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Interview - The Creators of Food Wars!

by Jacob Chapman,

After seven years of delicious dishes and bombastic battles, Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma has reached its conclusion, with the anime's fourth and final season set to air this fall. At Crunchyroll Expo, we celebrated the legacy of this hit culinary adventure with anime producer Noriko Dohi, and the manga's original creators, writer Yūto Tsukuda and artist Shun Saeki.

Note: this interview was conducted press-junket style, with journalists from many outlets present to ask questions. "ANN:" precedes the questions asked by our representative.

How much research is done in creating dishes for the manga?

Yūto Tsukuda: Every week, the three of us meet together—myself, Saeki, and our chief editor—and it's always explicitly for research. We talk about a lot of dishes, so we can have an in-stock library of options that we all keep with us. Depending on the storyline, we would go into the materials we had stocked and say "oh yeah, that dish would match this character or that storyline, let's use this one, let's use that one." So sometimes the dishes we have planned for an upcoming story have been in our stock for a year already, and sometimes it'll be something someone found two or three days ago.

ANN: As a producer, what do you think is the most important factor to consider when translating Food Wars!' appeal from manga into anime? What have you learned through that process that you plan to bring to season four?

Noriko Dohi: I believe that the appeal of this show really comes from the culinary battles and the comedy. It's that difference between the serious battles and the comedic side that forms the story's biggest appeal. During the creative process for the anime, I think it's most important to emphasize those two cornerstones. Usually when you're cooking, there isn't anything action-packed about it. You don't see vibrant and lively movements from everyone working on the food, so we really wanted to emphasize that difference in the anime series through the art. For the comedy, we always want to emphasize how cute and cool the characters are, so their sense of humor comes through. Those are the two most important aspects of Food Wars! as an anime. What I've learned from working on this series for a very long time is that the theme of culinary art, or even just food in general, is a major draw for a lot of people all over the world. So I really want to keep going with that energy for this new season too.

What was your mindset heading into the final arc of the manga, and what were some of the challenges you faced when deciding how to end it?

Tsukuda: Of course there's always the concern of "Is it really okay that I did this? Are the readers going to be satisfied with this sort of ending?" What I'm going to talk about now is really spoilery, so I hope everyone has already read through to the end. I've always wanted to end the series with Soma and Erina getting hitched, but it was difficult for me to get to that point naturally in the story. So I had to rewrite it over and over before I could revise it to an ending that I liked. I really hope that all the fans are satisfied with the sort of ending that I reached.

Is there any character in Food Wars! that you wish you could have spent more time with?

Tsukuda: Rindo is a character that I really wanted to explore more deeply. I didn't know she was going to be so popular! To be honest, I really want to write a version of the story where Rindo was the main character, where she's the one battling her way to the top and beating all these other chefs. But obviously, Soma was already the main character, so that kind of storyline wouldn't have been possible at that point.

Soma has a unique confidence that allows him to make connections outside of his social standing. What was the inspiration behind this aspect of his character?

Tsukuda: First of all, I really wanted to create a character that would be a good match for Saeki-sensei's art, the kind of character who could excite women with his culinary skills. I thought that a cool character who girls like would not be all over them, he would be kind of a cool tough boy who does his own thing. I wanted to depict him as someone who's serious about his art. He's focused on cooking instead of being easily distracted by girls. So his cavalier attitude was a result of wanting to make him the kind of character that girls would find appealing.

What was your inspiration behind the creation of the last group of colorful combatants Soma faces in Food Wars!?

Tsukuda: In a shonen series, the final group of enemies is a major familiar trope for writers and readers. There is a popular older cooking manga called Chuuka Ichiban! In that series, there are many unbelievable chefs with superhuman powers. For instance, one character uses an ice-knife for his dishes, and if you touch it, it will give you frostbite. So I wanted to save that superhuman style of character for this important arc.

