Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 30th 2013
DVD 1-2 - Part 4
Toriko is a renowned Gourmet Hunter, traveling the world in search of exotic animals and plants that can be turned into even more exotic dishes. His sidekick, the pint-sized chef Komatsu, has finally mastered a once-in-a-lifetime dish called Century Soup—and Toriko doesn't want to miss the tasting! Later on, Toriko heads off on more grub-hunting adventures: he helps out a rich restaurateur whose closest friend has lost his appetite, then takes to the skies to find an airborne vegetable called ozone grass. Toriko and Komatsu will need all their skills just to survive the hazards of high-altitude exploration. After another successful capture, Toriko thinks he's finally strong enough to take on the mysterious wilderness known as the Gourmet World. However, the only thing Toriko discovers in the Gourmet World is the limits of his own strength!
Toriko's fourth block of episodes is the most balanced one yet: it's got action, exploration, world-building, personal bonding, and of course eating—all in reasonable amounts. It avoids the bad habits of past story arcs, where journeys would run on too long, or battles would turn into bloated one-on-one tournaments. No quest runs longer than three episodes in this set of twelve, so there's always something new just around the corner. However, the cheap production values and lack of story depth keep this series from becoming anything more than light, campy entertainment.
In fact, the first few episodes are as light as they come: a cheerful wrap-up of the Century Soup arc, a one-off where Toriko gets his house of sweets rebuilt (with delicious but predictable results), and a two-part story where Toriko and his buddies try to help feed a picky eater. That last one actually has a heartwarming tale of friendship behind it, but the ease of the mission makes it a rather forgettable experience in the grand scheme of things.
The quest for ozone grass is the real centerpiece here, as it brings together several elements that the series does well. First comes the world-building—Toriko meets with the president of the IGO (International Gourmet Organization), who shares some valuable tidbits about the history and practice of Gourmet Hunting. Then comes exploration on top of the world-building, as Toriko and Komatsu seek out a fantastical meadow in the sky, and must brave turbulent high-altitude weather to get there. (Funny how this series always sneaks in some well-researched science amidst all the crazy ideas.) Finally, this story arc delivers a touching message about the power of friendship, as Toriko and Komatsu must trust completely in each other in order to extract the ozone grass. Plus, just for good measure, an unsolved mystery is left behind for later.
The next adventure that follows—Toriko's foray into the Gourmet World—is pure, unapologetic bombast, with harsh wilderness conditions and ridiculous beasts that Toriko can barely fend off with his powers. However, a sudden change of plans leaves the promise of this arc unfulfilled, even though Toriko does learn a meaningful life lesson along the way. Thus, the final episode in this set marks the start of yet another quest—as if the series has now become afraid of getting too involved in a single story arc. It's great that new ideas keep pouring out, but the constant use of the "Go there, defeat this, eat that" formula, in such short bursts, leads to shallow storytelling.
The visuals, too, are a mixed bag of good and bad qualities: creative in concept, but poor in execution. The numerous foods, plants, and creatures—some of which are fan-created—are sure to tickle the imagination, while the outlandish character designs (surely the IGO president isn't Stan Lee?) are just as inventive. Bright, saturated colors and mind-boggling landscapes also add to the whimsical quality of the Gourmet universe. However, the choppy animation often fails to do justice to these artistic ideas—at its worst, it looks as if the staff is struggling just to get the character designs right. Computer-generated effects are another weakness, as liquid droplets and textured patterns often look so fake that they will fool absolutely no one. Fight scenes are about the only area where the animation fares well, relying on exaggerated poses and quick (but not always smooth) movements to convey a sense of action.
Another disappointment is the canned music that pops up throughout the show. Most action scenes are accompanied by stale, synthesizer-produced tracks, set at low volumes to mask their mediocrity. More emotionally nuanced moments usually come with a string-orchestra backing, which does a better job of setting the mood but still doesn't stand out very much. In the end, the power-packed opening theme—the same as it's been since the series began, and deservedly so—remains the lone highlight of Toriko's soundtrack.
Now that the voice actors have settled well into their roles, the English dub maintains a consistent tone with past episodes. Over-the-top characters call for over-the-top performances, and that's where Ian Sinclair (Toriko) and his crew succeed—yes, even with the intentionally terrible puns. The voice actors also dig into the audio commentaries (Episodes 40, 42 and 46) with passion, often waxing lyrical about their latest kitchen and restaurant escapades in between discussing the actual show. The Episode 42 commentary even goes one step further, showing the cast having a potluck dinner with Toriko-inspired dishes while viewing the episode. Fandom doesn't get much more interactive than that.
As Toriko presses on toward the 50-episode mark, the series stays focused on its core concept: strange worlds, deadly beasts, spectacular food, and the intrepid adventurers who seek all these things out. The current storyline avoids the trap of endless battle, and moves briskly from one adventure to the next. However, there are no deeper layers of intrigue to uncover, no clever twists lying in wait ... just the same formula repeated over and over. Cheaply produced animation and music also give the impression that the series is coasting along, letting the wild ideas and crazy characters carry it. That might work for a while, but Toriko is still a few ingredients short of a full-course meal.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : D
Art : B
Music : C
+ New worlds, new challenges, and new foods provide an endless supply of entertainment.
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