Now, let’s get the elephant out of the room immediately: cooking anime aren’t common.
Prominent cooking anime are even farther and fewer in between.
This is probably because creating a show centered around cooking (and not just featuring food) would need a bit more of a crutch if it wants to attract an audience that aren’t aspiring chefs or employees at their local diner. Unlike sports anime, which have a semblance of action in the sense that it is a rather competitive affair, cooking really doesn’t have that level of hype to keep the viewer engaged. The story has to have some sort of balance as well, and there are times where a cooking anime would get too focused on the technicalities of cooking and not focus on the story at all, even worse is the opposite (why make it a cooking anime then). The safest route that most cooking anime take is the slice-of-life route (i.e. Yakitate Japan), which can be hit-or-miss depending on the execution.
Thus, they have to usually rely on other aspects such as story-telling, comedy, or even fanservice.
What’s up, everyone, I present to you my two cents on the convoluted culinary clusterfuck of a cooking-anime: Food Wars- Shokugeki no Soma.
Oh yeah, a bit of a reminder: I’m reviewing this show under the assumption that I, the reviewer, and you, the viewer, have not seen the manga that the show in question was sourced from. It shall be viewed and inspected under the lenses that it is a stand-alone thing, so as not to cloud my views with comparisons, future plot-points, etc.
Oh, and some parts of this review might be NSFW. Nothing extreme, but just as a precaution.
ALSO: FOOD PUNS.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Shall we begin?
Shokugeki no Soma tells the story of a boy named Soma Yukihira, whose dream is to become a full-time chef in his father’s restaurant, who he looks up to and whose culinary skills are apparently vastly superior to his own. But just as Soma graduates from middle school, his father, Jōichirō Yukihira, gets a new job that requires him to travel around the world and closes the restaurant. Soma, of course, was crestfallen, as his dream was readily squandered. However, Sōma’s fighting spirit is rekindled by a challenge from daddy dearest, which is to survive in Totsuki Academy, an elite culinary school where only 10% of the students manage to graduate. The story focuses on Soma, the friends and enemies he makes, and the challenges he faces as he strives to be the best in his class, while avoiding being expelled at every turn.
Now, to further specify myself when I say that this anime is a cooking-anime: it’s a show that focuses on the intricacies of culinary arts. Pretty much 100% of the moments that involved cooking has some kind of technical term/technique associated with it, which further cements my point that the cooking in this show is a big selling point. Seeing the terminologies and cooking mechanisms introduced in Food Wars used in such a way that it affects how each character cooks was a great addition to the plot. You get to see how these dishes are made, what the secrets are, and even some hiccups here and there that really make the intricacies of the show pop out more. Furthermore, the idea of a “shokugeki”, which is essentially a high-stakes food battle, is a very welcome concept that is another selling point of the show, adding more risks to whatever actions/decisions that the characters may make, the consequences of which can be grave.
Oh, and did I mention that the extremely strict educational system of Totsuki Academy the makes every military school in the world look like a fun-for-all county fair, where the parlor games aren’t rigged in any way and the streets are paved with caramel-corn and cotton candy?
The plot itself is nothing new: talented rookie finds himself in an elite school where there are other people who can challenge his almightyness, and along the way he joins a rag-tag group of friends, and together they cook their way through their first-year, trying to avoid expulsion along the way. However, I was actually surprised to see that it’s not as meta as I thought it would be. For the most part, the story ran in a pretty straightforward manner with little to no meandering at all. Immediately, you are thrust into the setting, and from then on it’s just a series of challenges for Soma to overcome, and the main meat-and-potatoes of that conflict is essentially just how exactly would he overcome said challenges.
The story remains very interesting all throughout its run, having different concepts in every episode as well as enough suspense and climatic moments to keep the viewer interested. As one can probably perceive from how I explained the plot, this isn’t necessarily a slow and light-hearted slice-of-life cooking anime. The show is very much over-the-top, and that’s essentially the main crutch.
What impresses me, however, is the fact that Food Wars KNOWS that it is over-the-top, and yet when the show moves to a more serious and emotional tone, it does the transition well and lose the natural bombastic nature in place of a more appropriate one to suit the scene. And this ties in well with how the show uses conflict as a means to develop its characters. The cooking isn’t necessarily just a side thing: it’s the main concept of the show, the thing that makes the anime tick, and to use that to garner conflict and thus development should be a given already, and thankfully, it was with this show. The conflict of the show in particular (the concept of instant eviction if you fail) creates a dynamic that makes it much more interesting and exciting to watch, giving the conflict much more depth and impact than just “losing your honor”.
