Greetings friends! As you can see by the title, the question I shall be addressing is this, Is DanMachi a Sword Art Online Clone? Throughout this rambling blog, I shall be making comparisons and contrasts between these two shows in order to discuss in detail my answers to this question. So after many months, and several years of being turned off to the prospect of watching DanMachi by the humorously long title, DanMachi being a shortening of the full title; Danjon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darō ka which translates to, “Is it Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?” I finally watched the stinking show after reaching a show hole in my life, a fit of boredom after having finished some phenomenal anime series, (such as Code Geass, Hunter X Hunter, andHaibane Renmei,) and feeling like I had little more to watch of any good anime. I was of course wrong about this, but that is the feeling that I had at the time. It can be a fairly discouraging thing. After watching the first few episodes, I found that, while the title definitely seems to be a cringeworthy hint that the show is a shameless ecchi harem fan-service show, which I am adamantly averse to, it is actually not a shameless ecchi harem fan-service show, as the title suggests. It has it’s harem elements, and some pretty blatant fanservice, but that is not a focus, just as it should not have been the focus of sword art online. Compared to Sword art Online, DanMachi is somewhat tame in it’s fanservice, not because it has less fanservice shots in it, but because of the type of fanservice is shown. In Sword Art online, they shoehorned it in, and not to beat about the bush, adorned an otherwise enjoyable show with upskirts and breast shots that have no part of the show; in Danmachi, the only fanservice which exists, which mainly consists of characters with large breasts, and some sexual innuendo, are simply a part of the character designs and personalities. There are characters that are more modest, and characters that are less modest based on who they are, which although I wish there were absolutely no fanservice whatever, I can appreciate when a show does not go out of its way to make a big deal out of sexualizing its characters, but rather makes it a part of the character’s in-world choice, much as it happens in the real world. This is something I kind of Like about DanMachi, and to be honest, expecting that it would be a dirty harem show and being pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t, was much more digestible than expecting little fanservice, and the opposite happening, as did with SAO. Many of the less modest females in the show are actually goddesses based on Greek mythology, some of them even with genders changed from their original mythical identities from male to female for the show, so you can expect what I call some pagan Ludeness in this series. That being said, it is not for teens, whom it is aimed at, and slightly inappropriate even for discerning adults. As a Christian, I would only recommend this show with some moral cautions; it is in the end not truly worth wading through the fanservice here and there to watch the show all the way through. Even from the beginning, this show is less than fantastic, and you can immediately tell that all of its thunder is built off of the success of previous shows in its genre. It smacks of unoriginality is what I mean, but the essence of this show is found in its action, its comedy and its simple prioritization of plain ol’ fun. The fanservice puts a damper on this though, and that is definitely unfortunate, because without the fanservice, I could recommend this show as a fun fantasy romp about a boy becoming a man and falling in love in an RPG setting with gleeful abandon, but for shows like this, regular fanservice is basically par for the course, the course of Isekai shows, and If you know anything about anime, you know who we have to thank for that, Sword Art Online. If you are looking for a fanservice free video game world series based on an RPG, I heavily and strongly suggest Log Horizon. Its presentation is fun and clean, its characters remain un-sexualized and sincerely interesting, and its plot remains intellectually focused on a hard sci-fi perspective throughout.
If you are still interested by Dan Machi however; I encourage you to read on, and give it a chance for yourself. For a mature person, the fanservice may not be that much of a hindrance to you, and is definitely less than many anime I could name in this genre. I’m talking about you, No Game No Life. Now then, to continue laying the foundation of why I think DanMachi may be called a Sword Art clone.
There are many Isekai shows which DanMachi is similar to, but it isn’t technically an Isekai, because by definition, Isekai is an anime genre in which the main characters are transported suddenly to another world from their own. In DanMachi, the main character is a native peasant boy, who must learn to become an adventuring beast hunter and dungeon crawler in order to support himself and pay homage to the lesser Goddess Hestia who gives him shelter, and who “levels his stats” for him in a very RPG reminiscent way. The story is about his having stumbled into an elite tiered swordswoman Aiz Wallenstein in a dungeon with a level much higher than his own, and being thereafter rescued by her from a rampaging minotaur. He immediately falls in love with her after escaping death through her intervention, and he then determines in his heart to become a master swordsman as well, in order to catch up to her, impress her, and steal her heart like he stole hers.
