Solo Leveling Episode 4 Review: True Strength

Solo Leveling episode 4 was an incredible ride of nonstop action. For this reason, I imagine it may be the episode that either hooks a lot of people or brings back people who may have fallen off from the series. The first two episodes laid the foundation for the Solo Leveling world, episode three explained Jinwoo’s new powers and their good and bad qualities, and this episode took all of that to finally give our main character (and excellent voice actor) the chance to shine.

On top of the action, what carried the episode was the way human emotion and desire were sewn amidst a very RPG-style progression of strength. It isn’t new for an anime to make use of video game-style leveling, but I truly do think the way Solo Leveling handles this concept is unique, or at least uniquely executed. (Spoilers ahead for Solo Leveling episode 4: I’ve Gotta Get Stronger)

A Showing of Power

Something I found interesting about Jinwoo’s fight against the wolf was that his stats didn’t markedly change compared to when he fought the group of goblins in last week’s episode. The improvement he had during the early stages of the dungeon was him getting used to the strength he already has. During the first fight against the wolf, Jinwoo is still instinctively trying to rely on others in order to make up for his shortcomings.

In the end, it’s only because he had an expensive sword from someone else that he’s able to strike back against the wolf, much less a sword he notes he’d never be able to afford. Before he grinds for levels in the dungeon, the wolf is at a higher tier of strength than him, so it’s likely he would have had zero options unarmed.

Whether intentional or not, there’s a unique narrative component to using borrowed power while getting stronger yourself. The more Jinwoo fights off the endless wolves and raises his level, the more his borrowed sword wears down and chips along its length. He’s quite literally weathering away his reliance on someone else, especially considering he wasn’t able to rely on anyone to save him during his last trip to a dungeon.

Even more, his choice to stick around and get his level up has a sort of calm urgency to it. Unlike your typical gamer who is thinking of optimization and winning the game, Jinwoo has a goal of becoming stronger so that he can support his family and not bring others down. The fact that this is ultimately his source of income and not some fantasy journey he’s embarked on colors his decisions differently and adds depth to his goals in a way that really enriches the show.

New Beginnings in Solo Leveling

In terms of animation, direction, and music choice, the boss fight against the blue venom-fanged kasaka is without question my favorite. Despite the snake being massive, the episode didn’t turn to CGI to carry its movement, resulting in incredible fluid action sequences where sections of the snake’s body are animated instead of its entire length. Clashes between Jinwoo’s sword and the ultra-hard scales were quite satisfying thanks to the sawblade-like sound effect.

The voiceover style as well was a nice touch  — this episode voiced Jinwoo’s thoughts at the same time as the noises he made naturally during battle. There weren’t constant pauses for his words to have space. Lastly, listening to the music, the Flamenco style in this fight made me think we’d swapped over to BLEACH for a second and I’m not complaining.

One notable change in Jinwoo’s expressed goals came out a lot during this fight. Taito Ban’s masterful depiction of anger and frustration was key in showing Jinwoo wanted to be strong not only for his loved ones but also to make up for a life spent as a laughing stock. It is one of the only times he’s fully let himself feel the anger and frustration his life generates, and one of the only times he gets to fight solely for himself in a dungeon no one else can enter.

This instance in the dungeon was not only the perfect training ground, but also a perfect environment for Jinwoo to confront his emotions, cast aside his kind, doormat persona, and just fully lean into his strength. Continuing with the metaphor of borrowed power via a sword, he finally tosses all of that aside and kills with his bare hands and his strength alone. That was a fantastic narrative moment and yet another instance of legendary voice acting.

The final scenes, while a bit drawn out for my taste, were similarly satisfying. The attitude Jinwoo had seeing something weaker than the monster he just ripped apart with his bare hands reminded me of how it feels to go into a Pokémon rival battle when you’re wildly over-leveled. I’m glad he didn’t opt to reveal himself in this episode; I’m looking forward to how the Hunter Association and others react to his unique powers in the weeks to come. Solo Leveling is already paying dividends.

If you enjoyed Solo Leveling episode 4 then be sure to vote for it in our weekly poll! The series is streaming on Crunchyroll with new episodes airing on Saturday. As of January 20th, Crunchyroll is also streaming the English dub of the anime.

© Solo Leveling Animation Partners

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