This is the second anime in as many months I’m reviewing that delights in mashing up distinct genres. In September, it was School-Live!, which complicated the familiar pleasures of high school slice-of-life comedy with a hungry horde of zombies. Today, it’s Food Wars!, aka Shokugeki no Soma. Food Wars! offers up a substantial serve of shonen anime tropes, complemented by a generous side dish of food porn. Think Dragonball Z meets Iron Chef. While the series is utterly ridiculous, it’s also fresh and fulfilling, much like a hearty Sunday roast.
To be honest, Food Wars! didn’t immediately win me over. A friend recommended the series a year or so ago and shipped me a fansub. I gave up after a couple episodes. The show’s hyperbolic representations of food were entertaining, sure; this is the kind of show that traffics in people’s clothes flying over in a kaleidoscope of colour when they taste a curry. But the arrogance of its protagonist, Soma (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Blake Shepard), the indulgently slow pacing and – to be honest – the subtitles for such a slight show had me packing it up in a doggy bag for later.
I’m glad I returned. Partly precipitated by Madman’s Blu-Ray release of the show – complete with a very decent English dub – I rejoined the series and was quickly won over. For starters, I’d misjudged Soma’s arrogance. Yes, he’s competitive, but he’s also rendered with sympathy and a deadpan sense of humour that undercuts the apparent ‘chosen one’ narrative. It helps that the series quickly establishes a full-bodied cast of supporting characters, each with their own distinct foibles, talents and cooking styles. Where I’d expected Soma to steamroll his opposition upon enrolling at the prestigious Totsuki Culinary Academy, instead he quickly finds himself faced with serious competitors who often overshow his own abilities.
Food Wars! isn’t quite a satire of shonen anime, à la One Punch Man, but it undeniably has a sense of humour about itself. I mean, this is a show that has an extended cabbage-themed riff of Sailor Moon, for example. It makes an effort to establish Soma as the familiar shonen protagonist – driven, talented, destined for greatness – while ensuring that he, his friends and his enemies approximate normal human behaviour despite the heightened setting. As the series moved towards its delectable climax, I found myself genuinely invested in the success of these aspiring chefs.
Of course, there’d be no Food Wars! without food, and half the pleasure of this show is the stupendously overcooked depictions of gourmet food. Dishes are sumptuously animated and described in a tone that can only be described as orgasmic, but it’s not pure fantasy. Every dish at least sounds plausible, constructed from familiar and foreign ingredients across a range of cuisines (though, typically, with a Japanese twist). If you were to publish a recipe book based on the best dishes of season one of this series, I would honestly lay down cash for it.
My only substantive grip with the series is that it’s overblown storytelling style does tend to sap it of alacrity. Particularly towards the first half of the season, there are a number of episodes that could have been trimmed of excess fat and reduced down a bit. While the final episodes are gripping and a satisfying conclusion to what’s preceded them… they also feel like a bit of an anticlimax, as though we’ve ended the story halfway through. Of course, there’s still a second course on the way…