Learn what happens at the boldest culinary school in Japan as we review at Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma
Anime Review: Food Wars:
Shokugeki no Soma (Episodes 1-15)
A review by Christopher Kinsey
This title has certainly caught everyone's eye in anime and manga circles of late. Even I was a little swept up in the fever. As a fervent fan of the original Iron Chef I tend to have a weak spot when it comes to anime based around culinary pursuits involving chef vs chef battles. Of course it doesn't hurt I was a chef for 15 years, and when you do something for that long you get a connection to a story related to your own field. I'm always for any cooking media that shows some of the realities of the field (Good and bad) while at the same time providing some instruction as well.
Our hero, Soma Yukihira, works with his father in a traditional Japanese diner style restaurant that has a steady following. But one day after fending off some land barons for the site Soma's dad leaves abruptly and sends Soma to the Totsuki Culinary Academy for his high school studies. Soma is the great shonen everyman in the fact that his one true desire is to be the best; however he acknowledges that he is there to learn. This isn't an unbeatable savant, he is a skilled kid who is taking advantage of his situation to improve himself and be the very best, not just taking it on birthright.
Many of his rivals have that flaw. Their prestige or parentage gives them access to the finery of culinary heights. It would be easy to just chuck this show into a bin marked "Vs the 1%" like many stories now of days, but here everyone seems to be under the impression their goal is to improve the thing they all love the most, cooking and cuisine around the world. The average villain or rival in this show has no real malice, just a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. In the confines of this setting, cooking as a battle really shines and, while not believable, is just an excuse for a lot of good fun.
Speaking of good fun, the supporting cast is perfect for this kind of story. A diverse group of the weirdly brilliant and obsessive types you'll find in just about any school. Each of them has a kind of cooking specialty and have diverse enough personalities and character outlines that you actually care about the comic relief and b plot moments. I think the best thing is that they are all very supportive and caring of one another. Other series would devalue the idea of a peaceful coexistence with the other folks at this competitive school, making everyone an instant rival for either cooking glory or the affections of Soma.
This was another surprise to me. Reading a little of the manga this series is based on I knew the fanservice was cranked to eleven. These days who isn't showing a bit more skin to draw in readers? But this show evens the playing field in two ways. First off the female cast could easily devolve into the standard rotating buffet of babes of a modern harem anime. Being defeated doesn't make a female rival or friend immediately fall in love. It would be easy to do, but they didn't and that earns some respect from me. Secondly they do have a lot of instances of what I call "Tastegasming". It's hard to convey how good something tastes in a comic, so you throw up some speed lines and a "O" face and there, you've shown how good that BLT really was. It would be cheap and exploitive if everything hinged on recreation after recreation of the cake scene in The Matrix Reloaded and made sure every girl had a slice. But this happens to every character. Dudes, shrimpy businessmen, old hags, sumo wrestlers, everyone gets a tastegasm shot. Sometimes it goes from being a tastegasm shot to being a naked reflection, being one with nature and the ingredients befitting what the chef was hoping you would experience with the meal (Like a feeling of spring. Japanese food culture revolves a lot on how much sentimentality you can put into one plate of food.). And the best part is they know when to dial it back. There was a marked scene where Soma served a fine omelet to a little girl. The little girl really liked this omelet, but they never took it as far to exploit the girl by making it lewd. For humor? Check. For an emphasis on revelation? Check. Otherwise these scenes are tasteful and fulfilling, a great way to cap off the meal that is an episode.
The best thing about this show is the spectacle of the cooking and the pacing of this shonen storyline. There are a lot of kitchen battles, taking part of that same kind of tension you get from any number of battling live action cooking shows you get today. It would be real easy to stretch any of these battles over a course of three episodes, but they don't do it. If a battle can be resolved in one episode, it does so. The action is fast enough and the relevant story is presented neat, tidy and ready with a good comedic moment when things get a little too heavy. The storyline that just wrapped was a kind of school camp where they participated in many activities working in an actual high end hotel with a high threshold of failure. As a story arc it was broken down into components and each event flowed into the next evenly. It's wonderful when a show understands that pacing can be every bit as important as action scenes.
Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma is one of those series that makes you really want to see what happens next. The series isn't over, but I hope it does well enough to stick with us for a while. If you like fun stories about friendship and determination, or just like to eat, I think it is well worth your time to invest in this series. As Soma says "I hope you enjoyed it!" I know I have.
- A carefully paced storyline that dovetails into itself, making you desire to know what challenge is next for our heroes.
- A cast of characters that genuinely support each other without any of them being annoying for the sake of comedy.
- Fanservice that knows where to draw a line.
- There might be some threads to some harem shenanigans. I never trust it when the father figure says “The secret to doing great [Insert skill here] is to make sure you share it with your true love”.
- As with many manga based popular shows the turnaround on animation makes the quality suffer a bit in the details.
- I would have liked to see a little more real instruction on the dishes prepared besides the “Big reveal” of how someone made a dish. Maybe they could put recipes in the commercial breaks?