Am I missing something?
Something……obvious that I haven’t pointed out yet?
Oh, right. The fanservice.
Is it necessary for this show’s over-the-top nature?
Upon further thought, which involved myself mulling over the necessity of having the characters’ clothing disintegrate upon the consumption of bacon while working overnight on my history thesis fueled by nothing but sheer willpower and a picture of John Cena on my wall, I came up with an answer:
Yes and No.
Yeah I know how much you guys love my vagueness.
Yes, because the fanservice, after all that’s said and done, is probably what hooked the audience in the first place. There’s a reason why people refer to Food Wars as “food porn/foodgasms: the anime. The fanservice is part of the comedic effect that the show implements, and while it may be generally funny, there are times where the fanservice is rather trite and tasteless (hehe), though those moments are far and few in between, due in part to how the anime handles its tone.
The other side to the answer is no, the show doesn’t need fanservice, because the comedy itself is not too bad, making use of animation shifts and audio cues to highlight the witty dialogue between characters, among other things. In my opinion at least, 95% of the amusement that I got from this show wasn’t from the fanservice, but rather from its clever writing and proper comedic timing.
Yeah, I know I have a habit of putting up vague answers. Never trust me again when I say that I have made up my mind about something, because I’ll probably give an answer along the gray areas, sue me.
In terms of character interactions, it’s pretty spot-on for a show that has a whole slew of supporting characters. There is a visible sense of camaraderie between them, be it from either respect or friendship, and no relationship introduced felt forced, or at least TOO forced (looking at YOU, potential romantic subplots).
As for the individual characters themselves, they were all great to watch on-screen. Each chef isn’t just a cut-and-paste slouch either: they each have their own “style” and specialty in terms of their cooking, which really adds to the uniqueness of the characters and adding a degree of individuality to each of them. Some of them might be slightly archetypal, but surprisingly none were too saturated in my opinion, allowing them to be a bit more realistic and relatable.
Well………perhaps not ALL of them were relatable…
Development was certainly present with some of the characters, especially Megumi, and what’s even more impressive was how even one-off and some supporting characters were also given the spotlight at certain points, which once again highlights how the concept of cooking is used as a means for character insight and development in some cases. It doesn’t just focus on Soma as much as I thought it would, with him being such an overpowered character and all, which was a pleasant surprise.
Now, talking about Soma himself.
His character, for how OP he is, is not necessarily one-dimensional. He has all these quirks and a degree of naivety when it comes to how he perceives how others perceive him, which makes for interesting character interactions. In contrast to the traditional rookie protagonists who are humble and solemn in the face of adversary, he has this air of slight smugness and pride that makes him as a character much more relatable and interesting, especially with matters concerning his own beliefs with regards to cooking and being a chef. When faced with smugness, he replies with his own brand of badass smugness not necessarily with words, but through his cooking. When faced with humility and nobility on the other hand, he treats them with gentlemanly courtesy and respect. This kind of attitude creates a likeable character that we can cheer for, even though he’s OP AF and we kinda know how most of these conflicts will end. Surprisingly, and this is something that you guys can argue against me, I felt that, by the end of the series, Soma grew as a chef and as a character, even if ever so slightly. I feel like if you pitted the Soma by the end of episode 24 against the Soma from episode 1, episode 24-Soma would win BY A LANDSLIDE, which attests to how the challenges presented to him aren’t just simple things that he can wave off with how OP he is, but rather things that influences him to think outside the box, develop new strategies, and overall improve on his skills. Tangible experience, if you will.
Now finally I want to talk about Megumi, the character that probably most of us relate to and the opposite of Souma. She’s a character who just needs a break, being a student who is on the verge of failing and who’s confidence with regards to her own cooking skills are somewhat lacking. For me, Megumi is the character that we all cheered for since Day 1: we know what it feels like to fail a lot, be it socially or in terms of our education or career. Seeing her develop throughout the series as a person who is slowly becoming more independent, more confident of her skills as a chef, and overall a more determined person, is truly something that is inspirational on a personal level, again referring to just how much these characters are relatable to the viewer. We cheer for her, we laugh with her, and sometimes we cry as well. For a character that’s only supposed to be second to the main protagonist, as well as the fact that the story is probably far from over yet, this kind of development is awe-inspiring.
Of course, there are problems when it comes to how Food Wars handles its characters. For one, despite what I said earlier, the large cast is definitely a weak point of the show, having essentially no time at all to fully flesh-out every single one of the characters. As such, some remain underdeveloped, regardless of how the show has treated them. Some have backstories and sub-plots that could’ve been explored but wasn’t. At least, for now.
