Dungeon Meshi, a.k.a. Delicious in Dungeon, immediately gripped readers with a fun gimmick supported by genuinely likable characters. But longtime fans know that’s only where the story began. Dungeon Meshi Volume 7 continues the series’ growing tradition of providing some terrific fantasy world-building you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Not to mention we get some serious emotional gut punches to flavor the latest dish.
If you’re not familiar with the series at all, Dungeon Meshi follows four (now five) adventurers in a medieval fantasy world somewhat styled after Dungeons & Dragons. The crew — human warrior Laios, elf mage Marcille, halfling rogue Chilchuck, and dwarf chef Senshi — delve into a cursed dungeon in search of a lost ally, Laios’s sister, Falin. Abandoned by the rest of their party, and without the money to pay for both gear and food, the group turns to cooking monsters. And the story is mostly a standard adventure intercut with lovingly rendered recipes for grilling mythical creatures (plus the energetic comedy that usually ensues).
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As the series has worn on, however, we’ve learned a fair bit about the outside world. Elves are patronizing authoritarians that view the shorter-lived races of the world as children. If a dungeon is deemed too dangerous, they swoop in and demolish it — usually along with the outlying towns that rely on their magical treasures for commerce. That looming threat finally comes home in Vol. 7, as we get to see what a squad of these elven “cleaners” are really like. It turns out they suck! And Dungeon Meshi does a great job of making them seem like a genuine threat. Although we don’t actually see them do anything in this volume.
Meanwhile, back in the dungeon, monster-loving Laios is being centered more and more as the “main” character of the series. Dungeon Meshi has typically been an ensemble book, with Laios mostly filling the role of comic relief. His obsession with monster physiology borders on a fetish. At least that’s how it appears to those around him. And that still shines through. A scene in which he gets to milk a docile minotaur is a particular standout.
At the same time, Laios is drawn into a prophecy that says he will be the one to finally conquer the dungeon and become its new master. Nobody wants that — including Laios — but there are flashes of him reluctantly considering the role.
We’ve already seen Laios and his sister have a somewhat serious past as gold-strippers (bandits that steal valuables from dead adventurers waiting to be revived). And Laios mostly comes through in the clutch. But the shift still feels out of place for him. Not to mention making the strapping, human dude into the protagonist feels like a strangely obvious choice for a series that loves to play with fantasy tradition. Perhaps it’s just setting up a bigger twist to come.
Even with all the prophecies, though, Senshi is very much the star of this volume. Not only is he incredibly hot when he takes his goofy helmet off (which happens quite a lot in Vol. 7). We also finally get his backstory. It’s a doozy, too.
Pushing Things Forward – Delicious in Dungeon Vol. 7 Review
It turns out that Senshi also has a very serious past. There’s even a full chapter of flashbacks to let the tragedy settle in, and it works tremendously. I won’t spoil it here, because it is the absolute emotional heart of Dungeon Meshi Vol. 7. Suffice it to say that his history involves the one creature the cook is more afraid of than curious about: griffins. And the whole reveal culminates in a clean, heartfelt display. It’s one of those moments where Dungeon Meshi shows what it really cares about is the comfort of good friends. The lush illustrations of good food are just a means to that end — one great way to bring people who love each other together.
Now we just need some more backstory on Chilchuck and this supposed family of his…
None of this is to say that Vol. 7 is completely serious. Besides the minotaur gag, there’s a lot of time with Izutsumi, the de facto fifth member of our team. The aloof beast-girl doesn’t hold the same warmth towards our heroes that they share with each other. Instead, the book gets a lot of comedic mileage out of her cat-like dispassion.
One great scene sees her walk around shirtless, because “nobody cares” if a fur-covered beast doesn’t wear clothes. Naturally, most of the crew is horrified, especially the gay-as-hell Marcille, and they rush to cover her up. Meanwhile, an earnestly curious (and always tactless) Laios begs to inspect her. Once again, Ryoko Kui hints that she has a wide variety of… interests. Or at least she really understands people who post about them online a lot, and twists them to great effect.
Besides being a good goof, the scene establishes that Izutsumi views herself as less than human. And the party’s reactions — well-meaning excitement and tremendous embarrassment — establish that they do not. Walking that fine line between sincerity and hilarity is something Dungeon Meshi does better than just about any other series. That’s saying something when Way of the Househusband, Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-San, Go For It, Nakamura!, and many other cozy, offbeat manga are more and more popular every day.
Dungeon Meshi Vol. 7 tempers its emotional catharsis with an old fashioned cliffhanger. It’s a good one, too! But it also serves as a reminder that Delicious in Dungeon — that is to say the English release — takes for-freaking-ever between volumes… The next isn’t scheduled until the middle of March 2020. Remember to savor this morsel for as long as possible.