Episodes 1-7 (Streaming on Crunchyroll)
“Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter.” – James A. Garfield
If the stereotypes of the Far East are anything to go by, then this article should be amusing to any Japanese people who might be reading: a piece concerning food, written by someone from England, the country seen as having the worst taste in the world.
Especially coming from me, as I have almost zero taste in food. Not only do I fulfil all of those Japanese stereotypes about the bad English diet, but I shocked people in Scotland, perhaps the only people with a worse culinary reputation, with how unadventurous my diet is. Last year I was at the Edinburgh Fringe, and I made an entire audience gasp in horror when I admitted that I had never eaten a poppadum. I have of course since eaten a poppadum – I’ve never had a curry, but I have had a poppadum. Nor do I recall ever having eaten five fruit and veg in a single day. It’s a miracle I’m still alive to be honest, let alone relatively thin.
A little while ago I covered an anime adaptation of a manga from Weekly Shonen Jump; World Trigger which while being a good manga has suffered considerably from what has been seen as a shoddy anime version at the hands of Toei Animation.
However, the recent adaptation of another Shonen Jump series, Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma by J.C.Staff has so far been much more successful. It certainly looks as if it has been made more professionally.
Food Wars! fits into the rapidly expanding category of anime and manga set in schools that would never exist in real life. Whether the reason be supernatural causes (Vampire Knight), bizarre governance (Kill la Kill), alternative history (Girls und Panzer) or just sheer surrealism (Nichijou), these “non-schools”, if you like, have been fertile grounds for anime ideas. In this series, Food Wars! is set in a school specialising in cuisine that is so strict that less than 10% of people manage to graduate successfully.
Like many Shonen Jump series, the lead character, Soma Yukihira, has one ultimate goal. In his case it is the rather realistic aim of becoming a chef, to surpass his father Joichiro in terms of ability in the kitchen, and to eventually take over his small, working class family restaurant. However, Soma has the somewhat annoying habit of experimenting with odd ingredients, such as mixing squid with peanut butter. Joichiro decides that Soma needs to learn more, so he closes down the restaurant and moves to America, sending Soma to the Totsuki Culinary Academy, a school so elite that only the very best survive. The school even has battles known as “shokugeki”, held in a gigantic stadium between students to settle disputes.
Soma soon realises that just about everyone in the school comes from the upper reaches of society, from families that own either high class restaurants or food corporations. Soma almost immediately puts people out because of his working class background, with almost every other student at Totsuki hating him and considering him an upstart. At the top of this pile of haters is Erina Nakiri, the virtual head of the school and daughter of the school’s headmaster, who also runs a high class Japanese food chain company. Erina’s palate is so refined that she has what is described as the “God Tongue”, and can instantly break anyone’s culinary reputation with a single taste. Erina refuses to believe that Soma’s common tastes are in any way worthy, but Soma manages to impress most other people due to his inventiveness and proving that even food that seems to be cheap can taste great if you know how to cook it properly.
Food Wars! continues to follow Soma’s battles against not just Erina but the vast majority of the elite school body. Soma has only a small group of friends, all of whom live in his dormitory. These include Megumi Tadokoro, who is great at cooking but her nerves often get the better of her; and the friendly-but-almost-always-naked Satoshi Isshiki, one of academy’s “Elite Ten” students that Soma has to defeat in order to become the best at the school.
The first plus point regarding this series is that it appears to be animated properly. There seem to be very few errors in terms of styling. It has been well produced, and some of the animated sequences are wonderful to watch. Also, unlike World Trigger, the team can seemingly afford to have two title sequences rather than just have one in the middle. Both songs used in the titles, “Kibou no Uta” by Ultra Tower and “Spice” by Tokyo Karankoron respectively, are fun to listen to.
The most famous, or, to some, infamous scenes in the show are what have become known as the “foodgasms”, where one or more characters takes a bite out of a dish and you get a mental image of what is going on in their head. These scenes are not just animated wonderfully, but are also highly comic. For example in the first episode Soma’s friend tastes one of his bad experiments involving squid, which leads to a tentacle scene; whenever Erina samples a bad dish she often ends up experiencing some surreal dream like bathing with a gorilla; another scene in which Soma uses honey to make boeuf bourguignon ends up with a depiction of the characters being drenched in honey.
This leads to another factor in Food Wars!, which is the level of fan service in the show. If you are including it, it is hard to get it right, but this show seems to have managed to crack it. It is not just the fact that there is just about the right amount and at just the right moments, but also the fact that it is fairly balanced out between both the female characters and the male characters. You see just about every major character naked at some point, and the end credits actually features most of the cast naked. Plus, while you have some female characters who show off a lot of their body, such as “Meat Queen” Ikumi Mito who is normally always seen wearing a bikini and either a very short skirt or shorts; you also have male characters like Satoshi who is normally depicted wearing either an apron or a fundoshi, and nothing else besides. One suspects you will find a fair amount of fujoshi and fudanshi thinking about Satoshi.
The plot has been building nicely, and it has already been established that Soma will have to take on the “Elite Ten” in order to reach the top so we know what the forthcoming plot will be. Those who have read the manga will know that the next batch of episodes is set during a school trip which also turns out to be an examination.
When I previously reviewed World Trigger, I asked whether or not any of Shonen Jump‘s latest series could possibly take on the mantle of becoming part of a new “Big Three” following the end of Naruto and the forthcoming conclusion of Bleach. Food Wars! is certainly up there, partly because of the quality of the story, but also, unlike Shonen Jump‘s other food-based title Toriko, it has a bit more reality to it, even if it is set in a highly unlikely educational establishment.