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Dungeon Meshi – 02

I find the disconnect I’m seeing with Dungeon Meshi very interesting.  The manga – if you go by such things as aggregator scores and awards – is broadly adored.  The anime is adapting it faithfully and well to my way of thinking, yet it seems to be meeting a lot of resistance from new viewers.  Is something being lost in the translation from manga to anime?  Or is it a matter of manga audiences being more receptive to a weird premise (which they are, generally speaking)?  I don’t have a lot of specific memories of when the manga was new – I didn’t pick it up immediately – but I seem to remember it caught fire pretty quickly.

We’re certainly at the tip of the iceberg both in terms of the mythology and the dungeon Laios and team are descending.  Dungeon Meshi gets very complex, but for me what makes the series charming is already front and center.  These four goofs (and other goofs too eventually, in supporting roles) are the meat and eggs of the appeal for me.  They’re all kind of dumbasses about certain things, and they push each other’s buttons relentlessly even if they don’t mean to.  But they’re all capable and formidable in their own way, and they complement each other both in terms of skills and personality.  If they aren’t doing it for you now, I’m honestly doubtful that all this is going to work.

Those quirks are front and center this week, as the party members begin to really establish their narrative identity and their place in the group.   Senshi is determined that the gang should eat a more balanced diet – not just monster meat or, heaven forbid, the dried meat that’s the staple of many a party’s pot.  A basilisk represents a perfect opportunity – both meat and eggs, all in one package.  There’s the whole snake thing too, though he’s not especially worried about that.  The party even has time to save a pair of novice adventurers getting their asses kicked by the basilisk whose eggs they’re stealing.  And Senshi has an antidote for the poison in one of the pair’s wound after being attacked (though he does makes him wait till he’s cooked it as part of his roast basilisk recipe).

An attempt to harvest mandrakes (animanga is deeply obsessed with mandrakes) leaves Marcille feeling very insecure about her ability to contribute.   She hasn’t been much use in general and she’s the one who freaks out about the meal plan, but sees the mandrakes as her chance to shine.  Of course, her textbook method to harvest them without getting taken out by their screams is to have a dog pull them out of the ground (and die in the process).  Senshi’s method isn’t in the book – he cuts off their heads so they can’t scream – but it’s a hell of a lot faster (and less cruel to dogs).  Marcille eventually tries to use a giant bat to the same effect, but that turns very ugly.  That said, in the end her fully intact specimen makes the best omelette of the bunch.

Next it’s Chilchuck who gets a turn in the spotlight, with an assist from Senshi.  I love everyone in the main cast but Chilchuck is first among equals for me.  More than any of the others he’s both more and different than he appears, and his life is a story of being misjudged based on appearances (as Senshi does in calling him a “half-foot child”).  In fact he’s the most mature and responsible of the party in many ways – though not perhaps as relates to his snark and ease of irritation.  Chilchuck’s role is to handle everything related to traps and closed doors of all kinds.  Marcille and Laios cede this territory to him without question, but Senshi has his own way of doing things and it couldn’t be more different from Chil’s.

I guess that whole manzai routine between the halfling and the dwarf about oil traps and fire traps and cooking is one of those you either get it or you don’t things.  It’s silly, absurd even, but I could watch the two of them bickering away all day.  Chilchuck is very concerned about protecting his turf, clearly – in large part because he knows all too well how serious every mistake can be.  As Laios points out, having everybody else’s lives in his hands is a lot of pressure for Chilchuck, as it would be for anybody, and Senshi’s carefree attitude rubs him the wrong way to say the least.

Then there’s the food, the other main theme of these early episodes.  Roast basilisk (even the snake part tastes like chicken) and basilisk egg omelettes (who knew the chicken part was the tail) and mandrake and giant bat kakiage – Marcille may resist but you gotta eat.  Surviving dungeon is hard work, and what this little party is trying to do with basically no equipment in the interests of saving time (and Falin) is really a fool’s errand (I feel like the series doesn’t get that point across very well at this stage).  But that makes it perfectly suited to this baka bunch, and as the FLCL manga said, to be a fool is pure bliss.

ED: “Party!!” by Ryoku Oushoku Shakai

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