Solo Leveling

Title:Solo Leveling
Ore Dake Level-Up na Ken
Keywords: , , , , , ,
Notables: Animation - A1 Pictures
BAN Taito
GINGA Banjou
UEDA Reina
Over ten years ago, a series of gates linking our world to an alternate dimension appeared. The other side of each gate teemed with bizarre creatures known as 'magic beasts', immune to conventional weaponry. Those who have awakened the abilities necessary to fight these beasts are known as 'Hunters'. Based on the amount of magical power contained within their bodies, they are ranked, in descending order, as S, A, B, C, D, and E-rank. However, once these powers are awakened no amount of individual effort can ever result in greater strength. Jinwoo Sung is an E-rank whose nickname is 'The weakest Hunter in all mankind'. He is often injured and recovers few of the 'Essence Stones' that Hunters sell to make a living. He keeps trying because his mother is in the hospital and his sister needs college tuition. Jinwoo is about to discover that there are some exceptions to the rule that a person's rank is set in stone.

12 episodes
OverallArtAnimationCharacter Design MusicSeries StoryEpisode StoryReviewer
Rent Stretch [series:4783#628]
(All episodes watched):

Early in episode one, this show seemed very predictable and unoriginal. About the only unusual feature was that characters and monsters could move back and forth between the isekai world and the real one (but of course the monsters couldn't just be shot, they had to be killed with magical bladed weapons). That, and the fact that this seemed to be a Korean anime, judging from the names of the characters. With time it seems that this show is taking the usual 'what if life was like a video game' premise more seriously than most—real world people venture into the isekai one every day or so to hunt for dangerous beasts because they need the money they get from the stones or crystals that felled monsters transform into. We get the details, like how a party is assembled, and how it takes a vote when a dangerous and unexpected option arises. We meet the chairman of the Hunters association, and learn how 'mana crystals' are valuable because they can serve as an excellent source of green energy. There must be a reason why these details are being included. We get to know Jinwoo, who is mocked by some but keeps at a job where 'the risks may outweigh the rewards' in his own words. He is armed with nothing more than a cheap magic knife, which is all he can afford. We also meet Joohee, a B-rank female healer who looks after him. Character designs were good. When Jinwoo and his companions enter the Final Boss' chamber, we all know that the heavy gates are going to swing shut behind them and the fearsome statues on the walls are going to come to life. But the fight was wild and exciting, and this is definitely a dangerous business, not one of those shows where somehow everybody walks away safely at the end. This was supposed to be a relatively easy dungeon to master, but somebody had forgotten to tell that to this boss. By the end, with the situation seeming hopeless my thinking had changed to this being pretty cool, and I felt I absolutely must know where things were going to go. So much had been packed into one episode that I was sure it had been extra long, but no, it had been the usual 23 minutes.

Whereas the first episode of several new series this season had seemed good to me but the second was a disappointment, episode two of SL was just as good as the first, if not better. 'Damn, this show is still looking hot!' I jotted down at one point during it. SL is truly on another level compared to most Isekai anime. It is both clever and gruesome as the adventurers find themselves in a seemingly hopeless situation and must think their way out of it, since for once sheer force won't do the trick. Though he's not much of a fighter, Jinwoo takes the lead in making sense of the exact meanings of a set of commandments chisleled on the wall. The episode was genuinely tense and gripping and the despair is palpable. We also meet Jinah, Jinwoo's sister, and and learn how 'gates' take a week to fully open, which would allow monsters to reach Earth, so adventurers try to strike first and finish them off while still in their home territory. The basic premise of this show is what if another world which really, really did function much like a video game existed, and humans had no choice but to go play by those rules or risk being destroyed. I wonder if it is based on a video game. At the end a mauled Jinwoo gets a curious message: "Secret quest: 'Courage of the Weak'. You have acquired the qualifications to be a player. Will you accept?". I think this may well be my favorite anime of the season. I noticed that in early February fans at ANN were rating it as the fourth best show of the season, which it deserves.

In episode three Jinwoo, who last remembered being mauled and in agony and despair in the dungeon, somehow finds himself uninjured and in a hospital bed. He is told that he was found unconscious and has remained that way for three days. His life has been transformed into a sort of video game, complete with game displays that only he can see. Who could possibly be behind it? Five others, including Joohee, also survived the mission, though they have not been miraculously healed. The rescue party that brought Jinwoo back found some confirmation of the survivors' stories but the temple chamber had disappeared. The Hunters Guild takes interest, and we wonder whether they can be trusted or have some ulterior motive. It turns out that once in a while a Hunter experiences a 'second awakening' which can greatly enhance his/her capabilities, but that doesn't seem to be what has happened to Jinwoo. Whereas most isekai series have pretty simplistic plots here there are all sorts of intriguing questions. It's sort of like the basic premise of isekai--people find themselves in videogame-like situations--is taken much more seriously and delved into much more deeply than usual.

