Among the other series that I am still following this season is Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World, which I’m sticking with mostly to see if an isekai series where sex is a core element can actually amount to anything. Even though DanMachi is not an isekai series, both are still RPG-driven fantasy series featuring a male protagonist who gradually gets surrounded by a bevy of love interests, and the dungeon-crawling both have focused on in their last couple of episodes provide plenty of room for comparison and contrast. Unsurprisingly, the two are nowhere near on the same level in both qualitative factors and compelling entertainment value, and you shouldn’t have to guess which one comes out on top.
DanMachi has a well-earned reputation for its effectiveness in capturing the spirit of high fantasy, and that is solidly in play so far this season. Foes feel intimidating, fights are awash in dramatic staging and impactful use of musical score, and something interesting is always going on. The Moss Huge’s combination of personal power, devastating parasitic attack, and horrifying cunning presents a wonderfully new, deadly challenge for Bell and his companions, whether it’s the way it separates Bell for the rest of the party or the way it provokes a monster parade to attack the main group. The main party is struggling but persisting thanks to a combination of teamwork, preparation, and their own cleverness, enough so that even Aisha is acknowledging that they are worthy of respect, and they’re doing so despite one of their own having been laid low and a passel of incapacitated elves and dwarves to protect. Despite a brief lapse in episode 3, Lily is shining in the role of commander, showing that she doesn’t have to be just Bell’s loyal follower, Cassandra is proving her worth with her group healing, and episode 4 ends with Haruhime preparing to unleash her spectacular new trick, one so big that Aisha is swearing the unaffiliated onlookers to secrecy over it. (As a novel reader, I can assure that it will not disappoint.) In all, the group is clicking even without Bell, and the music and animation provides ample support.
Bell gets his own adventure, too. After being swept away by the currents and weathering a fantastic action scene against the super-fast bird monsters, he encounters a new Xenos: the mermaid Marie. She’s a delightful new addition even if you set aside her (considerable) fan service value. She knows the other Xenos but cannot be with them on a regular basis because she is water-bound, which leaves her lonely and somewhat isolated, and the writing handles well how that shapes her behavior towards Bell. Couple that with the power of her mermaid song and Bell couldn’t ask for a better ally on a floor where water is almost everywhere.
By comparison, Harem has also offered two straight episodes dominated by dungeon-crawling, but that experience is as bland as it can possibly get, with the only minor interest factor being Roxanne showing off some smooth moves and how much of a battle junkie she actually is. The dungeon design is workmanlike at best, the monster designs are dull, and the adventuring is more interested in game play-based mechanics than doing anything exciting or genuinely threatening. Michio (Harem’s protagonist) is just a game player doing live-action play, whereas Bell is a living, breathing character who is actually on an adventure. If you only have time to watch one, which one is worth watching is abundantly clear.