Anime Review: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma
Original creator: Shun Saeki (art), Yuto Tsukuda (story)
Directed by: Yoshitomo Yonetari
Character Design by: Tomoyuki Shitaya
Produced by: J.C. Staff, Showgate
Voice cast: Minami Takahashi, Risa Taneda, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Takahiro Sakurai
Air dates: Fridays at 2:25 p.m. CDT on Crunchyroll

Food and sex. People have an endless fascination all over the world with both, and why not? They’re inextricably linked with our most basic drives, survival and procreation. The late Japanese director Juzo Itami poked fun at both in his landmark comedy, Tampopo, and who, of course, hasn’t seen 9 ½ Weeks? Now think of those themes in a fighting high school anime setting, and you’re ready for Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma. Actually, I may be overstating the case a little on the sex aspect of the show, but I got your attention, didn’t I?

The series’ main protagonist, Soma Yukihira, is the son of Yukihira Restaurant owner and star chef Joichiro Yukihira. Soma’s gastronomic creations have a tendency to cause diners (at least in their own minds) to lose their clothing and inhibitions upon their first taste. Of course, he also has a tendency to take his personal food explorations into the realm of the ridiculous, as he does when he prepares grilled squid with peanut butter. The reactions of his unwitting victim to that particular cuisine is vivid and hilarious, to say the least.

The series follows Soma’s adventures from his family’s restaurant, which his father closes in order to travel and cook abroad, to the prestigious and highly elite Totsuki Culinary Academy, in which his father enrolls him to finish his high school education. A commoner among elites, young Soma knows nothing of the finer points of international gastronomy, but he does possess an extraordinary gift for cooking and creating narrative through food, an innate knowledge of ingredients and how they work together, and an unshakeable belief in his own abilities that friends and enemies alike often mistake for arrogance and cockiness. He becomes the only transfer student to pass the rigorous entrance exam that year, and at the entrance ceremony brazenly announces that the school is just a stepping-stone for him on his path to culinary supremacy. This sets up a series of rivalries and the introduction of a plethora of colorful characters who are out to destroy this little upstart commoner.

And of course, among the elites are the bad guys, most notably Erina Nakiri, the granddaughter of the academy’s director and holder of the coveted top spot in the top ten students in the school. Soma, of course, isn’t impressed or intimidated, and seeks the spot for himself. The way that students compete with each other is through the school’s sanctioned events, called Shokugeki, hence the title. There are three judges who decide which student’s cuisine is the best. There’s an air of Iron Chef that surrounds this competition. The price for losing is often being expelled from the school and their cooking careers at an end.

There’s a lot going for this series. That being said, it appears that the subtleties lie more in the foods themselves, and not so much in the characters. They seem to be presented more as vehicles for the food than as creations that could “walk around the corner,” as one friend of mine put it. Still, this is a very fun series to watch, and if you love to cook, you can certainly glean some new ideas from the foods presented, which are real cuisines from around the world.

The tasting scenes are, of course, fan service at its most blatant, but who cares? This is not an anime with some deep meaning to reveal (at least, not yet), nor is it striving to uphold some high standard of storytelling excellence. In the timeless tradition of fighting anime, the action, characters, and the stories themselves are blown way out of proportion, and exaggeration is part of the bargain. The real star of this series is the food itself.

Streaming every Friday afternoon on Crunchyroll, Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma is a fun – and yes, somewhat sexy – romp through the world of culinary academia and competition. If you love to cook, I highly recommend you take notes. You never know, there might be a test later.

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