Review: Food Wars 1.1 - An Endless Wasteland

Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma was made to be an anime, but folks new to the series will probably have to hang around for a few episodes. When it was announced that the Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma manga was going to join Weekly Shonen Jump (which I cover every week), I was excited.  It was not a series I had ever read, but I knew that it would appeal to me immediately.  I like manga (a lot), I like cooking (a lot), and, in particular, I really like trying new recipes, especially Japanese ones.  If I recall correctly, the first chapter serialized in Jump featured a detailed scientific explanation of the qualities that make a fish fresh.

And I've been hooked ever since.

The manga is not just informative and fun.  It features a really strong cast of characters, all with their own stories and ambitions.  And the lead character, Soma Yukihara, will probably go down as an archetypal Shonen character.  When the anime got announced, oh my good golly goodness was I pumped.  Because this series has so much potential to succeed in the anime form that it's stupid.

Think about it.  We're talking about one of the most internationally successful manga right now, the main theme of which is based on our senses.  That a manga based on food in the real world has been able to deliver its topic so successfully in a medium that plays off of only one sense (sight) in a static, often colorless form, is a testament to the depth of the characters and ideas contained within.  Surely, as well, the series has received some help from fairly frequent ecchi that gets peppered in for dramatic and comedic effect.  Whenever a dish is particularly amazing, a thing called "disrobing" happens to both women and men alike, and it's exactly what it sounds like.  It's often incredibly over-dramatic and employs splash pages that take the newly naked characters to some surreal setting.

Take both of those things--the serious, central subject matter of delicious, innovative cuisine, and the contrasting surrealistic, mostly-nude, dramatic reactions of customers and judges--and add 1. color 2. sound 3. and the motion of animation, and holy sweet shit I promise you there is a winning formula.  And I'm talking in abstract here: it is very obvious from jump (pun intended) street that this anime has an inherently successful formula that it will have to go out of its way to screw up.

Screenshot (1023)

The first episode did not disappoint.  Having since read the entire manga, I can tell you that the high points of the first manga chapter are establishing Soma's ambitions, his relationship with his dad, his knack for learning from his mistakes, and the way the groundwork gets set for that disrobing ecchi effect.  All of these things were front and center in the anime: it kept true to the spirit of the manga, and then some.  The food was a pleasure to look at in full color with steam pouring off of it, and it is completely unfair how hungry the show made me.  And, as expected, the disrobing effect, with the power of made-for-television animation on its side, was completely fucking ridiculous.

Rather than being confined to a two-page spread, the anime gets to indulge in its fan service in a way that both increases the fan service but, more importantly for a twenty-something like me who is not really into that shit, increases the hell out of the comedic effect.  The thing that I like so much about this series is that it earns its little fan service moments with a plot that has a brisk pace and a lot of meaningful character payoffs.

All that said, I could see how people who haven't read the manga and had the chance to see the balance between the plot and the ecchi probably felt like they were being assaulted by the amount of nudity in the first episode of this show--a show that's supposed to be about cooking.  I think that's a fair criticism.  The main reason I don't think that it was heavy-handed is because I already have the context of the manga.  It remains to be seen whether the potential to indulge in the fan service becomes a hindrance to this anime's success; but, the manga has struck a good balance, and I think the show will be fine if it tries to stick to that same ratio.

I know some people will stay just for the fan service.  My concern is that this series needs to embrace its ability to appeal to a lot of demographics.  If it can do that, I guarantee you are looking at an anime series that is going to be talked about for a long time.

Score: 4/5

Food Wars 1.1 - And Endless Wasteland Official Website