Mourning the dead has put Orario in a real funk, so to cheer up, the city hosts a multi-day festival to celebrate all the wonderful blessings life has to offer, like fruits, vegetables, and getting laid. Bell receives an invitation from his friend Syr, asking him out on a date to the festival. He's not sure how to respond but doesn't get a choice in the matter after an elf kidnaps and conscripts him into a grueling week-long training regimen on how to be a gentleman, for the sole purpose of embarking on this date. Bell rolls with the punches, but neither he nor anyone else can figure out the apparent connection between Syr, a waitress at a modest tavern, and Freya Familia, the most powerful familia in all of Orario.
For the duration of his adventure, Bell has been assembling his own harem, but with his shyness around women and tunnel vision on becoming the next hero of legend, this series was on the fast track to ending with a lot of bypassed hearts and ringless fingers. So it surprised me pleasantly when one of the girls took the initiative for a romantic resolution, and I was even more pleasantly surprised when Bell showed up as a three-piece-sporting cavalier. Getting flustered and fidgety around a crush has its times and places when it's cute and endearing, but it gets old when a guy can't even tell a girl she looks nice without needing to hyperventilate into a paper bag. What I wouldn't give to see a guy confidently link arms with a woman, lead her to a karaoke booth, and scream their heads off to coldrain. Escorting a lady around town by the hand should come off as out of character for Bell, but with how fluid he is, his transition from quivering toddler to strapping fellow is seamless, but because most of the date is told through his perspective, we see that that's not so. Being kind comes naturally to him, but exercising that in romantic mannerisms is more of an active decision. It would've been too jarring if he came out the gate sparkling, with a rose clenched between his chompers, but he steadies this perfect balance between applying the lessons he learned and food-sharing embarrassing him because romance is largely untrodden territory.
Much as I liked Bell's transformation, his date with Syr is only so enthralling. It's not that it isn't bad, but the two of them looking at baskets of fruit would've strained my patience by going over each fruit's cultivation practices. A strength this series has always had is switching up perspectives to keep things fresh. Normally, it annoys me when the narrative jumps heads, but in Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?, I like it because its minor characters are interesting or amusing, and getting their two cents often adds to the mystery or suspense of the plot at large, even when they're inconsequential on this same note.
Bell's debut as an upstanding citizen is great, and the perspective switches has always been great, and this volume keeps the greatness momentum rolling with serious improvements to its humor. I've never considered Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? a comedy series, partly because comedy isn't why I read it, partly because its comedy is never any good, but this volume takes serious strides to improve its jokes, or I should say changes its gait entirely. I still recall an egregious example from the second volume where one character says to another character, after hearing something shocking, “PFFFFFFTTT!!” and that second character replies, “Eww! What the fuck, dude?!” It wasn't until three beats later that I realized character A had spit their drink all over character B. An oldie, but a goodie, but slapstick, because it's a visual form of comedy, loses its punch when formatted into text, or at least when done as literally as possible. I've been of the mind of late that it is possible, but it's in how you phrase the actions that determines. Taking the aforementioned slapstick, you could convey it as these three lines of text:
Character A was so stunned by this recent revelation that she had to share her astonishment with her cohort. Unfortunately for Character B, she had forgotten about her mouthful of water.
Character B thought Character A's opinion unwanted.
There's a transference of the humor from the action itself to its description, so it might at that point no longer be considered slapstick, but it is a method for expressing that a particular scene or action is humorous, and it's a similar product to the type of material this volume is packing. For instance, in order to ditch some pursuers, Syr leads Bell to a hotel to hide out, and that scene starts like so:
Heading down the back alleys, Syr guides me to an inn.
And then she asks for a single room.
And in that room, there is just one bed.
She holds her finger up to her lips and shushes me as I start to shout.
No, this is not the time for shushing!
For me, this is funny. Stammering and obnoxious shouts often were the joke in the past, but here they're melded seamlessly with the sandwiching phrases. It blends so effortlessly that I might nominate it as a masterclass in comedy. Far better than Bell tripping over a mote of dust and landing with his fingers curled over the curves of Syr's left breast and then exclaiming “DAAAAAHHH!?!!”
Positive as I've been toward this volume, there is one thing I did dislike about it. Not so much a negative as a personal disappointment. In volume 14, we learn that a posse of waitresses turn out to be some of the baddest mofos on the block, but we don't get to see them go all-out. This volume started getting my hopes up that I might see some gratification after the delay, but the first time they pull their swords out, the scene cuts away, and the second time they pull them out, they get bullied into next Wednesday. I get it's unwritten law in long-running series that you have to wait three eons and a half eternity to see a badass character's full potential, but I can't help but feel there's little salvaging to be done when those characters get curb-stomped before their official debut in the limelight.
Great as everything else is, the showstopper of this volume is the plot twist at the end. Based on the cover alone you can start drawing lines between the dots, but it threw a wrench in the works that slammed right into my face. For a series that's so straightforward as to be simpleminded, it really got me good. In the process of trying to wrap my mind around the plot twist, I twisted my brain into knots.
But a complex plot twist doesn't make for a good plot twist, because its effects are so confined to this one volume that I'm up in the air over whether it's actually a retcon. Maybe there're hints sprinkled in if I reread this series from the beginning, but it's not the sort of revelation that has me singing Pit People's And It All Makes Sense Now, because I'm instead wondering, “Wait, is it that feasible?” At the very least, it's not messy like Bleach, which changes its mind on what Hollow Ichigo is every arc.
The quality of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is like that of an archipelago: flat ocean for kilometers before the brief peak of a volcanic island. I was harsh on the last three volumes because they were that flat ocean, but volume 16 is the arrival of a new island. The diameter of this island I can't say, but with this volume only beginning an arc, my fingers are crossed that it'll be a pretty wide island.