Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
DVD - Collection 1
It is the Gourmet Age, a time long after our own replete with foods the likes of which we can only imagine. These new ingredients require special techniques to capture and highly specialized cooking with precise equipment, giving rise to a group of people known as Gourmet Hunters. Among those there are four known as the Four Kings, one of whom is Toriko. Komatsu, a chef at Hotel Gourmet, meets up with Toriko and the two form a fast friendship. Together they travel the gourmet world, seeking new and delicious foods as Toriko strives to compile his own perfect Full Course Menu of Life!
Garfield – the cat, not the president – once said, “If I couldn't eat, I'd just die.” While that was the punchline of a strip, it is essentially the basis of the anime series Toriko, based on the manga of the same name by Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro. This collection of the first two DVD releases of Toriko (episodes 1 – 26) are an easy way to get into the zaniness that is the story of manly men and the food they love, and if it isn't thought-provoking or even particularly intelligent, it is a lot of fun in the Shounen Jump tradition and worth checking out if you missed it before.
The story follows two disparate men – Toriko, the alpha male of the man pack, and Komatsu, a normal-looking guy who is the head chef at an esteemed restaurant. The two meet up by chance when in pursuit of an important ingredient and quickly form a lasting friendship. Komatsu admires Toriko's skill and knowledge about the creatures and plants of the Gourmet World, while Toriko is a big fan of Komatsu's cooking and the lengths he'll go to in order to procure ingredients. In fact, as the series goes on, Komatsu's guts earn him a lot of admiration (and protection) from other world-class Gourmet Hunters, all of whom are impressed that this little guy with no fighting skills whatsoever is willing to risk his neck in pursuit of food. This does get to the point where the show almost takes on a reverse harem vibe with the three Kings we've met so far taking turns and pride in protecting Komatsu...and in the case of Sunny, getting a little cranky when someone beats him to the punch.
The English dub certainly helps with this, as there are some innuendos slipped in here and there. The all-out glee with which the dub actors play their roles is what really makes it stand out, however – everyone sounds like they're having a lot of fun (something the commentaries support), and by and large all of the voices are a good match to the original Japanese cast. There are a few cases where each vocal track does something better than the other, the most notable being that Josh Grelle's Komatsu feels much more suited to the character than Romi Park's. Even as a fan of Park's, her Komatsu sounds too female. On the other hand, the two major women in the cast, Rin and Tina, are somewhat less screechy in the sub than the dub, decreasing their annoyance factor. Neither are especially great characters, unfortunately – this really is a man show in the sense that most of the characters are male, with Rin and Tina feeling a bit thrown in in a sad effort to even things out. What is more interesting about them is their differing interests in Toriko: Rin's is clearly romantic, while Tina just really wants to get a good news story out of him.
This sort of varied interest in something is present in several aspects of the show, with the most striking being the differences between how Toriko and the series' good guy organization, the IGO, view hunting versus how the bad guy group, the Gourmet Corps, does. For the former, hunting is something done solely for food: animals are simply “knocked” (rendered unconscious) if possible and obtaining an animal product is always referred to as “capturing” rather than killing. Toriko thanks the animals and plants for their lives before consuming them, making it about surviving in the tastiest way possible rather than something done for sport. The Gourmet Corps, on the other hand, does take pleasure in killing, sometimes just hunting an animal for fun and then not eating it. It feels very much like the difference between sport hunting and hunting to make it through the winter, and this difference is what helps to make the show fun rather than distasteful. (It may help more sensitive viewers to keep in mind that I come from a state where hunting for winter food is the norm.) It also provides a very clear line between Good and Bad, which does speak to the intended youthful audience of the series.
There's a sort of vintage 90s feeling to the animation and the designs of these episodes, and that does work for its over-the-top sense of action and adventure. While there are quieter, poignant moments, such as when Toriko takes in Terry, his battle wolf pup, or when Rin is gravely wounded, the general air is of manic action, and the bright colors and bold lines work for that. Unfortunately it is significantly less visually interesting than Shimabukuro's original manga, with fewer weird animals and slightly streamlined designs. The opening theme – which you can hear part of the dub cast “sing” in the final commentary, which is worth listening to – is very reminiscent of Dragon Ball music, enhancing the older shounen vibe of the show.
Toriko's first twenty-six episodes cover a lot of ground in terms of both story and world exploration, and on the whole are just a lot of fun. In some ways this series is the antithesis of the “cute girls doing cute things in cute ways” genre – it's about manly men doing manly things in the most masculine way possible, and that's part of its particular charm. Deceptively engrossing and often humorous, these episodes will leave you craving at least three different kinds of food – and that's almost enough to make you overlook the less exciting or more annoying parts, making this show a decent amount of fun.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Joyfully enthusiastic English dub, fast-paced story and plenty of world-building. Nice package design. Some interesting animals and plants...
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