The Fall 2019 Anime Preview Guide
True Cooking Master Boy
How would you rate episode 1 of
True Cooking Master Boy ?
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How was the first episode?
The “based on a manga” tag on this one warrants some further explanation, as the manga in question actually dates to the late '90s. The source manga was previously adapted into a series called just Cooking Master Boy in '97-'98, and it's my understanding that this series is a sequel to that one rather than a remake. However, based on the first episode, I don't think that any familiarity with the first anime series is going to be necessary to understand and follow this one, as this is a very straightforward story whose particulars can be picked up on very quickly.
The main thing that franchise newcomers are going to miss is an explanation for how Shirou and Mei came to be traveling with Mao. (Establishing this is part of the first series.) However, a pair of companions that include a pretty girl and a scrappy boy is about as standard a situation as they come for classic journey stories, so the details don't matter much. One person who looks like he's going to be a recurring character is explained sufficiently enough by flashbacks, as is why Mao is out journeying in the first place, so that negates any other concerns about set-up. With no hint of an overall plot yet, this is just a typical episodic encounter in a journey story; the only difference is that cooking is integrally involved in the encounters in this one.
The story here is also pretty standard in format: Mao and crew come into a new town and there's a cooking-related problem to be solved involving an unusual type of food – in this case chickens. To turn things around, Mao has to use his supreme culinary skills in order to produce a show-stopper of a dish that's going to win a contest and redeem a disgraced person. This involves all the normal over-the-top reactions to the quality of the food and a detailed explanation of how Mao pulled off his incredible dish, as well as a gimmick revelation about what's so special about the chickens. It's all corny and ridiculous, but it does muster a certain degree of sincere charm and the dish sounds good enough that I'd like to try it myself. Character designs are a throwback to a somewhat older style but the production has the full sheen of a late 2010s title.
On the whole, if you normally like anime cooking series then you'll probably like this one. Despite decent technical merits, I don't see it having much appeal beyond that audience.
Cooking Master Boy may not be as exciting as Food Wars, but I feel safe in saying that the latter couldn't have come to be had the former not paved the way. Treading a strange path between being a reboot and a sequel, this first episode is a little hard to get into, mostly because it's very clear that we've been plunked down in the middle of an ongoing story. Luckily by the end of the half-hour it's fairly obvious what happened to precede the events related here; Mao suffered some sort of familial horror involving his family's restaurant, got a special cookbook, and won a major competition to be named the youngest ever Super Chef. Now he and the two companions he apparently picked up along the way roam China…cooking? Searching for new recipes? Using Mao's powers for good instead of evil? Okay, that part's a little unclear, but it feels like the specifics of what they're doing don't actually matter all that much.
The storyline of this (re)introduction isn't complex in itself, and it does feature an interesting plot about silkies, a specific breed of chicken native to China and boasting an ancient pedigree. Silkies, so called because of the texture of their feathers, which really are soft, have a few unusual characteristics, one of which is their black or dark blue skin. In the context of the episode, that gets the birds labeled “chickens of ill fortune,” because the combination of a series of coincidences and people not understanding the breed leads to that being the easiest conclusion for the ignorant. Mao's job is not to just win a cooking contest, but rather to also show the townsfolk that just because the silkies don't look like other chickens, that doesn't make them bad, evil, or nasty tasting. For a family show, which this could easily be, that's not an awful message, and using cooking to do it gives Cooking Master Boy a different approach than GeGeGe no Kitarō, which also uses adventures to make points about life.
Apart from the family show appeal or the interest in the provenance of the cooking anime, however, there probably isn't a whole lot that will make this a must-watch for most viewers. It isn't exciting visually (except maybe the chicken judges), the action is fairly calm when compared to more modern fare, and even the China-of-the-past setting doesn't really do much to enhance the experience. It's a serviceable episode, and that's really about all that can be said.
Based on a manga that was originally released throughout the '90s, True Cooking Master Boy is actually the second adaptation of this manga, though it's been over twenty years since its first adaptation. Perhaps that is why this episode in part feels like the sequel to a season we didn't actually watch, full of confident flashbacks to earlier parts of Liu Maoxing's rise to culinary excellence. Either way, it's easy enough to follow this premiere, mostly because it hews so closely to shonen cooking drama conventions.
True Cooking Master Boy centers on Liu Maoxing, or Mao, a boy in 19th century China who's the youngest to earn the title “Super Chef.” Roaming around the country with his companions Meili and Shirao, Mao seems sort of like a masterless samurai, who instead of directly fighting for the people, lends them his aid through his culinary powers. Here in this premiere, he ends up helping a woman named Tiya learn to see the beauty of her brother's black-feathered chickens, winning a local cooking competition along the way.
My prevailing impression of this episode was “formulaic but sturdy.” The narrative here feels precisely like the kind of episodic feel-good story you might find in any long-running shonen adventure, a palate cleansing vignette of the sort that tends to slot in between longer arcs. The dialogue isn't piercing, but it's perfectly functional, and the episode moves well through familiar dramatic beats. Perhaps most importantly, the competition sequence was quite entertaining, and Mao's ultimate dish nailed the combination of “how will that win” setup and “oh, of course he won” payoff core to the genre's appeal.
True Cooking Master Boy's visual execution is similarly reliable and unobtrusive. The show has fairly limited animation, but attractive character designs, and I particularly like the unique style of lighting used for the folds of characters' clothes and hair. On the whole, True Cooking Master Boy feels polished yet unexceptional; it's a reasonably executed cooking adventure, but lacks any sort of it factor that might help it stand out for non-genre enthusiasts.
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