This plot thread is ironically an interesting twist on the expectations that the title of the show gives you, those of DanMachi being a show in which the main character is some meathead who is constantly hitting on girls while fighting through dungeons, or perhaps saving the life of a damsel in distress, and successfully forming a romantic relationship with her. Instead, he is the dummy in distress who falls in love with his savior, and she is the steely eyed heroine who doesn’t really notice him whatsoever at first. I think that this concept is brilliant, especially when combined with the confusing title, as it immediately improves upon your easily formed bad expectations. This tactic however, is also a very poor one though too, because it drives audiences away before they can even watch the first episode. Instead of hooking the audience with a catchy title which gives them a sense of mystery or interest about what might be in the show, it gives you a long, confusing sentence which makes you think the worst of a show which is actually sincerely trying to subvert a couple of popular fantasy tropes which usually show up in anime.
For conservative people, such as myself and my friends, I could imagine them passing up watching DanMachi indefinitely just based on the bad taste which the title gives you, and I know for a fact that many others have done just that. I’m not saying that all Christian or conservative people should or shouldn’t watch this show, but just that the creators somewhat hamstrung themselves when it comes down to the audiences that they could have drawn in by having a simpler name. Just sayin’. So now, to the nitty gritty. The nuts and bolts, the core of this message, and why I wanted to write and talk about this somewhat obscure show from 2015. So, early on, though the show is not set in an alternate dimension, nor a man made video game world, I immediately began drawing comparisons in my head between this show, and Sword Art Online. The main character, Bell Cranell (a wonderful name) is a loner, with but one friend in his Goddess and no skills to speak of, who is struggling to become a master swordsman. He meets and befriends dozens of attractive female characters, all of whom form some sort of crush for him which he fails to acknowledge or recognize, something which all male light novel protagonists must do. Sure, all of these things are small trifling similarities, which mostly have to do with it being a larger budget show, with beautiful animation much of the time, and a very romance oriented plot, but it was not until episode 7 or 8 of Danmachi that I realized that there was one element which made the comparison all too real to not be made. Now, what I am about to say is actually the plot shift on which the show is based, which is meant to give the show it’s second wind to propel it to it’s first season’s climax, so if you despise all spoilers, and wish to see this show unspoiled, do not read the rest of this diatribe, because this is what it has all been about. All throughout the series, the Goddess Hestia has been withholding the truth of Bell’s special skill, and his true level from him throughout the season, for fear that if she were to tell him of his true potential, he would leave her and become a grand dungeon master with someone else, leaving her alone. In the 7th episode however, his special skill is revealed, and Hestia is no longer willing or able to keep the truth from him. This is the clincher. This is meant to be the part that excites and thrills you to exalting heights before the season’s climactic end. What is the skill he has which is so mysterious? I’ll tell you. He’s invincible. Yep, he can do anything, and can never die. This is what got so under my skin in such a strange way that I felt compelled to spend my time writing this and recording it. Here is where the comparison comes in. Now, in Sword Art Online, Kirito is a strong, silent type who has dozens of hours of experience to give him an edge over everyone else at the beginning of the show, but he still has to work up from scratch in order to become the Black Swordsman he would become, but the one plot point that I think broke Sword Art Online’s plot for me, was the fact that he secretly was holding a super powered duel-wieldable super sword, with which he could basically defeat any threat before him, stowed invisibly in his back pocket throughout multiple fights in which he could have saved others by using it, but didn’t. Not only that, he has so many levels on everyone else in the game that the best attacks that five player-killers can use to kill him do not even put a scratch him. Kirito was invincible in SAO, with the perfect example that death itself could not keep him from winning, due to his incredible plot armor in the last episode of the first arc. The reason this broke the plot, is that his invincibility and ascendancy is established in the first 12 episodes, taking away any fear or threat of defeat for him in the rest of the both the first and second seasons, and also precluding any personal betterment, because he’s already too perfect. For many, this made the rest of SAO a boring slog through obligatory plotlines that would stretch out several damsel in distress stories so that kirito would be forced to bring out his ultimate power in the last few episodes to defeat the monster who threatens to deflower his waifus. Now, the similarity I am about to draw between this and DanMachi is not one of perfect