Also, the unneeded tsundere-ism of some of the characters (lookin’ atcha, Erina and Nikumi) felt really forced and unnatural, ESPECIALLY Erina, preventing me from taking her as seriously as she may want to be, with her sudden blushing and b-b-baka moments. This also creates some kind of potential romantic sub-plot, and I don’t think that Food Wars should ever tread that path if it wants to retain its dignity.
Food Wars was animated by an animation studio named J.C. Staff, responsible for shows such as Shakugan no Shana, Little Busters, Ano Natsu de Matteru, and more recently Prison School. As such, the animation quality for Food Wars is rather average for the most part. The scenes where it shines, however, is during the, uh, “foodgasm” sequences, where different imagery and color palettes (depending on the theme of the dish) are used in order to represent the sensual experiences of those who taste the food. Besides those though, nothing is exceptionally “stand-out”.
In terms of the soundtrack, however, I would give Food Wars high praise, specifically the composer for the show’s OSTs: Tatsuya Kato, the man responsible for Free, Mirai Nikki/Future Diary, and (get this) Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom (which had an AMAZING soundtrack). Mr. Kato’s compositions have a knack for highlighting specific moments of the show as well as adding to the show itself, and Food Wars is no different, having soundtracks that compliment both the exciting and emotional moments of the show beautifully, as well as add to the show itself bringing more hype and epicness to the cooking.
The most impressive example would have to be Welcome to the Gourmet Food World!, which plays during the times where outlandish reactions to food are involved (i.e. the “foodgasms”). The angelic choirs and heavenly feel of the OST itself lends an air of royalty and is a great compliment to how good they represent the food to be.
Other note-worthy parts of the soundtrack include its 2 opening and ending themes, especially the first OP, which has become quite iconic with the show itself, and for good reason. Besides being an overall positive song overall, it has this really calming yet energetic tone to it as well that can get you pumped up for the episode, and it has been something that I take pleasure in listening to every time I click the “next episode” button.
In terms of exceeding expectations, I would have to give full points to Food Wars, as it shattered and defied any and all preconceptions that I had with it.
Going into the show with absolutely no expectations other than the hype surrounding it whatsoever and initially just thinking it to be a generic ecchi show with cooking involved, I was genuinely surprised as I found myself laughing along with the characters, sympathizing with their plight, and generally just wanting to watch the next episode every time. The story is intriguing, the characters range from amusing to relatable, the sountrack is AMAZING, and the animation fits the show to a T. Definitely did not expect ALL these things to come from such a show.
However, the glaring flaws are still present. Soma being an OP character regardless is still an issue in terms of how his character is presented. Some characters are unneededly tsundere which doesn’t really help with their character aside from affirming how cardboard cut-out-y they are, which is a shame really. The fanservice can also be an issue here if you look at it from a non-comedic standpoint. And some sub-plots are introduced but never really explained, which leads to the grandest flaw of all time:
It did not end.
Or at least it didn’t end in a way that would thoroughly satisfy a viewer (which is to say they ended pretty much in the middle of an arc). Granted, based on the popularity of the show, it’s most likely that we will get a second season. However, they could’ve ended it somewhere that ISN’T IN THE MIDDLE OF A FREAKING ARC, but it could’ve been worse, I guess?
Despite ALL those points though, I can’t help but recommend Food Wars to anyone looking for an above-average cooking anime, or even a comedic show in general. This show has without a doubt been one of the best experiences I have had with a cooking anime since I watched Yakitate Japan many years ago and definitely one of the stand-out shows of the year.
Now with all that’s said and done, I give Food Wars- Shokugeki no Soma a generous Yay for being a unique and tasty surprise that is in dire need of a second course.
Go check out the first few episodes, and if the fanservice makes the show unwatchable for you in any way, then I would totally understand it if you don’t desire to go any further. Other than that, I’m sure everyone would find something in this show that would make them just wanna eat up more.
Food Wars is available, at the release of this review, for legal streaming over at Crunchyroll, where all the episodes are available for subscribers and non-subscribers alike, although applying for a subscription to unlock all the latest anime content earlier is always a good thing to do, so please go do that if you wish to do so.
As per usual, leave a comment down below pertaining to your thoughts on this review, on the show itself, or if you would like me to review anything. And, speaking of liking, give the review a thumbs-up if you enjoyed it.
Aaaaaaand, with that, I bid you all adieu. This has been Ken for thebuttonsmashers.com Anime Reviews, and I’ll see you guys in the future.
Pleasure serving you! (cheesy af I know)