By Ryoko Kui
Ever wondered what it’d be like to eat the monsters from fantasy RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons? I’m guessing most never have. Trying to eat monsters like mandrakes and slimes is absurd; surely they’d never be edible! Most stories would probably play off an adventurers’ attempts at eating monsters for laughs, mocking their foolish plan and reveling in their inevitable failure. Not Ryoko Kui. Madwoman mangaka that she is, Kui decided to play the concept straight and make a manga out of it. Not only do her characters succeed in making meals out of monsters, she depicts how they do it with as much detail and thought put into each dish as you’d find in a regular cooking manga. What results is a unique take on D&D stories, trading in battles and puzzles for baking and poaching. The results couldn’t be tastier.
Delicious in Dungeon feels like an elaborate thought experiment made by an avid D&D player who thought way too much about what it’d be like to eat slime. Laios, the main character, is clearly a self-insert in this regard: his lustful imagination about how each monster he comes across tastes reflecting Kui’s own fascinations. Kui is self-aware that her premise is ridiculous, so she characterizes Laios as being overzealous and obsessed with catching and eating monsters to the point of absurdity. For example, his first instinct after his friend Marcille was ensnared by a man-eating plant was to ask her whether being groped by its vines felt good, not for perverted reasons, but because he’s so obsessed in learning about the differences in the monsters’ biology, behaviors, and bitterness. Laios is an eccentric with eschewed priorities, and it’s hard not to be enraptured by the gleeful earnestness in which he talks about gross or uncomfortable things about monsters, and the outlandish obsession he has with finding out if something is edible including the likes of living armor. His character encapsulates the spirit of the series and gives Kui’s own love for these creatures and this idea a palatable comedic bent that makes us both laugh and linger at discussions of what a slime monster tastes like.
It’s almost magical how Delicious in Dungeon manages a convincing stance that eating something like the mollusks residing inside living armor is not only doable, but delicious. Kui achieves this largely by relating a monster ingredient to a real world ingredient, such as comparing the likes of a basilisk to chicken using cultural associations like “snake tastes like chicken” to get both the characters and readers on board with the idea. It’s easy to imagine that a creature that looks like chicken will taste like chicken, or a mushroom monster will taste like mushroom, and so on. These associations make the food prepared feel less strange and oftentimes appetizing. This is where Dungeon shines is in its creativity, not just for how it depicts its ingredients, but also how it uses its fantasy world to portray innovative methods of cooking. I’ve never seen a fantasy series where the characters use traps like falling guillotine blades, hot oil, and fire pits to deep-fry their dinner. Twists on the mechanics of a D&D fantasy dungeon as a giant maze of ingredients and cooking possibilities really makes Dungeon’s world so much more interesting unique than your typical D&D inspired fantasy world.
As a comedy, Delicious in Dungeon contrasts its dark humor with a nonchalant tone. Characters find themselves in mortal peril or outright die, but the depiction of death is rarely taken seriously. In a world where characters are brought back to life with magic, the characters’ first instinct upon discovering a cadaver is not whether to bury him but whether to bring him back to life or leave him for someone else to find. Even though the plot of the series revolves around Laius’ attempts to save his sister before she’s digested by a dragon, the characters’ priorities don’t reflect the severity of the situation. Laios even casually wonders aloud whether they could bring her back to life from its poop, and whether it would be okay to eat the dragon even though its eaten her. Marcille acts as an audience surrogate for most of the volume, outspokenly against eating monsters and usually being the butt of jokes for taking things too seriously and being so fastidious. In a sense, she plays the voice of reason remarking upon absurdity as in manzai comedies (a comedy duo wherein one plays the straight man, the other a fool), only the joke is at her expense for getting so worked up. Luckily, for as sympathetic as Marcille is, her own childishness and hubris makes the jokes against her feel agreeable and not too mean-spirited. All the characters are on an equal playing field in terms of the readers laughing with or at them, and its largely because all the characters are so humorous that they are also so endearing. The surreal dichotomy between morbid situations and how casually characters treat them as a no big deal matter of fact part of life does a lot in conveying the tone of these characters, the world and the story, allowing for the humor to come across palatable where in other series it may come across unpleasant or disturbing.
Delicious in Dungeon isn’t the first manga to depict characters hunting and cooking fictional ingredients, it is perhaps the first to make the prospect of eating more out-there fantasy monsters like slimes and mandrakes fun and appetizing. Creatures like the man-eating plants might looking hideous, but when its cooked into a normal-looking tart, it makes you realize that anything can look and taste delicious with proper presentation. This makes Dungeon a great commentary on people like Marcille, who turn away food that they aren’t used to eating, deriding it as gross and disgusting. Not everyone is into the idea of eating snakes, frogs, bugs, and even find more normal ingredients unpleasant despite never tasting them. Ultimately, the most ingenious aspect of Delicious in Dungeon is how it uses monster baking as a metaphor for trying out exotic foods, making a case for why you should be open-minded about what you eat. Heck, you can apply this ethos to things besides food, like meeting new people, doing something adventurous, or even trying stuff outside your genre. More often than it not it’ll not only expand horizons and create memorable life experiences, but it can taste and feel pretty damn good too.