Soma has been consistently popular in our Anime Trending manga polls, and he even won most popular character of the year. What were your reactions to Soma becoming so popular abroad?

Tsukuda: That's amazing. I've often heard people make comparisons between Goku and Soma. I understand it in that they both aren't afraid to challenge foes who are much stronger than them.

Dohi: I believe Soma's character is the key to the success of this series, just because he's so easy to watch and keeps things lighthearted. Oftentimes, when things get too serious in stories, readers and viewers can be overwhelmed by that heaviness. But with Soma in the mix, it becomes much easier to relax while enjoying the story.

Has creating Food Wars! inspired you to cook more often or with more theatrical flair?

Shun Saeki: I've always enjoyed cooking myself. When I was a student in university, I cooked all the time. But I don't cook at all anymore.

Tsukuda: It's the same for me too. Back when the series was first serialized, I did cook for myself. But when I started getting really busy with the manga, most times I did not want to cook at all or even think about cooking. These days, I'm thinking maybe I should pick it up again!

Dohi: I actually cook for myself often, and when the first season started airing, I would cook each dish that was featured each time and put them on social media. I saw that many fans were loving it, even overseas, and that was really exciting. But when there was an episode about bear meat, for example, that sort of thing I couldn't do.

Tsukuda: It's impressive, because sometimes I had my doubts that any of these dishes could actually be made.

ANN: So did you start this project with the peanut butter and octopus combo?

Dohi: I did indeed.

ANN: Was it edible?

Dohi: It was edible, and I even had Matsuoka-san, the voice of Yukihira Soma, eat it for me.

Tsukuda: I've had the dish as well, and I think the key to the recipe is the peanut butter. The peanut butter you use determines whether it will taste good or not. So long as the peanut butter you choose is not too sweet, it will turn out alright. The texture doesn't make as much difference, but I think the smooth peanut butter would be best.

ANN: When it comes to illustrating "the ecstasy of food" and how good something should taste, what was the greatest challenge you faced in translating a dish into manga?

Saeki: It's really difficult to describe the taste of food purely through drawings and dialogue in manga. This is especially true in terms of spicy flavors, so I would make sure that a character's body language conveyed that detail, emphasizing the sweat breaking out on their face while they described what they were tasting. There are times when I don't even focus on emphasizing the specific taste or flavor of a dish at all, and I'm more interested in the comedic effect that it has on the character as they eat. We really want the readers to laugh at those reactions.

Do you have a favorite reaction scene?

Saeki: Yes, it's Magical Cabbage.

Dohi: Yes, you could ask all of us, and it will always be Magical Cabbage.

Tsukuda: It was modeled after Sailor Moon or especially Precure, and that was all Saeki-sensei's idea. I wanted to show Dojima as a magical girl, and he said "Then let's have five of them!"

Saeki: I've always enjoyed watching transformation sequences in series like Sailor Moon, so I knew that to have a sequence of that striking caliber, we needed several beautiful women. The only problem is that there's a muscular man right in the middle.

ANN: That's gap appeal.

Tsukuda: Yes, exactly. Thank you for appreciating the gap.

Usually, separating the writer and artist is something more associated with Western-style comic books. Is that style of collaboration becoming more common in Japan, and what was the dynamic between the two of you like?

Tsukuda: That's definitely becoming more common now. In the past, it was more common for duos working on manga to be separate rather than working close together, but nowadays, as we have a lot of titles on the market, this type of closer collaboration is becoming more common, with The Promised Neverland and Dr. Stone being other examples. My motivation throughout this whole project came from wanting to demonstrate the greatness of Saeki-sensei's art. That was actually the main point of our project at the outset, so it was always my greatest motivation.

Saeki: For me, I don't have the storytelling power that Tsukuda-sensei has, so it was like this chemical reaction of our good aspects coming together to bring this story to life.

Like a Maillard reaction, when you fry something and it creates a new flavor?

Tsukuda: Definitely like that.

