias (but sporting the biggest heart in that of Hestia) going up against one of the biggest, most powerful and militaristic. Assuming allowing outside help (like Ais, for instance) is forbidden, Hestia, Bell and Lili will surely have their work cut out for them!