Fantasy anime fits into various boxes. Isekai, adventure, game, whatever your preference, there is a fantasy-type anime for you out there somewhere. However, regardless of what the brand of fantasy may be, series that run for quite a while end up developing into a similar direction: the realisation of the main characters of the story that the monsters that they have been killing can also be sentient, feeling beings.
Main characters end up feeling all kinds of mixed-up emotions for various reasons, and our most recent example of this is Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka (Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, aka DanMachi) III and the case of Wiene, Bell’s new dragonkin friend. In what ways do fantasy anime twist and change this seemingly set trajectory? Let’s find out!
The Lore of the Land
Fantasy anime titles follow various formats. You can have the Record of Lodoss War types, which more closely resemble Lord of the Rings in terms of the world, lore and characterisation. We have brave knights, elves, magic, dragons, demi-humans, ancient prophecies, and even a cataclysmic war that serves as the pretext to the story we get to see on screen.
Anime twists this basic formula in various ways, but basic elements of the premise separate shows into key categories: Fantasy and Isekai fantasy, where the latter refers to scenarios where the protagonist is either whisked off to another world.
Fantasy anime often feature human protagonists who are surrounded by a plethora of individuals from other races. Quite often, the Elves are considered masters of magic and the elements, but they are also often vilified, enslaved, or discriminated against in some way.
Isekai can further be divided into subsets, of which “trapped in a videogame” plotlines are a popular direction. DanMachi is a strange mix of both regular fantasy and isekai, most probably due to its videogame-esque system of levelling, skills, monsters that respawn and of course, conquerable dungeons that have boss-level monsters that must be defeated if an adventurer hopes to leave with the loot.
Of Monsters and (hu)Men
Now over to the main point of our discussion - monsters in fantasy anime. In DanMachi, we are introduced to the existence of sentient monsters capable of verbal communication in the third season with the introduction of Wiene.
Bell and the Hestia Familia were on Level 19 of the dungeon when they encountered a rough-around-the-edges band of adventurers in hot pursuit of a fleeing fledgling monster, using a giant predatory beast to do the hunting. When Bell encounters Wiene for the first time, he sees the desperation on her face, but his decision to protect her stems from his hearing her speak for the first time. When he takes her back to town, Bell’s perspective on monsters is shaken forever because of the helpless monster girl he saved.
By episode 3, the guild is made aware of Wiene’s existence when she exposes her dragon wings to save a child from a falling cart in town. Vilified by the entire town, word of “a talking monster” very quickly spreads, putting the Ikaros Familia hot on her heels yet again. After her Wiene’s terrible experience in town, Bell is secretly notified by Eina Tulle of a secret mission to deliver a “dragonkin” to the dungeon; Level 19 to be exact.
This next visit to the dungeon leaves Bell in a daze as his growing relationship with Wiene, who has become very fond of him for saving her life, brings him to an uncomfortable crossroads in terms of his relationship with killing monsters. Soon after Wiene’s rescue in episode 1, we realise that Wiene is the escaped cargo of a monster smuggler and slaver in cahoots with the Ikaros Familia - the band of adventurers Bell and his friends encountered in episode 1.
When they arrive at the delivery point, they are encountered by violent monsters who, after a light exchange of blows with the Hestia Familia, introduce themselves as Wiene’s “kin” - monsters who can talk and are capable of having developed societies and relationships. The adventurers of the Hestia Familia are obviously shaken by the hospitality they receive from a bunch of monsters, but Bell tries hard not to be rude.
While DanMachi is exploring this element of fantasy, it is most definitely not the first time we encounter a fantasy storyline in which monsters go from being categorically ruled savage beasts and the enemy of humankind to also being capable of sentience and to some extent, culture, and emotion. We’ve seen the same happen in Overlord III, with the saga of the Lizardmen, which is a curious case of the “trapped in a videogame” isekai but a much bigger expression of this topic of the human “discovery” of sentience where it was assumed there was none.
It is always interesting watching an anime come into its own, or grow into a more intricate story. That is the case with DanMachi, in which we see the stakes gradually increase in each season, while it retains a rather light feel despite how dark it actually gets. Talking monsters in fantasy anime often introduce pertinent issues, such as the corruption of society, discrimination, and the sheer extent of human cruelty. What is your favourite instance of monsters talking unexpectedly in fantasy anime? Drop a comment below and tell us your thoughts!