Home Solo Leveling Episode 3 Review - Game Start

Solo Leveling Episode 3 Review - Game Start

Solo Leveling released its third episode this week and set up some strong foundation for the future of the series. I was pleasantly surprised with it; during my watch of the premiere two episodes, I felt like the episodes were almost codependent on one another. This wasn’t the case at all with episode three. Story-wise, the episode followed a single main thread and wasn’t saddled with the expository responsibility of the prior two episodes. Art-wise, we got exposed to a few new elements of the Solo Leveling world which looked excellent and had telltale signs of A-1 production’s style. The episode’s animation and direction was similarly strong, making use of shifts in perspective and encapsulated spaces in ways that reminded me quite of bit of Jujutsu Kaisen‘s second season.

Most of all, this episode solidified for me how this series feels meaningfully distinct from other isekai or quasi isekai anime out there. Its story has some particular details and angles that I haven’t seen elsewhere despite having watched far more isekai and fantasy than I want to admit.

Spoilers ahead for Solo Leveling episode 3: It’s Like a Game

Jinwoo’s New Abilities

From what I can tell, the Solo Leveling anime is taking a lot more time to smooth out the introduction of Jinwoo’s unique abilities than the source material. I think it paid off quite well. From the beginning of the episode, the Hunter Association Surveillance team has their eye on him, especially since he was the sole survivor of a bonus dungeon with monsters capable of instantly killing multiple people much stronger than him. Others besides him surviving ends up being somewhat crucial to the level of scrutiny and antagonism Jinwoo faces; he didn’t need to be the one to relay the story of what happened in the dungeon. Moreover, hunters undergoing a second awakening isn’t an unheard of phenomenon, so he isn’t treated as some sort of impossible monster. A clear example of the alternative I’m thinking of Eren in Attack on Titan or Asta in Black Clover — when a character survives some obstacle using a power those in charge of them have never seen before, higher-ups immediately become adversaries until the power is resolved. In this case, that adversarial relationship is there but doesn’t seem extreme. While a small part of the episode, I thought the juxtaposition of concern and confusion from an official authority and excitement from a hunter given a second lease at life was done well. Taito Ban once again performed wonderfully, and I could really feel the enthusiasm and curiosity in early lines. Unlike the first episodes, where the audience needed to be shown the beauracratic structure of the Solo Leveling world while meeting key characters, episode 3 was able to plant the seeds of a Hunter Association thread and quickly return to Jinwoo as he learned more about the heads-up-display floating in front of his face.

While the appearance of the video-game-like menus is quite similar to the webtoon, I can definitely see A-1 Pictures style in this, especially when I think back to similar opaque menu screens all throughout Sword Art Online. The way Jinwoo’s quests work though is what began to quickly set Solo Leveling apart from others like it for me. Obviously, it’s not a foreign concept for main characters to progress in RPG-style ways, but the usage of mandatory quests is quite interesting to me. My immediate reaction to the first daily quest was laughing at it since it’s the One Punch Man workout, but then I began thinking more about the logistics of an ability like this. Jinwoo is being forced to get stronger, and even the penalty quests seem conducive to that. At this point in the series, he is without question the weakest hunter, and he was just barely able to survive his earliest penalty. This at first seemed like a classic instance of someone making it through at the last second, but within the framework of an RPG video game, it makes much more sense for punishments to be something you can just barely do but won’t immediately give up on.

I enjoyed seeing his training montage as well as a clear visual explanation of the different rewards for quests. There’s not much to say about his mother’s sickness and the notes about mana exposure causing it, but I’m curious to see if Jinwoo meeting the conditions for this new power and his mother’s sickness are at all related, and if him maxing out his mana point stat will cause any issues around her.

The Instant Dungeon

This will maybe be an uncommon take, but I actually felt the combat in this episode outdid the combat in the series opening by quite a bit. Goblins always present a neat opportunity in shonen anime because they’re quick, small, privy to fighting in groups, and weak defensively. More importantly, they are a clear representation of the weak thing that Jinwoo previously couldn’t beat, so the perfect tutorial boss. This fight is new to the anime and I can tell a lot of work went into it. The fight makes use of a lot of moments of shifting perspective to add to the motion of goblins circling Jinwoo as he plays defense. The camera angle will switch from low and wide, showing all the combatants, to Jinwoo’s POV, showing a goblin coming straight for him. It communicates how wiry the monsters are will also segmenting important clashes into close-ups. This made it feel all the more triumphant when Jinwoo finally beat a goblin, as we the audience basically follow his knife as it makes the killing blow. This was a great way to wordlessly communicate that he’s gotten much stronger in 4 days and more or less moved to the average strength of his rank.

This fight also built in some good tension for the Steel-Fanged Lycan’s arrival, especially since Jinwoo notes he can sense and see the difference in combat ability. That difference also comes with the visual cue of the monster name text. The Giant Desert Centipede and this world both had bold red text, while the goblins had yellow-colored text. These two strong monsters, Jinwoo’s allocation of all his earned skill points into strength, and his inability to leave the dungeon when he wants keep a consistent motif going throughout the episode. He’s become reliant on his ability to run away and assumes it’s always an option. The stronger he gets, the more he sets that aside to get more powerful. It’s nice to see the determination he expresses through words and his memories confirmed by literally prioritizing his strength stat.

Hopefully a Boss Fight in Next Solo Leveling

This episode was exciting and I’m really enjoying Solo Leveling thus far. Amidst endless versions of the shame isekai, fantasy, and action stories, this one is making itself different by way of consistent execution and nice worldbuilding. Creating a world where fantasy and magic have become as mundane as a double shift at world lets the story focus on its characters rather than how shocked they are at seeing magical creatures. This episode especially did lots to build upon Jinwoo’s character and I’m glad the anime took the time to add scenes and smooth out this introductory section. Next week though I’m hoping to see some high-quality action as Jinwoo clears out this mini dungeon.

Solo Leveling is streaming on Crunchyroll with new episodes airing weekly. As of January 20th, Crunchyroll is also streaming the English dub of the anime.

© Solo Leveling Animation Partners

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