Let’s chat Delicious In Dungeon. I’ve been reading vol. 1 this week following it’s recent release by Yen Press – largely spurred on by the considerable amount of hype and word-of-mouth acclaim I’d seen for the series in the run up to said release. From twitterati in the anime/manga community singing its praises to Japanese industry guidebook Kono Manga ga Sugoi! ranking the series as one of the best of 2016, it’s far to say that if you had your ear close to the ground when it comes to manga of late, you’d have heard of Delicious In Dungeon. It also currently stands with a 8.25 average user rating on MAL out of 10. So – the general consensus – a *good* manga indeed.
In many ways, it’s easy to see why the series has been so acclaimed / been so popular with readers – it feels very *now*, slipping neatly alongside the likes of other self-aware dungeon/fantasy/comedy blends like Konosuba. Forget that Slayers practically invented this schtick back in the 90s – this very precise blend of snarky laughs and highly knowing ‘you know your RPG tropes right?’ wit is a marked sign of a new strain of fantasy series emerging in recent years.
Within the context of manga currently being translated into English, I like to place series like Delicious In Dungeon in what I call the ‘middle’ strand. Let me explain:
The lower strand – your cheap and cheerful Shonen action series; the kind of stuff you’ll see packing out shelves in WH Smith. One Piece. Naruto. Bleach. Akame Ga Kill. Dumb fun. Straight to the point. Easy to understand – even by the youngest of audiences.
The higher strand – your real prestige ‘graphic novel’ style releases. Think the Blame master editions and Goodnight Punpun for recent standout examples. Throw in the Jojos hardbacks and Satoshi Kon collected editions for good measure.
The middle strand – everything else in between. These series – like Delicious In Dungeon – are usually more intellectual in quality than basic Shonen, but not quite to the degree of exceptional quality or artwork marked out by the ‘higher’ strand. These titles tend to be more niche – let’s not forget that Delicious In Dungeon runs in Harta magazine in Japan, as one of its few genuinely ‘notable’ series, alongside Kaoru Mori’s A Bride’s Story.
The reason I place Delicious In Dungeon as part of this middle strand becomes evident once one begins to read it. Beyond the lengthier opening chapter (where we get the basic premise of monster-themed cooking antics in a dungeon), the following chapters fall into a standard 20 page-ish episodic format, each outing presenting a particular challenge or humorous concept, bookended by a particular monster being converted into food.
This sketch-like format is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it delivers a highly reliable, consistent level of quality. The stories are easy to follow, and function very much on a week-by-week basis. They are the very definition of self-contained – something so many manga fail at. But equally, when reading as a collected volume – this does perhaps kill a sense of pacing; beyond each individual story, there is limited appeal to really ‘drive’ through and finish the manga in one sitting with one singular compelling plot arc. Rather, it feels like Delicious In Dungeon is designed to be read in small doses, short sittings – as it were. To put in appropriately food-based terms – it’s bite-sized morsels of entertainment as opposed to an enthralling full-course feast.
And of these morsels, the character Marcille – the elf magician – is without a doubt the central draw and appeal within the manga. From a panoply of fantastic ‘shocked’ facial expressions and ‘absolutely can’t do that!!!!’ outcries, it feels rather clear that the author is immensely invested in this character – and wants you to feel this too. As the butt of most of the first volume’s comedy, this rather anxious sub-protagonist feels like a blend of all the best bits of the various girls from Konosuba rolled into one – resulting in a singular neurotic mess; but one that’s oh so charming to observe. All you really need to see is the facial expression below, and to understand that this is roughly the source of at least 60% of the laughs in the manga: