Dungeon Meshi, like Sengoku Youko, is one of those series that take a little while to reveal its full arsenal of charm. The reasons are different, and this series is decidedly more “modern” in style than Sengoku. As such it’s certainly the more popular, but I have seen new viewers be a little slow to embrace it, and a little puzzled by the tremendous acclaim for the manga. I think we’re starting to see that change, though, and episodes like this are a reason for that. The uniqueness of the series is really starting to show through, as well as its depth.
We’re continuing to see Trigger be a little experimental with this adaptation, which I like in principle if not always in practice. Episode 3 kind of whiffed in that respect but this one worked. We saw a lot of directorial flair here, but without grandstanding so much it overwhelmed the source material. In a sense it reminds of something we talk about in the whisk(e)y community – spirit-driven vs. barrel (cask) influence. For example, I love a whisky aged in a good Oloroso sherry cask which imparts interesting complexity to the spirit’s innate characteristics. I don’t love some wine barrel finishes which totally overwhelm the spirit signature. Episode 3 was the latter – this was the former.
Content-wise the series is starting to branch out too. We engaged at length with another party for the first time here. Its apparent leader is Kabru (Katou Wataru), a cheerful tall-man (human) who disdains the idea of eating dungeon monsters. Another human is Rinsha (Takahashi Rie). They too have a half-foot, Mickbell (Tomita Miyu) and a dwarf, Daya (Kawamura Kei). But unlike Laios’ party they also have a kobld, Kuro (Nara Tooru) and a gnome, Holm (Hirose Yuuya). Fortune seems to smile on them when they kill a zombie carrying a treasure chest full of gold and jewels (that will buy a lot of non-disgusting “normal” food).
However, the fact that the Laios gang stumbles upon them dead by the side of the trail suggests otherwise. Marcille says that she’ll say a prayer over them to try and prevent them being possessed by ghosts, and laments that she can’t do it like Falin would have. Chilchuck muses wistfully about having to leave the treasure for the “corpse retrievers”, when Laios’ sword buddy starts to go crazy. It’s a warning (whether intended that way or not) that this treasure is not what it seems, and another example of the wonderful flights of imagination Dungeon Meshi is liable to go off on at any moment.
Even treasure bugs are edible – and naturally, Senshi can figure out which ones are and which ones aren’t. The funniest moments here are Laios trying (badly) to conceal his ongoing monologue with the parasite on his sword hilt, and Senshi not bothering to tell Chilchuck that the non-edible treasure bugs are in fact actual gold and gems until it’s too late. But things get serious – more serious than any time in the series so far – when a group of ghosts appear, apparently attracted by the presence of corpses.
This exchange with the ghosts – in addition to getting pretty creepy – shows just how important Falin was to the party, and how much she’s missed. Not just because of her magical ability, which was obviously considerable, but because of the role her gentle positivity played in the group dynamic. Her method of dealing with ghosts was driven by trying to relieve their suffering, but this is not an approach that Marcille is equipped to replicate. Senshi once again proves remarkably resourceful here, whipping up a batch of holy water from the contents of his knapsack and using it to dispel the ghosts which are following the party.
It’s hard to pinpoint just why, but this sequence is extremely effective in multiple ways. More than anything it’s quite melancholy, both for the obvious heartache Falin’s absence causes and the obvious bleakness of a ghost’s existence. There are also some great visual moments here, like the shot of Chilchuck staring up at the ghosts as Laios herded him away. This series is weird, no question about it, and embracing that weirdness is the key to really enjoying it as it was intended to be enjoyed. It takes longer for some than others, and some might never get there at all, but the manga already completed the sales pitch for me and I was a buyer…