Dungeon People – Episode 1

By: Alex Henderson July 6, 20240 Comments
Promotional poster for Dungeon People, showing two young women standing in front of a hole in a castle wall

Note: Due to video playing issues with HIDIVE, namely that this episode refused to play for Alex in anything other than low resolution, all screencaps featured in this review are taken from the official trailer or other promotional material, in order to provide images with more than three pixels in them.

What’s it about? Clay has been trained by her father into a ruthless dungeon-crawling, treasure-hunting, monster-fighting machine. Her father, however, has been missing for three years. Determined to find him or at least find answers, Clay ventures into the dungeon where he disappeared. At the heart of the labyrinth she finds, to her surprise, a very unassuming young woman who claims to be the dungeon’s “administrator”… and even more surprisingly, she offers Clay a job.

Dungeon People is the story of a woman who has never relaxed in her life suddenly finding herself thrust into the role of protagonist in a chilled-out, cozy fantasy series. She’s been living in Dark Souls and has now been transplanted into some sort of easygoing management sim. What’s she meant to do? De-stress and heal from her emotional and physical trauma? Discover the magic of friendship? What the hell?

If Dungeon People can pull this vibe (and this character arc) off, it could end up being a really sweet series. I like Clay; though I recognize how they can get boring when executed poorly, I have a soft spot for ridiculously competent, breathlessly loyal “living weapon” type characters… and it’s always fun seeing them shoved into a situation where they’re forced to chill out and learn to be a bit more human. I get the sense that this series might be taking that route: throughout this episode we see Clay being gloriously good at sneaking, fighting, and slaying, but it ends with her sitting in a comfy bed looking baffled as someone offers her unconditional safety and a well-paying job. The contrast is a lot of fun, and may be especially cathartic and sweet if the show digs deeper into the turmoil behind Clay’s super-serious survivalist demeanor.

A minotaur in a black chest-plate looming over a human woman looking shocked. Subtitle text reads: For real? I've never heard of a wall crumbling before...
The visual design overall isn’t much, but shoutout to this guy and his funky little croptop situation

I feel like we’ve had multiple fantasy shows centering father-daughter duos in the last few years, and it’s refreshing to have one where the protagonist is the daughter—maybe even one where she reckons with the pedestal her dad has been placed on and comes to terms with the fact that he wasn’t exactly hero material. I’m not sure how much Dungeon People intends to weave this forward, but it’s an interesting thread throughout this premiere: Clay admires her father but also admits he wasn’t a great teacher, and is part-exhilarated and part-depressed by the idea that she’s going further into the dungeon that killed (?) him and may ultimately surpass her old man. It’s not the deepest character writing in the world, but there’s a surefire sense that the relationship is Complicated.

The show overall has a light tone, but the flashbacks to Clay’s harsh training routine show her dad utilizing… what certain people might call tough love, and what might be considered more straightforwardly as child abuse in a modern context, in his methods of teaching her how to fight monsters. I get the sense that we’re supposed to find this over-the-top (“climb this comically tall peak in ten seconds!” he yells, while little Clay’s eyes go spirally) but not take the whole child endangerment angle too seriously. Still, this cements her father as an antagonist in my eyes, and I think we’d be missing out if the narrative didn’t delve into this more.

Closeup of Clay looking concerned. Subtitle text reads: After all this time since I started exploring dungeons, now I find myself working in one.

For one thing, questions of skill and legacy and the tension between wanting to fight your dad and wanting your dad to be proud of you are usually reserved for father-son dynamics, so it could be cool if Clay’s arc involves some of this. For another, a narrative about Clay finally being in a safe (if weird) place and learning to have functional, non-combative relationships with people, would be really rewarding—even more-so if the storytelling acknowledges her hardships and the unfairness of her father’s treatment head-on. Which is not to say that this fantasy comedy needs to have a serious conversation about parental abuse, just that coziness often benefits from a degree of catharsis, and this would give the warm little found family story some more emotional weight.

Maybe that’s asking for more than this show is ultimately going to give me, but I ask it because I feel the potential is there in this premiere, if not fully explored. But it could well be a slow-burn affair: Clay is under the dungeon’s protection now, and has all the time in the world to see what that means for her. Personally I’m excited to see what happens next and what Clay’s new duties behind-the-scenes of a tropey fantasy dungeon look like, at least for the three-episode try.

About the Author : Alex Henderson

Alex Henderson is a writer and managing editor at Anime Feminist. They completed a doctoral thesis on queer representation in young adult genre fiction in 2023. Their short fiction has been published in anthologies and zines, their scholarly work in journals, and their too-deep thoughts about anime, manga, fantasy novels, and queer geeky stuff on their blog.

Read more articles from Alex Henderson

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