I’ve seen my fair share of anime over the years, beginning with the Cartoon Network days of Toonami and now with the extensive catalog of Crunchyroll. So, I guess you could say I’m an anime connoisseur who’s at least familiar with standard tropes and themes. I’ve grown numb to entire families getting murdered in the first episode. And I don’t even blink when the weak main character miraculously becomes the strongest of them all.
Unfortunately, this has brought on a biased perspective that sometimes makes me judge a show by its first episode. That was the case with Solo Leveling for me, at first, where I initially scoffed at tropes I had already seen before.
One of the first notable things that started to deter me away was the series term of “Hunters.” Since Hunter x Hunter is in my top 10, I wanted to be loyal to my show and found it slightly annoying to hear. I know Hunter x Hunter doesn’t own that word, and others have probably used it as well, but I just initially thought they could’ve gone with another labeling that didn’t hit too close to home.
Once I came to terms with it, it didn’t get any better when the group entered a mysterious dungeon, portraying a typical “Oh, no, it’s a trap!” scenario. At that time, it felt too predictable, almost as if I watched a character walk into a dark alleyway in a scary movie.
Moving onto the hospital scene when Sung Jinwoo awakes, I was curious to see where he would go with the aftermath of that Smiling Titan-esque being. Once again, I was hesitant when Jinwoo put all his cards in the Strength category of his newfound RPG-inspired stats. His actions in the third episode caused me to yell at him, especially when he didn’t complete the daily quest. As a gamer, I was furious, but I valued his motivation to keep trying.
Episode 4 is where things really took a turn for me, as Sung puts in the actual time and effort to get better. Despite watching other video game-inspired anime, like Sword Art Online, Recovery of an MMO Junkie, and heck, let’s add in Hunter x Hunter’s Greed Island arc, Solo Leveling works slightly differently.
You see, what makes this anime and manhwa diverge from those is the fact that the main character is the only one experiencing these things. No one else can see these stats and quests, just him and him alone. Past anime typically had other players involved, based entirely on an MMO.
Solo Leveling makes me feel like Jinwoo is the playable character in a single-player game, while everyone else is just NPCs. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed these games, so seeing something that leans toward that makes it feel much more inviting.
It also made me finally start to appreciate all the video game themes in the show, from the dungeons to the basic character level-ups. Plus, I let out a sigh of relief after he started to consider his other stats to balance everything out.
However, even if we got into how it’s different as a video game-esque show, you may still wonder about the overdone weak MC becoming a strong MC trope. What separates Solo Leveling from others here is how fast Sung Jinwoo levels up. At the state it’s in now, there’s no long-drawn training arc; in fact, by the fourth episode, he’s already more OP than some of the Hunters we’ve met.
On top of that, Jinwoo doesn’t brag about this new power and mostly keeps it to himself. I know it’s relatively cliche with how it’s depicted, primarily with the reveal of his shredded abs. But even if I don’t play for the same team, I couldn’t help but channel my inner Squidward and say, “Oh no! He’s hot!”
Sung’s demeanor overall feels drastically different from before. He’s much more focused and serious-looking, along with a tad of confidence to put a spring in his step. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind who he was before; it’s just interesting to see how far he’s come in a mere few episodes. As of right now, I find myself waiting for the next debut to see where Jinwoo goes next and how much he’s changed this time. I’ve also dabbled in the manhwa anytime the wait feels way too long.?
I know there are probably a lot more intriguing details that I have yet to discover (my best friend, who’s read them all, already told me I’m definitely in for a treat.) So, I suppose I need to rethink my biases with the newer anime in the hopes that I find gems like this. It’s happened before with the Tokyo Revenger’s main protagonist and now with Solo Leveling’s Sung Jinwoo. Even if I might be hesitant at first, I can’t wait for anime to keep proving me wrong, no matter what genre.