After subjecting Jacob to the emasculating experience that was Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, I decided to have some mercy and suggest Food Wars, which has become famous (infamous?) for its fanservice.
Food Wars (aka Shokugeki no Soma) follows amateur chef Yukihira Soma, whose dream of becoming a full time chef at his father’s restaurant is derailed when his dad suddenly closes up shop to travel – and tells him he can only have it if he survives the rigorous training at the elite Totsuki Culinary Academy. This being a shonen anime, nearly every episode comes down to a high-stakes shokugeki – a cooking duel through which students settle debates and rivalries – and through which Soma learns much about cooking and about himself.
Food Wars has become my new second-favorite anime, y’all. It very nearly dethroned Gurren Lagann as my absolute favorite, but there are few anime out there like Gurren Lagann, and many food anime, so Food Wars sits solidly at #2.
This comes as a surprise to no one who knows me, because first of all, FOOD. But I’m also an enthusiastic fan of weird, well-executed premises, complex characterization, meaningful conflicts, and good-natured, genuine competition (as opposed to angst-ridden competitive nastiness), and Food Wars has all of those.
But then there’s the fanservice.
Normally I can’t stand blatant fanservice, so it takes an extra special twist to even get me to watch a fanservice show. (See again: FOOD.) Even with the food appeal, though, I initially wasn’t sure about it, as many reviewers had been uncomfortable with the fanservice, some going as far as to call it rapey.
But fear not: That is (mostly) pure Internet exaggeration.
Still, that said, if no amount of food will make you comfortable with sudden explosive nudity, don’t even try Food Wars. As with many cooking-themed anime, much of the comedy comes from characters’ over-exaggerated reactions to the taste of food, and in Food Wars’ case, Soma’s cooking launches diners into such overwhelming fits of bliss that their clothes periodically burst off in no small approximation of orgasmic pleasure. Though I disagree, I can see why some viewers would compare Food Wars to porn.
The difference between Food Wars and other fanservice shows, though, is that Food Wars generally handles its fanservice with class (if such a word can be applied to fanservice).*
First – and most pivotally – though Soma’s cooking makes clothes explode off left and right, he himself is absolutely unaware of this (possibly because all the nudity seems to happen in the same alternate dimension as magical girl costume transformation). He just wants to make people happy with his cooking, and given how sensual the best cooking can be, it’s perhaps not inappropriate that his customers have sensual reactions to match. The point is, no one in this series gawks at nudity that wasn’t meant for their eyes, and even the fanservicey characters are only treated as such for the self-aware humor of it. (It is a blatantly un-ironic joke that the most scantily-clad female is a master of meat, but even then, that joke rarely leaves a cooking context).
Second, the fanservice is equal opportunity. Though the majority of it is female, the series doesn’t shy away from male nudity (young or old). One main male character literally walks around in an apron and nothing else in several scenes.
Finally, the fanservice isn’t even exclusively human. If this series is aiming to be any sort of porn, it’s foodporn. The food art in this series is hands down the best I’ve seen in any anime ever, and I literally ended every episode saying “I want to cook that.” Not only that, the level of detail the series puts into describing the techniques behind each dish shows dedication far beyond what one would expect from a typical anime production. Real research went into making the culinary facets of this show work, and it shows in every episode. My only dislike about this research is that the more complex the characters’ challenges become, the more complex their ingredient requirements, such that, by the end of the first season, I couldn’t make anything in my own kitchen without visiting a specialty store first or learning a very specific time-consuming technique.
But seriously, even if you’re indifferent to everything else about this show, watch it for the food.
All this foodie goodness, though, flows on the hands of the show’s characters like the waves of the most delicious mosh pit. There’s not a single unlikable character in this show, even among the antagonists. All of the characters face each other in the spirit of competition rather than generic antagonism; all are fully rounded people with their own hopes, goals, and high stakes to overcome, such that even when an opponent character loses, the viewer has a reason to be bummed for them. The one possible exception to this is antagonist Erina Nakiri, whose hypersensitive God Tongue is so thwarted by Soma’s cooking that she’d love to see him fail, but even then she judges him fairly.
Strangely, the weakest character of the bunch is Soma himself. He’s a typical shonen protagonist, determined to win no matter the stakes, but he often raises the stakes so high himself that viewers automatically know he’s going to win. After all, if the show’s about a cooking school, it can’t go on if its main character loses enrollment in a bet! As a result, there’s absolutely no tension in the show, except where the semi-expendable minor characters are concerned. But then, even though you know Soma’s going to win, seeing how he does it is a real treat, and therein lies the show’s real suspense.
The same is true, if not more true, of all the other characters. Consider that each character represents a different preferred ingredient, style of cooking, or even food preparation technique, and you’ve got a show that is downright educational! I’ve learned more about creative cooking from this show than I’ve learned from years of Food Network and cookbooks.
In short, Food Wars is a masterpiece. Watch it.
*Admittedly, the first episode piles on the fanservice (see: the above gif), as do some of the finale episodes, and there are a few references to tentacle hentai here and there (usually in reference to one particularly disgusting squid dish – thus why some viewers have called it rapey). But outside those instances, the show tones itself down significantly.
P.S. – If you want to recreate some dishes from the show, AniTAY has a series of recipes modified from a few episodes. The Gotcha Pork recipe is now a mainstay at House Holo, but I recommend separating it into 4 to 6 smaller loaves rather than two big ones, as they’re easier to move off the pan when finished. They will take an extra pack of bacon, though.
P.P.S – I’ve also finished Season 2, but I don’t plan to review it because it’ll just be more of the same gushery. And the complaint that, now that the characters are competing in very advanced competitions, with recipes to match, little amateur me has no hope of being able to cook these foods.
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