In episode four Jinwoo goes on a one-man adventure and finds that he has become much stronger and more skillful. Is he still an 'E' rank Hunter? You would think he would have ascended a good deal. The pace of the series seemed to slow down somewhat as he fights various monsters that he would never have dared face before, and wins. I'd have rather learned about what's going on with the guild, who is behind this second chance he has gotten, why he was given it, etc. It's easy to make an anime where the protagonist has a dream come true as he becomes someone who everybody else admires and respects, but much more difficult (but more rewarding) would be one which has a continually developing main character and a genuine mystery behind it. In episode five we see how ripped Jinwoo has become as he consistently exercises (as whoever was behind his resurrection had demanded). He looks like a different person now. Jinwoo is finally released from the hospital and joins an adventuring party only to be betrayed and left (along with one other victim) in a seemingly hopeless situation in a dungeon in which they must fight a giant spider. We see just how much stronger he has gotten. Jinwoo comments that he has been 'levelling' continually--is there any connection between your level and your rank as a Hunter? He also mentions that he believes it's the 'system'--presumably the computer-like system behind this video game-like situation of gates and monsters--that was behind his resurrection and is now behind the sometimes ugly things he is called upon to do. He does summon video game type displays fairly often. Is some Godlike power forcing humanity (or at least one person) to play a deadly videogame? It had seemed to me that the basic premise of this show is 'what if an isekai-like system really did exist?', but how is the software behind it explained (I'm having a hard time putting this into words)? We meet (or have we already met?) several high ranking female Hunters who will surely play a part in the story at some point in the future; I hope I won't be totally screwed by the fact that I'm struggling to keep track of them.

I was starting to feel that the story was slowing down but then episode eight re-intrigued me--perhaps because there were no fights with Beasts, just developments to the plot. Jinwoo learns that he could potentially be rewarded with a magical elixir that ought to cure his mother's 'eternal sleeping sickness'. To work towards this goal he agrees to cooperate with Jinho, the rich but only slightly higher ranked boy who was thrown under the bus with him (people upstairs wonder how an E- and D-ranked Hunter survived a mission which killed several higher ranked ones). I like Jinho; he's an honest and determined Hunter, but not one who has been blessed with fantastic powers somehow, so I can identify with him. He feels looked down upon by his father and older brother and feels a need to distinguish himself as a Hunter. Jinho's father hopes to create an all new Hunter's guild, which those already in power resent. I had been wondering what had become of Joohee, but Jinwoo reunites with her and a couple of other former comrades from the calamitous first adventure. Lots of threads are intertwining and I really wish this episode had continued for a few minutes longer than it did. In episode nine the plan to allow some Hunters who have been released from prison to accompany the party goes wrong, but not in the way you might expect. One of the things that makes this show so gripping might be that the greatest threat often comes from other humans rather than fantastical monsters. Some Hunters have a definite sense of honor and loyalty while others would gladly stab their comrades in the back. On the other hand, I thought the lives of several old acquaintances of Jinwoo were sold rather cheaply in episode nine; their fates could have been somewhat more powerful and moving. Anyway, It is getting increasingly difficult to hide Jinwoo's tremendously upgraded skills from the administration system, and nothing good would happen if they became aware of them. In episode ten he is warned that the brother of the Hunter who betrayed him (with predictable consequences) is looking for him, and this guy is no less than a S (Special) rank Hunter, the most dangerous sort. Joohee says she's giving up being a Hunter, but that can't be true. A talent scout from one of the major guilds has figured out roughly how good Jinwoo must be to survive repeated disasters. Perhaps the reason I enjoy this show so much is because it concentrates on the characters and the time they spend in the real world rather than fighting monsters in an alternate one. How many other Isekai series have the main character with his mother in a coma, or his sort-of girlfriend experiencing a crisis in her career as an adventurer, or another adventurer who he has never met out to get him? While this show is among the best isekai ones, the whole system of ranks and the assumptions that come with them--surely a D-rank hunter couldn't win a fight with a C-rank one--kills a lot of suspense. There has got to be some risk; even a member of an elite military unit might just get a bullet between the eyes that was fired by an ignorant yokel if he isn't careful. Also, I wonder if we will ever learn who or what was behind Jinwoo's resurrection or if it will just be treated as a given.

Jinwoo is offered an optional quest by the mysterious game system--something about changing his specialty as a Hunter. He agress, and is thrust into a desperate and seemingly hopeless battle against the armored knights and in particular the red knight who we've been seeing in the OP sequence since episode one. Their absence up until now (and the feeling that curing his mother's illness was still a distant goal) had made me hope this might be a two-season show, but that didn't turn out to be the case. Meanwhile, the well known expert Hunters at a major guild undertake another raid on notorious Jeju island. Will they get into deep trouble and need Jinwoo to save them--all in a matter of one or at most two remaining episodes? By the way, two reviewers at ANN rated Solo Leveling as one of the worst anime of the Winter 2024 season. In the final episode, Jinwoo finds that his change of specialty is definitely not what he was expecting as he gains a frightening new capability which apparently nobody else has yet attained. And the Hunters going to Jeju island make a disturbing discovery of their own. The story is clearly far from over. Jinwoo still needs to deal with Hwang's brother and Joohee's career as a Hunter is currently in tatters. Well, I must not be the only one who likes it, because it has been announced that SL will get a second season this Fall (in an ANN poll of ordinary viewers, SL was rated the 9th best anime of the season). It has never been explained why reality operates like a MMORPG, and I suspect never will be. This show's angle is to just accept that, and once you do you can enjoy the story.

Last updated Saturday, April 06 2024. Created Sunday, January 21 2024.

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