Delicious in Dungeon, otherwise known as Dungeon Meshi, continues spiraling into the shadows with Volume 8. The latest English release of the colorful manga keeps things centered on the titular torture chamber this time. And it helps drive home the slowly darkening tone of the series. At the same time, there’s still plenty of magical comedy to keep things from getting too overwrought. Author Ryuko Kui found a balance that really works for the series in the last few volumes, and she hasn’t lost it yet.
Vol. 8 picks up just a little while after the previous chapter — with our main adventuring group having walked through some magic mushrooms. Rather than (more) hallucinations, though, this changeling fungus triggers some very tangible shifts in our heroes. Namely, they all swap races for a time.
Bumbling “tall-man” Laios gets a buff dwarf body, for instance, while elfish Marcille gets turned into a halfling (or “half-foot” as Delicious in Dungeon calls them). Meanwhile, our burly boy Senshi gets a bishōnen elf body of his own — complete with sparkles and flowers on the page whenever he twirls to face the camera.
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The Freaky Friday scenario is the chief source of humor in an otherwise pretty grim volume. Because when the main group isn’t fighting gargoyles with their new bodies, we get glimpses of the higher floors of the dungeon for the first time in a while. Dungeon Meshi is still primarily about hunting monsters to survive an underground labyrinth — and eventually rescue a friend — but life goes on for the rank and file. However, as the dungeon gets more crowded, it also grows more powerful. And the effects are felt most deeply towards the surface.
Even more than usual, Kui’s excellent work with facial expressions sings here. Sure, we’re used to seeing Marcille look on in disgust or horror as she’s presented with some new meal made of monster parts. But we rarely see the effect deployed for serious situations.
Now we have Kabru, our second party leader who knows what happens when dungeons go out of control, helping a group of “canaries” shut this one down for good. There’s a particularly horrific scene where he tries to convince an old friend to clear out the upper floors. And it immediately becomes clear how much the dungeon and its master are affecting the people inside.
At the same time, the canaries (violent elf scouts sent to destroy dungeons and everything around them) finally show what they’re made of. As we saw in the previous volume, the elves’ government is a bunch of condescending bullies looking for any excuse to invade and police other people’s territory. And the canaries are their muscle. Besides betraying the party pretty much immediately, they also magically murder great big swathes of armed guards in terribly creative fashion. The guards might have had it coming, but Kui reminds us that she can twist her creative flair for fight scenes into something much more menacing than whimsical.
The Ways of the World – Delicious in Dungeon Vol. 8 Review
That’s partially thanks to the fascinating “rules” of the fantasy world she’s created here. Similar to the very visceral superpowers in something like My Hero Academia, everything feels much more potent — and much more interesting — when there are limitations. An ecology lesson on how changeling mushrooms procreate inside a real-world ecosystem is a great example. Magic has a science to it. When you think about just how that science might affect your body — or your mind — it’s so much more terrible.
As is always the case with this series, though, it feels like there’s more going on beneath the surface. Besides learning more about Kabru, the canaries, Laios, and even the aloof rogue Chilchuck, there are tiny hints about the lord of the dungeon. The so-called “lunatic magician” seems like they may have a troubled past as well — having been estranged from their one-time friend. Even as things seem to be reaching a painful turning point, the series doesn’t forget to make its characters the star of the show.
Speaking of turning points… It seems like the main group may know what the final step in their journey looks like. Laios and company finally have a plan to rescue his sister (and Marcille’s obvious love interest), Falin, and it involves the very thing Delicious in Dungeon started with: food. But it’s not going to be easy. Naturally! Nothing ever is in this Kui’s work. It’s just amazing that the manga keeps on finding new ways to complicate things, while spinning so many tonal plates, and never seems to let any of them fall.
In just a few hundred pages, the series successfully jumps from gargoyles morphing into peeing statues, to state sanctioned magical violence, to romance involving an evil horse. Dungeon Meshi is the total package, wrapped with love, and now it seems like has a final stop in mind. Hopefully we’re not too close to it yet, though. I could keep reading this series forever.