Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? IV episode 19

Rating: A-

Episode 19 is the first one in the second half of season 4 to exclusively focus on Bell and Ryu’s plight on floor 37. That’s primarily because the other groups have now assembled and are in transit mode with a full rescue team, but this was also a necessary move in a thematic sense. Nearly everything which has transpired so far on floor 37 has led to the dramatic events at the monstrous Colosseum, and a full episode is necessary to make that experience properly pay off. And boy, does it ever!

Narratively speaking, the course of events here is easily predictable even for anime-only viewers. As cool, clear-headed, and collected as the current-day Ryu normally seems, she has shown signs in earlier content that she feels she lost her way in her devotion to vengeance, doing some terrible things towards that goal which don’t align well at all with the youthful idealism seen in this season’s flashbacks. Add in a big dose of survivor’s guilt shown earlier in season IV and the prum Lyla’s comments in this episode’s flashback and you have a crystal-clear set-up for self-sacrifice. She’s already indicated to the audience that her goal is to make sure Bell gets out alive, not herself, and what better place than here to make her final stand? It comes at the cost of her Elven pride, any hope of her remains ever being recovered, and any realistic hope that Bell will forgive her for this, but at least the shining star of the future (and the love interest of her most cherished person!) will live on, right?

Of course, Bell will never go along with that. Whether he’s consciously doing it or not, Bell is the Argonaut of the setting’s lore – the boy who would be a hero – and there’s no way he would allow such a sad scenario to play out. His purity and earnestness drive him to make things happen, and he bears a skill tailor-made for getting out of seemingly-impossible situations. Give him guidance, give him the back-up and emotional support he needs, and he will be the hero. And he proves that again here, by taking the item Ryu gave him and combining it with his own power in one spectacularly daring move.

Despite how predictable this all is, it still works beautifully because of how carefully it has been set up and how well the storytelling and especially musical score execute it. I feel like a broken record lauding the sound design and music of these episodes in every review, but the whole Colosseum sequence is further support for this series being one of the all-time anime greats on those fronts. The dread of this horrifying venue seeps into every frame, Ryu’s resignation is palpable, and the triumph of a slower take on the franchise’s signature heroic theme stirs the soul. Some outstanding vocal work by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (the voice of Bell) also deserves recognition; as an April Fool’s Day joke one year, the Memoria Freese mobile game featured Matsuoka saying “Fire Bolt!” as bell 100 different ways, but he gets two really good, non-joke uses out of it here.

The addition to the world-building here is also interesting. The exterior visual design of the Colosseum is incredible, but so is its very existence. An infinite spawning point with immediate respawn certainly does sound like some sort of testing ground, but as Bell wonders for himself, for what? This would be an enormous concentration of energy and resources for the Dungeon, so it has to be purposeful, further suggesting that the Dungeon itself is sentient. The continuous threat factor makes it easy to understand why even top-tier parties would avoid it, hence giving the Dungeon full reign to experiment. Perhaps this is meant to refine monster designs, but this is a point that the source novel also leaves as mysterious, so further clarity on that should not be expected.

The only reason I’m not giving this episode a top score is because the animation quality control is a little shaky in places and the action scenes cut corners frequently. Bell’s most dramatic actions near the end are still well-animated, but the production is being even more carefully selective than normal about where it focuses its attention. Still, this continues to be great fare with significant rewatch value.

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