The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide Today's Menu for the Emiya Family
How would you rate episode 1 of
Today's Menu for Emiya Family (ONA) ?
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How was the first episode?
In a season loaded with slice-of-life series, this 13-minute offering would possibly be the most benign and mundane of the pack if not for the fact that its cast would ordinarily be involved in a story that's anything but benign or mundane. Imagine if the cast of Game of Thrones or Marvel's Agents of SHIELD suddenly switched to participating in a sedate cooking show.
But rather than playing as an outlandish comedy skit, this first episode is executed very matter-of-fact, as if this is the everyday routine in a peaceful version of the setting instead of some crazy alternate world for its characters. Shirou and Saber go out shopping, come home, and Shirou cooks dinner while Saber, Taiga, and Illya luxuriate under the kotatsu. We see flashes of other characters, but not the slightest hint of danger; some of the other Servants from Fate/stay night are shown dressed in aprons or street clothes and cooking as well, which suggests that Emiya isn't going to be the only one preparing meals. If any battles go on in this series, I suspect that they will be more of the cook-off variety.
This is technically a series for fans of the Fate franchise, as we also see brief glimpses of Rin, Sakuya, Shinji, and several other prominent characters, but that looks to be more of a bonus for franchise fans. Based on this episode at least, I don't think you need to be all that familiar with the franchise in order to follow this, since it's really a cooking show more aimed toward foodies at heart. Shirou carefully takes us through the procedures for making Toshikoshi soba as well as elaborating on its symbolic meaning as a traditional New Year's dish, and I'm guessing both will be a staple for the series. Mix in a little light humor and some irony for franchise fans who get to see characters not in their normal roles, and you have a pleasant little series here.
So don't let your familiarity with the franchise determine whether or not you should watch this. Instead, base your decision on how well you tolerate food prep shows. As those go, this one isn't bad.
I'll admit, my personal threshold for sappy slice-of-life had more or less reached its limit by the time Today's Menu for Emiya Family premiered, but I remained cautiously optimistic for a couple of reasons. The first being that I just recently (only a couple of weeks ago) finished Ufotable's adaptation of Fate/Stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, and I really enjoyed it. While I still remain a newbie to the Fate franchise overall, I had no reason to think a cutesy short series would be any worse for featuring the cast of the mega-popular multimedia extravaganza. Though I may personally prefer Shirou's relationship with Rin Tosaka, I can get behind some cute Shirou/Saber shenanigans as well, especially when said shenanigans revolve around cooking.
This leads me to the next reason for being intrigued by Today's Menu for Emiya Family. I love cooking, so I was rather delighted to see the short go so in-depth with Shirou's recipe and cooking process for preparing Toshikoshi Soba. Not only do we get to see Shirou prepare the both and the main ingredients of the dish, but we even get a look at his rather stellar plating and presentation skills. The normal Shirou might be known for his homemaking skills, but this version of the character could very well pursue a career as a professional chef.
Despite also being produced by ufotable, this short series also uses a softer and brighter art style, which is much more suited to the combination of the show's laid-back atmosphere and its desire to show off some saucy animated food porn. Even if Today's Menu didn't feature Fate's likable cast all hanging out to eat delicious food, I would be on board with the show for the delectable main courses alone. The scenes that don't focus on cooking are also well directed, and while the material isn't necessarily laugh out loud funny, it's nice just to see Saber, Shirou, and Illya enjoying a life that's a little less hectic than the ones we're used to.
At thirteen minutes, this series hits a sweet spot for balancing its runtime with gentle, soothing storytelling. For new and old fans of the Fate franchise, it offers a relaxing reprieve from the usual kinds of stories we find these characters fighting through, which is reason enough to check it out. Even if you don't know anything about Fate though, Today's Menu for Emiya Family is a well-produced iyashikei short for anyone who enjoys watching delicious food being made (even if it is two-dimensional). Regardless of whether or not you've had your fill of slice-of-life shows this Winter, I'd recommend saving a little room and checking this one out.
I think if I had a lower tolerance for cooking shows I might have rated this at a “2,” because there really isn't a whole lot going on here. Fully three-quarters of this thirteen-minute episode is taken up by either Shirou explaining food or walking us through its preparation, so if you don't care about how he makes broth, it could be pretty dull. On the other hand, if you share my weird fascination for how other cultures make similar foods, it's kind of neat – my family always makes broth by boiling down a carcass (chicken or turkey, generally) and then adding beans, rice, or barley, so seeing that Shirou's soup broth involved kelp and sake is interesting.
That said, it does feel a bit too on-the-nose to have him narrate every single step in the process while Saber, Fuji-nee, and Ilya all nap under the kotatsu, mostly because the opening moments of the episode set things up for him to be specifically teaching Saber about Japanese dishes, especially the symbolic ones. Given that when he brings the meal to the table he launches into an explanation of why this particular dish is eaten on New Year's Eve, it would have made a lot more sense for Saber to have been cooking with him, although it's not impossible to assume that she was simply listening in from the dining room. Unusually for a foodie show, there aren't any major reactions to eating the meal (even from Fuji-nee, the character it could be most reasonably expected from), which I did like; it made the whole thing feel much cozier and more like a genuine family meal.
Fate/Stay night fans may find themselves trying to place this within the greater continuity of the series/franchise, which may be a slight annoyance if you can't stop yourself from doing so. Pretty much all of the masters and servants from the original are present (with Rider being Sakura's servant) and no one seems to be fighting, so this is obviously an alternate universe, albeit not as “alternate” as something like Prisma Ilya. It's basically just a sweet little cooking show with some emotional fanservice (especially for Saber x Shirou shippers) and relatively simple animation. It's cute and charming but doesn't necessarily look like it wants to be anything else – and right now, that seems just fine.
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