Interview: Food Wars author Yuto Tsukuda

by Rebecca Silverman,

Cooking manga and anime have become their own genre, but the ongoing Food Wars! Shoukugeki no Soma is inarguably one of the top titles in recent years. With a third anime season upcoming, Yūto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki's competitive cooking manga has garnered praise for its art, its characters, and its fast-paced story, to say nothing of the delicious-looking dishes prepared by the characters. It's also author Yūto Tsukuda's first major series – previously he wrote and illustrated the two volume soccer manga Shounen Shikku and he has also written the three chapter Ao no Rettou, which is about ski jumping. The shift from sports to food might not have been something he foresaw, but it's certainly worked out well – the manga is translated into multiple languages, including Polish, English, and Chinese and consistently tops charts in its native Japan.

The story of Food Wars follows Soma Yukihira, the son of a family restauranteur (who turns out to be much more than his son ever knew) as he enrolls in the prestigious Totsuki Academy, a bastion of snobbery and haute cuisine. None of Soma's new classmates expect him to succeed, only to be blown away by not only Soma's skill, but by his attitude – Soma doesn't care who you are or where you're from, he's just there to improve his cooking. Combining a sports series aesthetic with interesting dishes (some of which you can make at home with the included recipes), Food Wars is fun in both anime and manga versions with a hero it's easy to get behind and an engaging variety of foods and characters.

We sat down with series writer Yūto Tsukuda at Anime Expo to talk with him about how he and Saeki work together and the challenges of writing the story.


SHOKUGEKI NO SOMA © 2012 by Yūto Tsukuda, Shun Saeki /Shueisha, Inc.

ANN: Food Wars! is your only manga to revolve around cooking – both of your other stories deal with physical sports, such as soccer and skiing. What made you decide to use cooking as your theme with this one?

Yūto Tsukuda: Actually this is the brainchild of Saeki-sensei, the manga artist. He came up with the idea of a girl eating food, and she expresses herself about the food with “ecstasy”. Of course, Saeki-sensei is a manga artist, he wants to focus on drawing manga. He needed someone to come up with the story itself, so that's when I got the call.

He was actually a year ahead of me in college – I already knew him. Once the idea came to me, it all went really smoothly since we all knew each other.

As far as cooking manga, there are many well-known predecessors – Oishinbo, Mister Ajikko, for example, so challenging myself to tackle that manga theme was actually a lot of fun.

Even though cooking is technically not a sport, do you see similarities in competitive cooking (like cooking shows) and sports? Did you deliberately write the shokugeki in the story to bring sports competitions to mind? Would you call Food Wars! a sports-style manga?

The first editor for Food Wars! mentioned that it's hard to put a number on food, like a score, so it's hard to put it in the context of competitive sports. For example, you'll have judges for figure skating, but when it comes to food, it's completely subjective. One person might say it's good, the next bad.

Sports competitions came to mind only when we were working on the Stagiaire part of the manga. When the customers sit at the table that's when it starts, so it's time-based, you're looking at the clock. So in that instance it was little more sports-oriented.

Morisaka-san, who is our food consultant, says “food is sports” because it's physical.


SHOKUGEKI NO SOMA © 2012 by Yūto Tsukuda, Shun Saeki /Shueisha, Inc.

How involved are you as a writer with the illustrations? Do you feel like having a different artist do the pictures gives you more time to focus on the story itself?

At the beginning, I would give ideas to Saeki-sensei, and he'd give me ideas too. It was a flow of information back and forth. Now at this point, Saeki-sensei, the current editor Ueno-san, the three of us will discuss the story as much as possible. Saeki-sensei and I have mutual respect for each other's work. Saeki-sensei will give me input sometimes, and I'll look at his drafts and give him input, but the only suggestions I give these days are tiny little details like “can you add a little sweatdrop here?” or “can you add a little anger mark here?”. Little stuff like that.

There have actually been times where I wouldn't have been able to finish the chapter without Saeki-sensei's input, so in that sense, there would be no Food Wars! without Saeki-sensei.

Do you have a favorite cooking style or culture's food? If you couldn't eat Japanese food, what would you want to eat most of the time? (Chinese, Indian, Mexican, etc…)

I don't even want to think about it! The answer is Japanese <laughs>. Right now I'm really in to Thai food, dishes with cilantro in particular. I'm also into Italian food, because there are so many variations of seafood. I love beer – so anything that goes well with beer, like a burger.

There was once – I was on a trip to France, about 3-4 years ago and there was a food convention going on. Up until then I was eating French food, since I was in France <laughs>. So I go to this food convention thinking “I'm cool with French food” but at this convention they're handing out dried bonito flakes – traditionally used for the beginning of a broth. One bite of this dried fish and I'm thinking “oh, Japanese food is so great!” So I was like “I'm fine without Japanese food!” but who was I kidding?


