Shelf Life
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

by Paul Jensen,

Watching Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma for this week's review reminded me of my recurring problem with shows about cooking: they always make me ravenously hungry. The power of suggestion is a scary thing, especially in video form. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

On Shelves This Week

A Journey Through Fairyland DVD
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Pokemon XYZ - Set 1 DVD
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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Complete Collection BD, DVD
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Ushio & Tora - Complete Collection BD, DVD, Limited Edition
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Synopsis: Teenage boy Ushio and ancient demon Tora become unwilling allies after Ushio frees Tora in order to save himself from a swarm of supernatural enemies.

Extra: We have episode reviews for this series, and it's available streaming on Crunchyroll, HIDIVE, and Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

I'm taking a look at season one of Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma for this week's review. Can this cooking battle series take the heat, or is it time to get out of the kitchen?

It feels like fiery red-haired protagonists have been battling their way to the top of one pecking order or another for as long as anime has been a thing. Food Wars! takes that tried-and-true formula of competitive action and applies it to the less familiar setting of a culinary school. It's an odd combination at first glance, but then again reality television has proven over and over that a cooking contest can be exciting if it's presented in the right way. Food Wars! mixes the big personalities and cutthroat competition of those cooking shows with a heaping helping of visual flair to create something that's far more entertaining than I expected it to be.

The series follows the adventures of Yukihira Soma, a teenager who plans to take over his family's restaurant by defeating his father in a cooking challenge. Unfortunately for Soma, his dad leaves on a journey around the world and sends him off to cooking school. Tohtsuki Academy is an exclusive school with extremely high standards, and most of its elite students expect Soma to flunk out in a matter of days. If he's going to make his way to the top of the school's hierarchy, Soma will have to use his real-world experience and unorthodox techniques to surpass his ruthless classmates.

From the first episode, it's clear that Food Wars! isn't exactly a subtle show. Most of the characters go all in on one or two personality traits, be it Soma's fiery grit or rich heiress Erina's stubborn pride. Even casual cooking challenges are treated as intense battles for supremacy, and the intensity is turned up even higher once the school's formal competitions begin. The characters' reactions to tasting each new dish are perhaps the craziest element of all; in addition to the lavish descriptions of flavor and texture, people's clothes temporarily disappear as they frolic amongst exaggerated depictions of the ingredients. It can seem way over the top at first, but Food Wars quickly develops good control over its stylistic excesses. It's a big, loud, fun series that focuses more on pure entertainment than serious drama or narrative depth.

This isn't to say that Food Wars! is all style and no substance; as the characters get a chance to develop, many of them become likable beyond the simple appeal of watching them shout about cooking techniques. Soma is eventually given credible motivations for wanting to be the best, and it's fun to see him pit his restaurant experience against opponents with vast resources or advanced theoretical knowledge. Designated girl next door Megumi also grows into an unlikely star despite being surrounded by much more outlandish characters, and many of Soma's recurring rivals have interesting backstories of their own. In general, the ensemble cast is able to find a sweet spot where their quirks are outlandish enough to be entertaining without becoming obnoxious.

The cooking competitions usually do a solid job of bringing out each character's personality through the food they prepare, though there are times when those notes of individuality are overpowered by the sheer spectacle of the series. Food Wars! also makes a questionable choice in this season's final act when it sidelines a key character in a major tournament. That tournament is also far from over when the final credits roll; if a second season didn't already exist with a third on the way, I'd knock this one much harder for having an inconclusive ending. Even so, Food Wars! has more than enough exuberant energy to power its way through a narrative misstep or two.

From a visual standpoint, the focus isn't so much on impressive animation as it is on making the food look good. There's also a fair amount of creativity behind some of the larger than life locations, and the tasting reaction shots feature some wonderfully absurd images. The music generally does a solid job of setting the mood, though the second round of opening and ending themes are a clear step down from the first. This standard edition set is fairly light on extras, but the English dub is quite good. Food Wars! is the kind of shouty action show that translates easily to a dub, and most of the casting choices are matched well to the original performances.

With its exaggerated style, I can see Food Wars! being something of an acquired taste. It may be too loud and silly for some folks, and the fanservice elements of the reaction shots could also be a turn-off. If you can embrace (or at least tolerate) those quirks, however, it can be a remarkably fun show. Its use of cooking instead of sports or superpowers is a nice change of pace within the genre, and the series has a very clear idea of what it wants to be. It's always a good sign when I watch the first season of a show for a review and end up wanting to watch the second purely for my own enjoyment. Much like a hot plate of mouth-watering cuisine, it leaves you wanting more.

That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!

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