The setup is simple enough. It is typical fantasyland (at first blush, anyway) with monsters and adventurers, and our heroes Laios, Marcille, Chilchuck, and Senshi have pretty relatable goals for dungeon-divers: head into the dungeon to slay monsters and earn treasure to become rich and famous or at least make ends meet. On top of that, rescue Laios’ sister Falin from the clutches of the vile dragon. They end up cooking the monsters they kill to save money because they’re broke. Simple enough.
Yet even typical ingredients can create something extraordinary with the proper preparation and cooking time.
Firstly, a big appeal here is the subtle twists to the standard fantasy formula that are familiar and fresh simultaneously. The core adventurers who dungeon delve shtick is old hat at this point, but of course our heroes are struggling to get by and trying to pay the bills like we all are. They must weigh questions like “Where is our next meal coming from?” and “Should we sell our current gear to get cheaper stuff but also be able to eat and hire help?” They screw up, and people leave them. These are relatable struggles.
Similarly, the dungeon-as-ecology trope is not new but very well done. Even in its earliest days in the bygone era of the 1970s, D&D had a sort of gonzo-but-grokkable logic for how dungeon environments worked and changed over time. Delicious in Dungeon hews to this tradition by treating the monsters as living creatures with unique quirks. Things such as the mushrooms being easy to slice vertically or their little wiggly feet being a good addition to the pot. Applying fundamental cooking principles to unreal ingredients makes for compelling stories that aren’t predictable while having their consistent internal logic in the world.
The cast is great, too. They all have their charms – I’m particularly fond of Senshi’s unchanging expression in every scene regardless of tone – but I think the show’s real star is Marcille. In another fun twist on an old pastime, unlike Tolkien’s very modern halflings being the stand-ins for the audience, here we have the half-elf magician as the audience surrogate. Much like ourselves, Marcille has no clue how to prepare such strange foods, feels like her ideas never work, gets hurt or embarrassed constantly, and finds these odd dishes disgusting to consider. She is our window into this bizarre world of kebabbed kobolds and basted beholders, and what a charmer.
More importantly, though, Marcille allows us to poke and prod at our perceptions and biases about the food we eat in real life. What, exactly, makes something gross to eat? If a cooked creature looks and tastes good but ate something disgusting beforehand, is it still taboo to eat it ourselves? If a fantasy animal is just two normal animals smooshed together, have we become numb to the wonders of the natural world around us?
Delicious in Dungeon takes a fun premise in a fantastical setting and helps us explore our own viewpoints on the world while our guards are down – and that’s what fantastical stories are all about, baby.
And before I forget: the animation is marvelous. The team at Trigger has done an immense public good by rendering Delicious in Dungeon with all the care and love they could muster. Wonderfully goofy and expressive faces, fun and frenetic action sequences, painstakingly detailed food preparation – it’s all here and then some.
Episode 1: Rating:
Episode 2: Rating:
Grant is the cohost on the Blade Licking Thieves podcast and Super Senpai Podcast.
Delicious in Dungeon is currently streaming on Netflix.