SHOKUGEKI NO SOMA © 2012 by Yūto Tsukuda, Shun Saeki /Shueisha, Inc.

It is sometimes said that the heart of a house is the kitchen. Do you think that's true? What role do you think food plays in our lives? Is it one you try (or are going to try) to incorporate into Food Wars!?

Home-cooked meals becomes more meaningful after you grow up and leave. When you're living at home, you're in a protected environment, it's all you know – but once you're out on your own, that's when they take on a different meaning. When you grow up, you're exposed to different communities, different friends – I think that's also when you add a layer to your identity and it recontexualizes the food you used to eat at home.

This is a good question because for Soma, his whole world is the restaurant – but once he leaves, that's when he starts to understand. Now he has a base of comparison for the restaurant. It gets at the core of what Food Wars! is.

How was it decided that Shinomiya would be the character to get his own spin-off manga? If you could pick any other character to have their own manga, who would it be? Why? (And will we ever see a Magical Cabbage Girls manga based on that one reaction?)

Food Wars! has already been novelized under the Jump j Books imprint in Japan, whose editors are on the same floor as the Weekly Shonen Jump editors. We were asked “hey, we really want to have this spinoff with Shinomiya at the center of it” by j Books. So this very imaginative boss at j Books says “we can novelize the Shinomiya spinoff and then make manga from it!”

As for the last part – if the fans want it, then the upper echelons might move on it! If there's demand!


SHOKUGEKI NO SOMA © 2012 by Yūto Tsukuda, Shun Saeki /Shueisha, Inc.

How do you come up with the food tasting reactions? Do you think about how the dish would make you feel, or is it more a question of what will make the most impact for the readers or be the funniest?

What we go through is the equivalent of a word-inspiration game. One person says a word, then the next person says a word inspired by that word. We do that often when the three of us are discussing the story. For example, with Takumi Aldini's dish, he made a duck dish, that was expressed by this tenor wearing a duck costume. So that went from “Italian... Opera... Pavarotti... La traviata… Turandot… Nessun Dorma…”, et cetera. it's like a free-association game. That's our process, that's how we create the reactions you see in the manga. Out of those words we throw out, we choose the ones that are unexpected, but where the fans might understand our thinking.

There's a lot of debate online as to who is better for Soma (or just better in general) – Megumi or Erina. Do you like one of the characters better than the other? Did you deliberately set them up as opposites for romantic reasons or to show how Soma treats everyone equally?

So there was a secondary theme of “yes, let's see who Soma's girlfriend or future wife would be”, but as the story's been going along we realize Soma's personality – he doesn't understand romance. He only focuses on cooking. That was the original intent, but we've been derailed from that since.

Personally, I was originally more on the Megumi side, but as I've been writing more for Erina, I've been drawn to her more. So I couldn't really say.

I hadn't really thought about the way that illustrates Soma treating everyone equally – but now that you mention it, it is part of his personality!


SHOKUGEKI NO SOMA © 2012 by Yūto Tsukuda, Shun Saeki /Shueisha, Inc.

Did you decide where characters are from in order to more easily incorporate different regional dishes and ingredients? (Megumi from the north, the Aldini brothers from Italy…)

As I mentioned before, yeah, they have this role of stimulating Soma, since he's going outside his own little world. It's partially to stimulate his character. Also, in Japan, most of my readers range from middle-school to college, so I am hoping to introduce these dishes so later on in life they might say “oh! I remember that dish, it was featured in Food Wars!” I would be happy to see that.

You wrote the three-chapter Ao no Rettou during Food Wars!’ serialization. Was it a challenge to do the two concurrently? Or was it a nice break to write about different characters in a new setting?

I'm surprised and happy you know Ao no Rettou! When I was working on Food Wars!, I kinda hit a road block. The previous editor, Mr. Nakaji, encouraged me to take a little break and pursue a different story. “Why don't you just do a one-off?” but I had more ideas and I wound up writing part two. Then, he told me while I was working on part 2, “if you have more ideas, why don't you write part three?” It was originally supposed to be just one part, but I kept writing. Mr. Nakaji pretty much knows how to manipulate me, so that's how Ao no Rettou came to be <laughs>.

Is there any topic you'd like to write a manga about someday?

I'd like to write a manga where someone dies. Nobody dies in Food Wars!.

Anyone specific?

<laughs> I haven't thought about what kind of person, but I do want to do something different from Food Wars!.

Thank you so much for your time. Do you have anything you'd like to tell your English-language readers?

When I started Food Wars! I didn't think anyone outside of Japan would pick it up. So personally, until I started working on Food Wars!, I hadn't even been outside the country. I'm very thankful for my international audience – they're part of my community now. I'm exposed to more people and more cultures, and that will influence how I write Food Wars. Please continue to enjoy the Food Wars! universe!

Big thanks to Viz Media and Anime Expo for the opportunity.


discuss this in the forum (12 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

Interview homepage / archives