First Impression: Solo Leveling

First Affect: Solo Leveling

A group of adventurers are in over their heads against a swarm of monster-sized fire ants and aphids. Cue mysterious heroes, here to save the day! Our protagonists have arrived…or maybe not. Cut to an urban setting where another, much flashier guildmaster and crew face off against even more of the giant formicidae in a montage of flame and destruction. Ah, here are the protagonists! Or…maybe not. Cue narrator explaining what is going on: gates opened up across Earth ten years ago, bridging to monster dimensions where loot and bounty are ripe for the plucking by those in whom special powers have been awakened. It’s your usual monster-world-gate setup except that hunters, as they are called, cannot—I repeat, cannot—level up. Cue Jinwoo Sung, the weakest hunter of all time. Now here is our protagonist, poor boy! Because he is indeed poor, being equipped only with a dull knife and raggedy clothing, and completely unarmored. But he’s also desperate, being the breadwinner of his family with a sick mom and college-aged younger sister to pay the bills for. Even the lowest-ranking dungeon can spell death for him, but he keeps volunteering for raids, much to the frustration of his higher-ranked healer friend Joohee who constantly fears for his health and safety. When things take a risky turn on a raid one day, Jinwoo opts to push his luck and keep going in the hopes of securing much-needed loot. Will he regret his decision? Will he even live long enough to regret his decision?    

This was a solid start for the anime adaptation of one of the most popular Webtoons of all time. Some of the editing choices were a little odd, but otherwise, the episode does an efficient job of establishing the worldbuilding without dragging too much, hinting at the political machinations between guilds, introducing a fairly likable protagonist, raising death flags, and leaving us wanting more with a tense cliffhanger. The ABCs of any decent shonen series! A-1 Pictures is behind the animation (with considerable Korean collaboration), and there are some pretty cool layouts, particularly in the scene that introduces the mysterious S-rank hunter, Cha Hae-in, who recently left her guild (the one led by the flashy guy) for Reasons, and who will no doubt factor prominently once Jinwoo’s healer friend is out of the picture (seemed to me like the death flag was flying for her! Don’t ever confess in a first episode, honey). But the thing that will have me tuning in again is the seeming paradox between the series’ title, with its emphasis on leveling, and the rule that, well, leveling up is impossible. Will the series offer an interesting workaround here, something more than simply “he discovers he has a hidden superpower after all” kind of thing? Looking forward to finding out! It’s great to see Webtoons and Korean manhwa in general getting a bit more attention from anime studios, and Solo Leveling looks to be a safe test case for the viability of more of these kinds of adaptations. Overall, I wasn’t blown away, but there’s enough here to pique my interest!

Solo Leveling can be streamed on Crunchyroll.


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