As my first pickup of the 2015 spring anime season, Shokugeki no Soma (also known as Food Wars) made me scratch my head right off the bat. I tend to only go for anime that is mostly about sexualized aspects when there’s something extra to go with the creepy bullshit (i.e. Kill la Kill). However, since food anime and manga are quite relevant to my interests (i.e. Cooking Master Boy), I had to look into this title.
The two cooking anime I’m familiar with are Cooking Master Boy and Yakitate!! Japan. As a hardcore fan of Iron Chef (a show that will get reviewed here in the future), I appreciate it when the field of cooking gets represented in a mostly positive light. This new one has potential, but it has to pick up after these three episodes in order to retain its viewers.
NOTE: These are my initial impressions of Shokugeki no Soma after watching its first 3 episodes, containing some spoilers for the purpose of analysis. You have been warned.
Take note that I have not read the manga, so I’m going in cold. Also, this blog post has NSFW screenshots. Once again, you have been warned.
The First Episode
It starts off with a scene in the restaurant owned by the protagonist’s father. After taking a bite of the fried rice cooked by the head chef, one of the customers started to show physical reactions that are blatantly trying to sell the experience as orgasmic. The premise of the show was made obvious there — delicious food makes people experience intense pleasure, depicted in the style of softcore fetish porn.
Personally, I was tempted to turn it off right then and there (like what I did with Game of Thrones on the first episode). But since I seriously wanted to find another good food anime, I forged ahead and tried to see if this one could actually do it for me later on. Maybe there’s something more to this fuck fest.
Soma seems to be fit for this show as a protagonist, cock-sure and crass while obviously having much room for improvement. He’s not exactly the level of Hanamichi Sakuragi from Slam Dunk in terms of brashness, but he should do anyway for this one.
His dad does look quite young and stylish for his age, but that’s not really a based assessment. To be fair, I now know guys in their forties who look like rockstars (and some of them actually are). Therefore, I can’t really complain about that character design; it is said that 40 is the prime age for a chef.
It’s a pretty good first episode as it makes an impact on the viewer right away and shows the protagonist’s main motivation, which is to surpass his father’s cooking. But with his affinity for unorthodox flavors and the light year-long gap between him and his goal, there’s much for him to go through in order to achieve that, and that’s where Totsuki Culinary Academy comes in.
Now that Soma’s dad has closed down his restaurant and left his son to fend for himself in Japan’s toughest cooking academy, the series should pick up. The second episode is an introduction to the other supporting characters who will either side with Soma or get in his way, as well as the craziness in the school.
The third episode is actually pretty good as it moved to focusing on the cooking itself. as well as the various aspects involved like nutrition, management, and so on. It also shows Soma as the Conor McGregor of cooking — brash and gifted, but also far from the mountaintop at the moment.
The way it handles the conundrums that the main characters have to pull themselves out of is similar to that of Cooking Master Boy, with the protagonist coming up with a surprise solution despite the problems they have come across during cooking courtesy of classmates trying to cheat their way to the top.
What I Like and Don’t Like
It seems this show is aiming to feature the more hectic aspects of the culinary field, especially the intensity and pressure that go with becoming and being a professional cook. It’s something that gets rarely addressed in anime and manga; only the creativity and spectacle of cooking and serving food get showcased for the most part.
These days, reality television kind of do that better, especially with swearing legend Gordon Ramsay showing other chefs how to properly berate a cook for getting something wrong.
If you want to read about a testimony from a cook on the psychological cost of the profession, read this comment thread from Gordon Ramsay’s AMA on Reddit.
Quoting my good friend (who is also a cook), “The burnout is real.” Read more about it in this Facebook thread. He also states that Gordon Ramsay is no one special when it comes to verbal abuse; most chefs are that hard and borderline-abusive towards their cooks anyway. It’s a tough industry, after all.
Showing those rich kids getting kicked out of the terror cooking school hits the point home well enough, as well as the competitive atmosphere that’s fostered within its walls. It does so in a very anime-ish way, but that’s just par for course. But still, the real selling point of this anime is the ecchi-ness of the depictions of delicious food being eaten.
While his archetype is fit for a show like this, Soma’s characterization has been hamfisted so far, with only his prodigious talents to balance it out. However, his efforts in being a good teammate to Megumi — who seems to be quite a bundle of nerves — does show that he may become likable later on.
Perhaps the biggest thing that is keeping me from not liking this series is the inclusion of technical details in the cooking, like the chemistry and physics involved in the process, which means that they’ve been putting their technical adviser to good use.
Is it worth following?
Maybe, if you really are into food and cooking in anime.
Also if you’re into hentai anime bullshit. All the ecchi reactions are not really necessary, but they had to make characters’ reactions to good food outrageous to hit the premise home, as is standard in this sub-genre. Yakitate!! Japan had people going back in time upon tasting a baked good, so it’s not like this show is breaking the scale.
I’ll continue to follow this series to see where it leads (I have not read the manga). The least I can say that it’s quite entertaining on its own, so those who do decide to follow it have no fault.