Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma
by Rebecca Silverman,
While Food Wars has its issues, primarily in the area of outdated portrayals of female sexuality and an excess of the foodgasm, there is one thing it is difficult to deny – it does a great job with tension. Since the story follows Soma Yukihira, the son of a Tokyo restaurateur, in his cooking travails, which often involve him proving his worth with his cooking skills, this is a pretty important detail to get right. In episode one, we see him facing off against an unscrupulous land shark intent on shutting the family business down and in episode two he must impress Erina Nakiri, possessor of the so-called “god tongue” in order to gain admittance into the prestigious Totsuki, a world-class cooking academy. In both cases Soma's fate hangs by a thread with his future riding on the women's decisions, and even if we can guess how both battles will turn out, there's still a real sense of worry as Soma preps and serves his food.
In the simplest terms, Food Wars is the cooking equivalent of a sports show, with the creation of delicious dishes taking the place of winning hits. At fifteen, Soma is already a highly talented cook who just wants to take over his father's restaurant, Yukihira. To that end he does battle with the land shark to save it, but his dad says that he must graduate from Totsuki if he really wants to succeed, both in the business and in surpassing his old man. The problem? Totsuki only has a 10% graduation rate. To further compound the issues, Soma's entrance exam is administered by the aforementioned Erina, a nasty piece of work with an overinflated sense of her own importance.
I'll be perfectly honest in saying that I dislike few characters as much I do Erina. She's an entitled snob who lacks any understanding of her own humanity and has a tendency to think the world can be rearranged to suit her, regardless of the effect on other people. All of that does explain how badly Soma gets under her skin in the second episode, when he challenges her sense of superiority by attempting to make her acknowledge that not all food must appear to be haute cuisine in order to be good and showing her that she can't push everyone around. Given that this comes after she has randomly redesigned the exam because she can't be bothered to waste her precious time administering it, it isn't hard to see why he acts the way he does. On the other hand, but being so aggressive with Erina, he backs her into a corner, and like any cornered animal, she lashes out as best she can; in this case with her power. The two are oil and water, and much as Erina annoys me, it is still clear that there's a dynamic between the two that could be interesting to watch develop.
Unfortunately the show's use of the foodgasms present in the manga the anime is based on make use of a very dated idea of female sexuality. Both men and women experience the extreme pleasure of eating Soma's cooking, but men are shown as reveling in it, while women appear to be experiencing it against their wills. In part this could be explained by the fact that neither the land shark nor Erina want to admit that the food is any good, but that doesn't explain Soma's female friend. There's also an uncomfortable molestation element as well, with an over-the-top tentacle rape scene when the friend eats something spectacularly bad and with tons of chibi Somas descending upon an unwilling Erina and caressing her with angel feathers while she squirms and says no. While both of these scenes are present in the manga (and I just rechecked after watching), neither are as explicit as in the anime, so it appears the the foodgasms have been given an increased emphasis in this version. That may ultimately make or break this show for some viewers; while they do significantly tone down in the manga, that may not turn out to be the case for the anime.
Visually this does look decent, although it's really at its best when food is involved. Bodies can get weird looking and there are some size issues in episode one and on-model issues with episode two, but the food is consistently mouthwatering. Since it is a food show, it's semi-excusable that the most effort would have been put into the meals, but the rest of the episode can suffer when there's no foodstuff present. (And yes, even the ingredients look delicious.) It is worth mentioning that most of the recipes are given in the manga, so you can glance at that to enjoy Soma's cooking at home.
Food Wars, while maintaining relative faith to the source material (although we've gone through almost the whole first volume in two episodes), has some definite problems that could make it hard for viewers unfamiliar with the manga to get to the point where the story really takes off. If you just stay in it for the food, you may have an easier time, but other aspects really are either sub-par or over-the-top. If you're on the fence, I'd suggest just glancing over these reviews – if and when it gets to the addictive point of the manga, it may take a little longer than some can stomach.
Rebecca Silverman is ANN's senior manga critic.
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