reflection but rather a similarity of form, meaning it’s not a perfect comparison but basically….the same freaking thing happens in DanMachi as in blessed Sword Art Online! The main thing, the main problem with SAO, which took away all danger from the characters, and destroyed all semblance of suspension of my unbelief, happens in DanMachi. In the seventh episode, it is revealed, that Bell Cranell, the Cinderella story underdog, has the skill to level up faster than anyone else for one, and also has the ability to defeat any threat that faces him for two. The show doesn’t even attempt to hide it! They literally make him invincible in the 7th episode and say it to the audience unapologetically, and everyone stands around the arena awed and amazed by his glory as he beats a Minotaur which far out-levels him. This is the point at which I, sitting in my bed, with chips in hand, which I dropped, my mouth agape, stared at the screen, and said to myself aloud, “It’s a sword art online Clone.” This phrase is meant to define when a fantasy, Isekai or rpg themed anime plays off of the same plot points, themes, tropes, and qualities of what Sword Art Online was; an enjoyable but incredibly flawed RPG fantasy aimed at general audiences, which has a lot of pandering appurtenances such as consistent fan-service, highly polished light-novel styled animation, simplified sci-fi medieval designs, and tons of female followers of a boyish, clueless and all powerful main character. This generally has a derogatory meaning to me, since there are so many issues with SAO as a pop-culture piece of media, but this is not always the case, as in the case of RE; Zero, a show which is very flawed, but a lot of fun to keep up with, and even to critique, at least for me, a person who is a very critical thinker. In any case, an SAO Clone will have an overall tendency of pandering to the masses with super emotional action focused stories, which always have a huge amount of their value into attractive and marketable visuals. This does not necessarily always mean that the show cannot maintain a suspension of unbelief, but unfortunately, with all three of these shows, the originator of this dilemma, SAO, as well as its clones, DanMachi and RE:Zero, all have issues with Deus Ex Machina, illogical harem elements, idiotic main characters, (to some degree or another) and plot breakingly unbelievable contrivances. Now, to be precise, my idea of this is solely based on my own experience of these anime, and nothing else. There are far more additions to the fantasy rpg-world isekai genre than the anime that I have seen, or even have heard of, and there are probably reasons why RE;Zero, and DanMachi were originally created by authors and creators who were not influenced by SAO and are therefor not SAO clones, but if a person is to be critically minded, and sees SAO, RE;Zero, and DanMachi in chronological order, one cannot help but draw comparisons, and make the comment that these new additions were highly influenced in their animation and story design by SAO, which is to this day the most popular isekai series in animation. The next question is, is this a bad thing? Is being an SAO clone automatically a bad thing? Well, many may emphatically just make the quick judgement that it is based on personal a dislike of SAO, and others may make the judgement that it is rather a good thing based on their enjoyment of it, or of those later shows. The fact that these popular animes came out after SAO, probably means that it inspired writers to write, creators to create, and that cannot be a bad thing, since now we have so many different additions to the genre which all made it big. This I understand and agree with to a degree, but when the original show was not that great, and its most popular successors do little to nothing to improve on the model it originated, I must say that there is definitely something wrong with being an SAO clone. To be more objective about it, one would have to make the statement based solely off of what it is that was copied in the potential clone; was it a positive piece of the original work that was copied in the newer show? Or was it a negative error? That is what determines the value of the show’s later identity in my mind as being an SAO clone. This discussion does seem quite self servicing, in that all I’m doing is talking about this new term I came up with and explaining it in detail, but it’s just my way of expressing this phenomenon of taking an older isekai show which garnered great popularity over the years, and copying many of the tropes found therein for the purpose of creating a similar cash cow. Now, I must qualify that DanMachi, and even RE;Zero, which I think is much more derivative, both have heart and soul of their own to recommend them to the average viewer, but when I see a show with heart and potential suddenly make the exact same mistake in the exact same fashion with the exact same end goal in mind that a more famous series did in the past, I must sit up in my chair and try to make sense of it. All that being, said, I have yet to finish DanMachi, being so overcome with emotion that I had to write this before continuing, but when I finally do finish the show, another shorter rant may be expected. I hope this has been an enjoyable rant, and that it possibly stirs up some further thought and discussion as well. If you have any further comments, questions or counter points to this discussion, please do so in the comments.