What does the other person in this collaboration do that drives you nuts sometimes?

Tsukuda: I think Saeki-sensei would get pissed off when I'm slow with material.

Saeki: No no, never! There isn't anything that really gets me annoyed with Tsukuda-sensei, because we both have a strong goal of creating something great together. We can always talk to each other because of that passion, and we aren't afraid of letting each other know what we want to do and how we want to do things. That comes from our desire to work as a team and create something worthwhile together.

Was Food Wars! the first time you had collaborated?

Tsukuda: This was the first time we had formally worked together, but I knew about Saeki-sensei from the past because he was my senpai in university. He's always given me pointers and been clear about his goals, because he's a very logical individual. I know that whenever he critiques something or points out a problem that needs to be fixed, it's coming from a logical place and not an emotional perspective. So I take his critiques seriously and understand that they're something I need to work on.

Are you planning on collaborating together again soon?

(Tsukuda and Saeki high five.)

Tsukuda: Yeah, we've been talking about our future plans on this trip.

We'll be looking forward to it. If you could have any of Food Wars!' characters as your personal chef, who would you pick?

Tsukuda: Megumi. Her cuisine is based around home cooking, so it's very peaceful and kind in its flavors. That way, even when I get much older, I don't have to worry about her dishes being too spicy or weird or anything. If I eat something that the other chefs make when I get old, I might die from too much excitement.

Saeki: I actually want more excitement in my life, so maybe Rindo! She will find ways to cook something that I've never had before. I'll actually live longer, because I'll be excited all the time.

Dohi: I would definitely want Kojiro Shinomiya. For one thing, his dishes would be healthy. His food is based heavily in French cuisine, and he uses a lot of vegetables. But for another thing, he's a very sadistic character, so to be able to make him do what I want would be extra-fun for me.

ANN: I feel like that's a very fitting answer for a producer.

Tsukuda: (laughs) Well, no matter who you are, if you hire a personal chef, you would have to tell them very directly what you want.

Saeki: If I can have one more answer, I would also want Mimasaka Subaru. That way, if I'm at a restaurant and I try something I really like, I can just tell him that this is what I want, and he could whip up something just like it on the spot.

Tsukuda: Damn, I didn't think of that.

How do you feel about the series, which is unique in the world of cooking manga, being popular all over the world?

Saeki: I think its popularity is mostly due to Tsukuda's amazing writing skills and character building, but another thing that's important to note is that, compared to many cooking manga that have come and gone, Food Wars! really emphasizes the battle aspect of shonen series, which I think is a unique point in its favor.

Tsukuda: In terms of genre, there are many modern culinary manga for more mature audiences, not shonen but seinen titles. Many of them are enjoyed just to kill time, with very passive storytelling that's meant to be read on the train or while waiting around. But going into the history of culinary manga, there are many shonen titles as well, like Shouta no Sushi, and because this unchanging base of cooking stories in shonen is so easy to access and reference, I think people are still drawn to the concept of dramatic cooking manga.

Dohi: In Japan, it's very common to find culinary manga, so I believe that people will keep loving this kind of story even twenty or thirty years from now.

It stands out to me that the cast of Food Wars! is very international.

Tsukuda: That was very important to me. I wanted the younger readers experiencing this manga to learn about different types of food and culture from different countries. I thought it would be great if kids reading the manga could grow up, travel the world, see unique dishes and remember, "I saw that in Food Wars! when I was a kid."

Kind of like how Slam Dunk influenced basketball?

Tsukuda: Definitely. Kids in Japan didn't even know the rules of basketball before Slam Dunk. I think it's really important for kids to learn something through manga when they're reading it.

Saeki: Because of Slam Dunk, I actually joined the basketball team in my elementary school. Obviously, I didn't stay with it, though.

Tsukuda: I didn't know that!

Saeki: I also played ping pong, and even competed in a regional event.

