Seven Little Sons of the Dragon – Ryoko Kui

4 out of 5

It’s an easy recommendation: if you like (or LOVE) Delicious in Dungeon, Ryoko Kui’s collection of 7 short tales – Seven Little Songs of the Dragon – will also guaranteedly be liked or loved. But there’s even wider appeal, here, as Kui’s lil’ fables are of that term’s mold, not so much requiring awareness of / appreciation for the fantasy and RPG tropes that can help shape DiD, and not having the (misleadingly) niche focus of cooking manga. If the cover seems indicative of Little Nemo – it does to me – that’s a good touchpoint: these are stories that start somewhere normal and then branch out into the mystical, sometimes erring more toward humor or more toward pathos, but always fascinating, and with tonally appropriate variations in Ryoko’s art style, as befitting each story’s mood.

Because this (or some of it?) was created before Dungeon, there is also some narrative roughness early on, if we’re supposing the seven stories are presented in the chronology of when they were made. But whether or not that’s the case, opening story The Dragon Turret has some overly edited / overly crafted paneling that feels more artsy than readable, making the back and forth of the story a little hard to track – visually – even though we definitely get a feel for what’s what through the characters. Followup The Mermaid Refuge is also rather coy with its setting, but also has the chore of setting a precedent for the rest of what’s to come: Dragon Turret took place in a fairly “recognizable” fantasy world, but the other stories are often of the variety in which it’s the modern world with one kooky exception – such as mermaids existing, or werewolves, or super powers. Once keyed into this, you can tune directly in to Kui’s brilliant wavelength, in which comedic timing and organic dialogue and careful use of “simplified” art amongst more graceful and detailed work are all in perfect sync.

If you’re wondering how dragons and mermaids mash up, well, perhaps the title is slightly a misnomer: most tales feature dragons, but not all; rather, they all feature some splash of the fantastic, and I’m sure there’s a specific symbolic “dragon” tie-in across the stories I’m missing. Regardless, the tales all absolutely feel thematically linked, whether taking place with knights and princes or in the present day.

The Yen Press printing is really admirable: story notes on the inside and outside cover; the one-shot “extras” that usually accompany manga appearing on a fold out with a color poster on the back; and wonderfully soft, flippable binding. Because of the wider appeal of the book, and its comparable-ness to childhood fables of any culture (and its goofy, goodhearted humor), this is a great entrypoint for new manga readers, and since that association above – if you like this you’ll like that – definitely works in either direction, it’s a good and crafty way to steer newbies to Delicious in Dungeon as well.