What On Infinite Earths is: Delicious in Dungeon?
Continuing this month’s fantastical trend, this week I am taking a look at a new manga series that is likely to appeal to fantasy lovers and Dungeons and Dragons fans specifically. “Delicious in Dungeon” or “Danjon Meshi” by Ryoko Kui is a comedy fantasy comic centring around the exploration of dungeons by groups of adventurers on a grand, almost industrial scale, with a single dungeon forming the basis for a whole island’s economy and the harvesting of ingredients that only occur in dungeons considered to be a fundamental necessity for the use of magic.
The main thrust of the story follows one particular group of adventurers as they return to a dungeon after their party was defeated by a dragon in the lower levels. One beloved member of the party failed to escape and was eaten by the dragon, but thanks to the rules of mortality that surround both this world and many dungeon crawling games, if they can defeat the dragon and get to her quickly enough, before she is digested, they will be able to resurrect her.
The thing that sets Delicious in Dungeon apart from most fantasy adventures is that it applies logic to every part of the illogical fantasy world. The characters are forced to consider practicality and logistics as much as their jobs. The need to fund their journey into the dungeon comes up immediately, as does their lack of supplies, leading them to the decision which shapes the structure of the story and much of the series’ humour. Rather than trying to gather the funds for food, the party instead choose to eat the monsters that they kill in the dungeon. Soon they meet a fellow dungeon diner who has been living inside the dungeon for years, living off its natural resources and preparing culinary delights from the most unexpected of sources.
Each chapter of the story is framed around one of these dishes, including a panel containing the recipe so that the readers can try to replicate it using giant scorpions and slime monsters of their own. While this is amusing, it also leads to some of the most interesting parts of the work, as the reader is guided through the eco-system of the dungeon and examines the life cycles and interactions between the monsters that live within it.
The characters are all well developed, with their own unique sets of passions and drives that have led them to an adventuring life and enough mystery in their backstory to keep attentive readers hooked. Beyond the quasi-humorous façade of the story, there is a very serious look at what life is like in a world where death is so cheap that people make a decent living by wandering around searching for corpses and charging others for resurrection. Where mortality and economics are so entwined that the characters often see no difference between risking their lives and risking their coin purse.
Beyond the immediate struggles of the party there are many larger mysteries at play, the elven race is trying to lay claim to the dungeon, there is an ancient prophesy revolving around whoever can conquer it and the magician who built the place to begin with is still running around causing havoc. All of which interact with the smaller story that we are following in unexpected ways. There are even some surprisingly poignant emotional moments scattered through the story that make the absurdities that surround them much more palatable.