Konnichiwa my fellow spice lovers, today I want to talk to you about a show that truly captured my heart during 2016.
Shokugeki no Souma, or Food Wars as it is known outside of Japan, is a ridiculous anime in what’s known as the shōnen genre but it’s a little different to what that implies.
Shōnen, or young boys anime, generally means something similar to Naruto, One Piece, Full Metal Alchemist or Dragon Ball. Shows that awe their target audience with flashy fight scenes and focus on themes of overcoming adversity through friendship, hard work and self-belief.
Food Wars keeps all that confidence building and dramatic flair but completely changes the context.
Here, instead of super fast sword and fist fights, what we get are intense, often one on one, cooking challenges in the strictest school for chefs ever imagined.
And, of course, our hero cannot settle for being any less than number one.
Yet, while the genre is aimed at young boys, the age range can vary quite wildly. Some shōnen anime are meant for those around eight years old but not Food Wars. Food Wars is aimed at the upper end of a
rating. For late teens and young adults, the people most likely to be in need of the cooking advice it offers as they get ready to leave home.
To try and hook this target audience, it spends the first episode and a bit seriously oversexualising the minor characters’ reactions to good food. Any nudity is carefully censored but, even so, it’s all too easy for a show to focus too much on lewd elements and forget its story so I was very happy to see that side fade away almost entirely as the anime progressed.
In addition, despite its focus on food meaning that there is very little in the way of violence, there are episodes which feature animal blood as a by-product of, or even ingredient in, the cooking process.
I found episode twenty-seven’s live turtle butchering more than a little unsettling.
So it’s not a show for the squeamish and I wouldn’t recommend watching the first couple of episodes somewhere where people might judge you but it is well worth watching all the same.
Its understanding of cookery techniques, preparation methods and flavour combinations far surpasses anything I was expecting when going into it. Not to mention the compelling, if not particularly innovative, story of a young diner chef setting out to find his place in a world of gourmets.
If you’re not in it for the cookery, you’re going to be missing out on a lot of this show’s charm but its over-dramatic nature, good quality animation and comedy moments all help broaden its appeal and, to me at least, the characterisation of its cast also seemed like a major strong point.
Every character besides our hero has their own specialist area of culinary expertise, making each showdown fresh and distinct, while also acting as the basis for their individual personalities.
My favourites were:
Mito-Chan, the strong and feisty embodiment of all things meat.
Hisako Arato, who combines japanese cuisine with traditional herbal remedies to keep her boss and implied love interest in peak cooking condition.
Akira Hayama, the indian “prince of spice” who’s become something of a lone wolf due to the belief that his superior sense of smell sets him apart.
And, of course, Nao Sadatsuka, the creepy stalker known as a witch because of her unorthodox ingredients, attempting to combine the strongest and most disgusting tastes and textures into something unique, yet palatable.
But, while I loved the cooking styles of these side characters and how their personalities were developed around them, none was quite as relatable to me as the main character, Souma himself.
Souma “knows” he’s going to be the best and, while not exactly arrogant, is definitely a little cocky about it. His successes, however, do not come from years of schooling and the most expensive or best ingredients in his field but from hard work, experimentation and drawing on a lifetime’s worth of experience to make the most of the ingredients he has.
Souma is the everyman character, the one who the audience is intended to relate to and the one who gives them recipes they can easily make themselves. What really sells me on him, though, is his shear drive to win and his complete disregard for cultural boundaries.
Souma routinely cooks dishes that pair the flavours and techniques of several regions to create something entirely new and it is this unrestrained creativity that earns him my respect as a chef.
The show does not put much focus on chilli, or anything particularly spicy, but it still brings a lot of discussion-worthy food and techniques to the table. It is not directly relevant to the theme of my blog but I like to think that my readers appreciate more than just heat.
This show is about the preparation of good quality food, which is something we could all use a little advice on from time to time and something that the more kitchen inclined amoung you should especially appreciate.
And, for those of you who aren’t so into cooking for yourselves, you clearly still have a strong interest in food if you read my posts on any kind of semi-regular basis so I’m sure that you’ll still have a fair bit of fun with it, even if you never try out anything the characters make.
But you never know, it may also inspire you to get more into cooking. I know it’s inspired acouple of my upcoming recipes.
I would definitely recommend watching it if you like the sound of overdramatic cookery, whether you plan to get tips from it or not.