Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 20th 2013
DVD Set Part 1 & Part 2
The world is in the midst of the Gourmet Age, a time when people are discovering and devouring incredible new foods. But these dishes are often made from dangerous, hard-to-find animals and plants—hence the rise of a new breed of hero, the Gourmet Hunter. One such Gourmet Hunter is Toriko, who freely explores the wilderness in search of world-class delicacies. One day Toriko is joined by pint-sized Komatsu, a chef for the IGO (International Gourmet Organization) whose culinary knowledge is as prodigious as Toriko's strength and appetite. Together they go in search of Gararagators, Puffer Whales, Regal Mammoths, Century Soup, and other rare but delicious creations. However, a sinister organization called the Gourmet Corp. wants control over the world's greatest foods—and they've even sent out killer robots to get in the way of Toriko and friends. Who will win in this quest for gourmet supremacy?
Toriko delivers exactly what it promises, which is both a blessing and curse for the series. The show cranks itself up to 11 and then never changes the setting, ensuring that everything will be as big as possible and next episode it'll be even bigger. If Toriko slays a 50-foot beast today, next week it'll be 70 feet. If he finishes a hundred plates of food in one sitting, then for his next meal he'll have two hundred. In short, Toriko plays the game of endless escalation, but fails to do anything else—and that lack of "anything else" is why it disappoints as much as it delights.
Here's what Toriko does right: world-building, sense of scale, and keeping its characters running around on an endless supply of energy. It starts with simple monster-of-the-week episodes to introduce what the titular hero does, then throws more and more challenges at him until the adventures expand to several episodes in length. The series more than fulfills the action quota with Toriko and his allies' outlandish displays of power, while his massive appetite sets up plenty of comedy moments. Yet it's the details of this exaggerated world that really showcase the series' creativity: every deadly beast and plant, for example, is introduced with a profile describing its "capture level" and why it's so good to eat. Other times, the characters step back to discuss the history and pseudo-science of the Gourmet Age—like when a spiel about regenerating "Gourmet Cells" explains why Toriko and other Gourmet Hunters are essentially superheroes.
But where else can an action-adventure anime go within this vibrant, infinitely sized world? That's where the series falls short, unable to say anything new other than "The food is really good, the portions are really big, and the animals are really scary." The themes of Toriko in Episode 3 are the same as in Episode 23, with little change in the main hero's situation other than adding a few more kills to his record. Toriko never grows as a character, aside from gaining power-ups (and every action hero does that); his buddy-buddy relationship with Komatsu never goes through any rough spots; even his allies—the "Heavenly Kings" and other agents of the IGO—basically just pop in and out when needed, with little drama. Meanwhile, the Gourmet Corp. and their goons are little more than figurehead villains, sending out bad guys one by one for Toriko and company to defeat. Through 26 episodes, the series sticks to a simple adventuring-fighting-eating formula, and fails to make use of its full creative potential.
Creativity also runs into limitations when it comes to the visuals. While the style of the original manga successfully comes to life here—in full motion and vivid color, including hues that shouldn't even exist in nature—the inconsistent production values get in the way. Some scenes, usually involving Toriko's killer moves, are animated with as much grace and smoothness as any shonen fighting masterpiece. Then there are the animation nightmares where every shortcut in the book seems to have been taken: slow pans across a still frame, background details frozen in place, static characters sliding across the screen as a form of "movement." Sometimes even the penstrokes that outline each character go through odd-looking variations in width. However, the basic visual groundwork is commendable—Toriko and his supporting cast are a perfect study in distinctive (and even absurd) character designs, while the wildlife and cuisines of their world are a wacky trip through the imagination. It's just a shame about the technical quality.
The show's music also operates on a single dominant mood, with rock-infused, high-energy theme songs on either end of each episode. Within the episodes themselves, the soundtrack is most effective during battle scenes, where a bombastic full-orchestra sound makes every beast-slaying accomplishment sound as epic as possible. Other points in the series use bland, light-pop instrumentals to set the mood, but these moments don't last very long anyway.
Wild adventures and outsize characters also result in an enthusiastic, even joyful English dub, where the actors plunge right into their campy, larger-than-life roles. Not only are most lines delivered at 120% energy, but the eating scenes and animal encounters provide room for quite a few ad-libs. These quick puns and one-liners add an extra fun factor to the English script, which is only fair given the number of food puns in Japanese that get somewhat scrambled in translation. The enthusiasm carries right over into the commentary tracks that happen every several episodes or so, as the dub cast chats about their favorite foods and the sheer joy of working on Toriko (at one point even launching into a raucous sing-along of the entire opening theme).
Is Toriko a heaping helping of fun? Absolutely. Does it have a deep storyline and ever-evolving plot? Absolutely not. This is a series that stays exactly the way it is from Episode 1 to Episode 26, for better and for worse. Fans will know what to expect in each adventure: ravenous strongmen flexing their superpowers, ferocious foes being slaughtered by said strongmen, and a rich, imaginative world full of impossibly delicious foods. But the simplicity of Toriko is also its downfall: there are no clever twists in store, the characters don't develop at all, either personally or interpersonally, and even the most calculating villains are just mindless targets waiting to be knocked down one by one. The on-again, off-again animation also does a disservice to the bright colors and creative designs of the series. Toriko may well be the anime equivalent of Pop-Tarts: a tasty, tempting pleasure loved by many, but hardly a well-rounded meal.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : C
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ An imaginative world, larger-than-life characters, nonstop energy, and eye-catching visuals make this a whole lot of fun.
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