4 out of 5
This is confirmation bias, but I don’t care: when you start on some piece of media – TV, movie, book, comic, whatever – and from the opening pages (minutes, notes…) you know it’s going to be something you’ll enjoy, it’s a great feeling. There’s the comfort of being in “good hands,” and then, of course, the actual entertainment and satisfaction you reap from the product. I say this is confirmation bias because I’ve undoubtedly had that sense of assuredness and have been let down by it, but interestingly, I tend to remember the positive instances more than the negative in this case, and ‘Delicious in Dungeon’ is one of those positives. Even hearing about it I was sort of convinced, but the first few pages – we’re in fantasy territory with guilds and magic; there’s an underground dungeon from which a messenger emerges and promises power to those who conquer it; warrior Laios and crew, lacking funds, plan to make their way via the cost-saving, questionable method of eating the creatures they defeat – strike a tone that’s grounded enough in genre trapping to not just be a joke, but also fully embrace the tropey nature of the setup to give its main crew an appreciate sense of whimsy. And then when the main thrust of the concept unfolds – it’s a cooking manga, laying out, in detail, the trapping and slaying and crafting of those creatures into delicious meals – it’s a giddy sense of excitement, as it’s a cute mash-up of ideas, backed up by characters and lore.
Delicious in Dungeon seems to take a ‘kill it and cook it’ chapter-by-chapter structure thereafter: they meet Senshi, who guides their cookery; Laios reveals he’d been desiring to try monster-eatin’ for a while; sorceress Marcille remains hesitant but reluctantly admits the food is good; picklock Chilchuk susses out traps along their journey. But while there’s a harmless vibe to the whole thing – death isn’t the end, and adventurers can be revived – the way creator Ryoko Kui starts establishing a sense of a working world of flora and fauna within the dungeon starts bumping the tale toward something greater and deeper, and we start to get dribblings of character along the way that suggests the same. This is carried along by fantastic art that’s deceptively simple – erring toward comical representations – but masterful in juggling expansive scenes and geography and joke beats and action, and writing that does the nitty-gritty cooking explanations but is never far away from some more interesting dialogue or a good yuk.
Marcille, unfortunately, fits a bit too squarely into a trope at the moment – she’s naive; she can’t do anything as well as her warrior friends; her spells are ineffective; she’s motivated by a pat on the head – but I have hopes that she’ll develop beyond those frustrating limitations as the story and tale expands, as we already see Kui breaking out of that chapter-by-chapter rigidness within this first tankobon’s entries.