Reasons to Love: Dungeon Meshi

D&D has been increasing in popularity [thanks, CritRole] and having a series with the same initials can get in on that vector.

Reasons to Love: Dungeon Meshi
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

One of my lovely subscribers pointed out that I'm getting way too crabby on this blog, and yes, they had a point. I try to write positive, enjoyable stories on the daily in order to spread good vibes. I should be doing that here, too. With that in mind, and because I already spent half the day on RL activities, I'm focussing my energies on some love.

Starting with the one thing I love that's blowing up on the interwebs right now: Delicious in Dungeon aka "Dungeon Meshi". Meshi translates to English as "Food" by the way. I can understand why the translators went towards the alliteration, though. D&D has been increasing in popularity [thanks, CritRole] and having a series with the same initials can get in on that vector.

Trivia note: Dungeon Meshi is based more on the Japanese version of D&D called Wizards. This particular version branched off somewhere near D&D 1.0 or AD&D. Very in the early days. That's why Kobolds are medium-size dog-people and not small, usually-demented dragon folk.

I'm still reading through the translated Manga[Go. Read it. You're welcome], so I'll be covering the animated adaption available everywhere that good anime can be found. Spoilers may be ahead, so if you don't want spoilers, read no further.

The story starts off with the foundation of the premise: people can eat monsters, and our heroes have to.

Our heroes, Laios, Marcille, and Chilchuck, have to return to the depths of the dungeon to recover the body of Laios' sister, Falin. There, they find and enlist the help of the Dwarf chef, Senshi. They don't have the money or the time to get food for the journey, so they're cooking and eating the creatures they kill along the way.

Brief aside - I wonder if the phonetic similarity between 'Falin' and 'fallen' was on purpose?

This is where one of the first things I love comes into the picture:

The Worldbuilding.

There are infodumps, usually care of Laios, but most of the rest of the information is drip-fed to us when it becomes appropriate. We learn that revivification magic works inside the dungeon as part of the premise. Then we're told again and again as characters mention their "first death". It's only in later episodes that we learn that revivification magic only works inside the dungeon, as characters caution those using a return spell to be sure they're all healed up before they step through.

We learn that Orcs move into dungeons as a means to avoid hostility from other species on the surface. We learn of Human, Demihuman, and Nonhuman creatures. We learn that Elves, Dwarves, Ogres[Oni], Half-foots[Halfling/Hobbit], and Humans[Tall-men] are all counted as 'Human', but Kobolds and some other creatures are not.

Even though the story rarely leaves this one dungeon on this little island, there's constant hints of the world beyond. From fashion to food to interspecies attitudes. The Elves and the Dwarves don't get along with each other, but both still lord it over the shorter-lived peoples and tend to act like nanny-states.

And of course the shorter-lived folk don't understand and aren't told so there's some understandable friction between the sides. And of course Fantasy Racism. Which leads me to...

The Representation

Our main heroes are pale of skin, but we have a half-Elf, a Dwarf, and a Half-foot. At least until the catgirl turns up. Yes, there's a catgirl. No, she is not uwu-cute fanservice [put a pin in that fanservice idea] but a hostile, prickly, grumpy teenager. Or a 'spicy' kitten. Depends on your point of view.

Izutsumi joins on the basis that Marcille may be able to remove her 'cat curse' and return her to normal humanity. She has a lot to learn, and part of that journey includes a recovery from an atmosphere of abuse. But that's not the representation.

There is another party of foils for our heroes, including a leader who's the literal opposite of Laios. Including the skin colour. He's not evil, he just has a completely different set of quirks.

There are dark-skinned Elves, dark-skinned Humans, and hints of cultures that are all part of a richer tapestry only seen in little glimpses. Other than that, I haven't seen many other colours in the series.

...and followers will know that I reckon it does neurodiversity pretty well, too.

We all know that D&D players love ourselves some technicolour OC's. I wouldn't have minded seeing some rainbow Tieflings wandering around, but that's me. Now let's pick up that pin and look at...

The Fanservice

For those not in the know, "fanservice" is a sort of soft-porn, pseudo-pervy glimpse or shot of a (usually) female character's underwear or bosom region. It's mostly pantie shots, either via 'upskirt' angles on some fighty-action, or through the character in question being upended.

This also extends to underaged characters and can be incredibly skeevy,

Dungeon Meshi does not do this. There is one bath scene with Marcille and Falin, but it's not for the pervy eye despite the nudity. The focus is on the talking heads, not the boobs nor the butt.

There is fanservice, but it is focussed almost exclusively on Senshi's tighty whiteys. For this purpose (maybe) Senshi wears a fur-lined kilt. Viewers get to see a lot of Senshi's exposed ham and, as one video put it, "Dwarf gooch. Lots and lots of Dwarf gooch."

If there's a corollary to the "bikini armour law" [the briefer the armour, the more formidable the fighter], it has to be: "the canonically sexiest character must supply the most panty shots."

And we learn, thanks to a species-swap episode - that Senshi is the sexiest being alive in this universe. Shoujo Elf Senshi has spawned a lot of disturbing fanart. Trust me on this.

Finally, the bit that keeps me coming back:

The Drama/Comedy Balance

Lots of anime that features battle has an escalating power creep [Dragon Ball Z comes readily to mind about this]. Often, the defeat of the Big Bad results in the buildup to a Bigger, Badder Bad that wasn't even mentioned until after the original BBEG is reduced to a smoking crater and a foul memory.

In Dungeon Meshi, there's no power creep. The characters have to learn new skills and train them to make them functional. The BBEG remains the same from the first to the (current) last episode.

I've read ahead in the Manga and I know a few things about that. Do the same to get your own spoilers if you want them.


The thing is, the BBEG of the anime isn't even a consideration until after Falin's recovery results in complications. And then, even when it's serious, there's still breathing room between dramatic stuff and the hilarious stuff, though some episodes mix both for some good old-fashioned WTF-style dissonance that nevertheless fits together into the bigger picture.

For me, there's no singular part of the entire tale that breaks immersion or ruins the story for me. It's difficult to tell if the comedy is meant to be comic relief, or if the drama is meant to lend importance to the humour.

I love this... and I encourage you to try it out.