Has anyone told you that their life has changed or that they look at food differently because of your manga?

Tsukuda: I have gotten letters from fans saying that they wanted to become a chef after reading Food Wars!, and even some letters saying that they had become a chef! It makes me really happy.

What was your favorite recipe in the series and why?

Dohi: I actually asked this of the creative team around the studio, because I knew you guys were probably going to ask that question. From the director to the art director to all around the staff, everyone was excited about rice dishes in particular—we are Japanese, so that's always going to be a point of interest—and out of all the rice dishes, the omurice with the curry risotto inside was definitely one of our favorites to demonstrate in the anime. Of course you can't smell anything from the screen, but to be able to depict the smell bursting out from the omurice when the spoon cuts in was rewarding. That moment was shocking for all of us when we first read it, so we wanted to give it a lively and energetic presentation in the anime.

Tsukuda: For me, it was definitely the midnight laksa curry, the dark and stinky curry made from kusaya, which is a very traditional Japanese dish. I really want to try it myself, to experience that contrast between its overwhelming stinkiness and being so delicious when you actually eat it. Seeing the smell just permeating throughout the hall was interesting.

Saeki: My pick has not appeared in the anime yet, but it's the dish made by Somei Saito, a ruby sushi made of mabuho and tuna. That would definitely be delicious. Just thinking about it now makes me salivate. I love sushi.

ANN: Now that the manga is coming to a close, and the anime isn't far behind, what have been your most memorable experiences along the way?

Tsukuda: You know, now that I think about it, this trip might be the most freeing and fun experience I've had since beginning Food Wars! For seven years now, since starting the project, every single moment of my life, no matter what else I'm doing, I'm always thinking about the manga in the back of my head. So now, it's like I'm trying to remember "What was fun about it?"

Saeki: For me, being serialized in Jump was my ultimate dream. Just knowing that I was able to create a work that continued on for such a long time was a dream come true for me, every single day that Food Wars! was in serialization. So that has become my fondest memory, every day that I got to have a hit in Shonen Jump. It was the second time for Tsukuda, but the first time for me.

Tsukuda: Well, the first time I got serialized in Jump, my manga was cut in 15 weeks, so this was a much better experience. Food Wars! is my first real success.

Dohi: It's a little hard for me to think about memories at this stage, because unlike these two that are done with the project, the anime is still in the heat of production, so I get to go back to Japan after this trip, and there's going to be hell waiting for me. So I can't think of any memories just yet.

Tsukuda: I'm so sorry.

ANN: In that case, what are you most looking forward to sharing with fans in season four?

Dohi: For the fourth season, it will be a direct continuation of the arc from the third season, so we're hoping that fans will appreciate how the characters have all grown since then.

Is there someone special in your life who inspired your love of cooking?

Dohi: My parents. My father is a chef. I would just watch my father's back as he cooked for us every time, and I grew to appreciate the happiness that comes from making something for others and sharing it with them.

Tsukuda: I didn't know your father was a chef, either! What did he specialize in?

Dohi: French-style cuisine.

Tsukuda: I'm learning so many new things in this interview.

Saeki: For me, it was my father as well. Many parents like to cook things that are simple for their kids that they can easily enjoy, like hamburg steak, but when I was a kid, my father was really into cooking with unusual ingredients, like sea urchin. He liked to cook things that paired well with alcohol, since he would drink with his dinner, and when I was little, he would give me a taste of these more grown-up dishes he'd made for himself. So my father had a big impact on my love of diverse foods and wanting to try different kinds of flavors.

Tsukuda: I lived in a small town in Fukuoka prefecture as a child, until I was in high school. When I went to university in Osaka, it was my first time living in a big city, so there were many types of different food to experience, and the variety came as a shock to me. It allowed me to realize that my mom's home cooking was truly unique, as a meal only she could create that was enjoyed exclusively in my own home. It helped me realize a difference in my palate and the tastes and flavors I could enjoy.

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