Warning: Mature Content Ahead
Sometimes, it’s hard being a fan of anime.
I came up in the era of Toonami. I cut my anime teeth on things like Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, Rurouni Kenshin, and their ilk. Since those “glory days” ended, it’s been harder and harder for me to find anime series that I can really get into. I don’t know what it is- I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they don’t make anime like they used to (though there are plenty of folks who are saying just that), but I’ve found that since the mid-2000s, the number of anime and manga series coming out that have really caught my attention and hooked me in have dwindled.
I don’t even remember how I ended up watching Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma for the first time. I think we might have been browsing through new and currently-airing anime series and thought the name looked funny, or something- goodness knows that, with as many cooking competition shows as we watch (Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen…), we might have thought it would be good for a laugh. And hey, I was surprised to find that I rather liked Yakitate!! Japan, an anime series from a few years back about bread-baking, so why not give this one a shot?
The last thing I was expecting was to fall in love with anime again.
Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma is based on the manga series by writer/artist team Yuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki that started in 2012, and boy, is it a doozy. On paper, it doesn’t sound like much: Yukihira Soma, a teenager who works with his father at their family-owned, reasonably-priced diner, finds himself attending the Tootsuki Academy, an elite culinary school where his cooking skills are repeatedly put to the test in a hyper-competitive environment where only one percent of students manage to make it to graduation. He makes friends, forms rivalries, and competes in dramatic, high-stakes cook-offs called shokugeki; along the way, he hopes to be able to impress the notoriously discerning tongue of Nakiri Erina, granddaughter of the Academy’s headmaster and a famed food critic (also, potentially a future love interest). That description doesn’t quite do justice to just how crazy- and how awesome- Food Wars! is.
The first thing you need to know about Food Wars! is this: FOODGASMS.
Food Wars! goes all-out when it comes to depicting just how gloriously delicious the culinary offerings its characters create can be. Chef Yuki Morisaki acts as a consultant on the series, creating the dishes portrayed in the series, and the animation team brings them to succulent life with vivid colors and just the right amount of shininess. What really sells the food, though, are the hilariously over-the-top reactions of the characters lucky enough to actually taste the stuff- which usually leads to moments of fantastical orgasmic bliss, including but not limited to clothes ripping off, bathing in umami juices, being tickled by angels, or- in one particularly unfortunate incident- being assaulted by anime’s trademark naughty tentacles. Even if these moments take place entirely in the characters’ minds, they are easily the most visible and infamous part of Food Wars!, and are probably some of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in anime. The first episode is probably the most over-the-top in this regard, and certainly the closest to outright hentai that the series gets. I’ve seen other commenters mention that this first episode isn’t really indicative of the rest of the series on those grounds, and that’s accurate, though I imagine it was probably done in the interest of coming out the gate with both guns blazing. Be wary of watching this with company in the next room; it’ll get… awkward.
The next thing you need to know: Soma is a BADASS.
Main characters in anime tend to be hit or miss, more so these days. I’ve found in recent times it’s been more and more difficult to find anime heroes I can tolerate, much less like. Yukihira Soma is a different beast altogether, and while he stays prescribed to a lot of the ol’ Shonen hero tropes (daddy complex, endless willpower and fiery determination, spiky hair), something about this guy really resonates with me.
Soma takes NO shit from anybody. He’ll call out characters “above his station” without a second’s hesitation, he’s a loyal friend who expects the best out of his buddies (especially his shrinking violet of a frequent partner, humble county girl Tadokoro Megumi), he’s extremely confident without being an arrogant prick, and he doesn’t pull his victories out of his ass- he develops clever game plans, learns from his mistakes, and adapts to every situation while refusing to betray his own values.
“Foodie” culture can seem a bit impenetrable to a lot of us normal folks; the world of super-expensive fine-dining doesn’t always make for a setting filled with characters most readers or viewers can identify with. That’s another thing about Soma- he’s a master-level chef, but his skills come from his experience working with his supremely-skilled father every day in their local diner, serving cheap but delicious food in a practical environment that satisfies taste buds without breaking the bank. This practicality gives him a head’s up over his fellow students at the Tootsuki Academy, many of whom see him as a filthy commoner and completely lack practical restuarant experience.
Also, just watch that guy move in the kitchen! Soma is like a culinary Kenshiro, dishing out gourmet ass-whuppings every episode. Luckily, the other characters are all portrayed as his equals in most respects, with each of his dorm buddies and assorted rivals having specific strengths and weaknesses. Giving each student their own culinary “fighting style” only serves to make Food Wars! feel even more like a fighting series, and that strange combination of genres works surprisingly well. It’s a similar combination as that seen in Toriko, though it doesn’t take the concept of “a fighting series about food” quite so literally. Food Wars! is more like Iron Chef- the drama and built-in conflict of a fighting series are there, along with many stylistic nods, but this is still a show about chefs competing to see whose cuisine reigns supreme.
Food Wars! is currently airing. You can catch new subtitled episodes streaming on Hulu Plus, Crunchyroll, and probably other services as well. It’s risque, it’s colorful, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch- and best of all, it takes me back to those glory days when anime could do no wrong and couldn’t wait to catch every new episode as it aired. We’ve even started collecting the original manga alongside it! You should give it a try- even if anime hasn’t been living up to you expectations as of late, even if a show about cooking doesn’t sound up your alley, you owe it to yourself to at least experience the first episode of Food Wars! and see why it has so many of us talking.
All images & gifs are from Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma